Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NBA blues

When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, the most important and impressive athletes in my mind were those of the NBA.  I collected basketball trading cards.  I wore the jerseys of my favorite players.  I had the walls of my bedroom covered in their posters and pennants.  If you were to ask me (up until I got into high school) what I was going to be when I grew up, my answer would have been NBA basketball player.

My friends and I would spend hours and hours after school shooting hoops.  We'd recreate dunk contests.  We'd play in the high schooler's pick-up games at the elementary school.  When I wasn't playing ball with my friends, I was constantly working on my dribbling skills. I'd walk up and down the sidewalk in front of our house, bouncing the ball though my legs, behind my back, and crossing-over in front of me.  I would practice bounce passes against walls.  I would lay on the living room floor practicing my shooting form by "shooting" the ball into the air.

I loved NBA basketball.  My hero was John Stockton (who, incidentally, is still one of the three "celebrities" I would give up a years salary for the opportunity to spend a day with them.  The other two would probably be Carter Beauford and Justin Timberlake) and would always pretend we were teammates while I shot hoops.  I loved that he was so unselfish with the rock (all time assists leader) and was also a lethal defender (all time steals leader).  I loved when he and Karl Malone would pick apart teams with their pick-and-roll.  I loved that his short shorts, and I loved that he continued to wear them long after everyone else went baggy.  I loved that he played with no fear, setting picks and screens on players twice his size.  I loved his number 12, and always tried to get that number for my basketball jersey.  I even made my family drive me past the Delta Center when we traveled through Salt Lake City, so I could see where they played.  I would have died to get in and see them play live.  I watched the 1992 summer Olympics just to see the Dream Team play (of which he was a member).  I nearly died when he was named one of the 50 Greatest NBA players of all time. 

I loved that he avoided the media.  I loved that he treated basketball like a job.  He was professional, proficient, and effective.  He didn't showboat.  He saw the court better than any player I was ever able to watch.  His vision and accuracy were amazing.  His toughness and durability were phenomenal.  He didn't live a flashy life, on or off the court.  He went to an unknown college (Gonzaga), played for the same team for his entire career.  He would consistently turn down better offers from other teams, and even agreed to take less money to free up salary-cap room.  

He and Malone lead the Jazz to the playoffs throughout the late 80s and into the 90s.  And I can still feel the pain I felt when they lost to the Bulls in two consecutive years in the Finals.  It crushed me.  After Stockton and the Jazz lost in the 1998 NBA championship finals, my love of the game diminished rapidly.  I was in high school, so I had little time to collect trading cards or watch any of their 80+ games during the regular season.   And I couldn't have been happier to see Stockton inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame last year, but many people didn't notice, because he was, once again, overshadowed by Micheal Jordan. 

I rooted for players like Stockton, Malone, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Clyde Drexler, and Chris Mullen because they played basketball the way I felt it should be played, with fundamentals like the pick-and-roll, the bounce pass, and man-to-man defense.  As the years went by, it seemed to me that the league was becoming less and less about the teams and more about the players.  Players bounced around from team to team.  Contracts became outrageous.  Fewer players from the John Stockton mold (Jason Kidd, Steve Nash come to mind) were featured in the league.  Instead, it became a contest to name the next Micheal Jordan (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James).  

So it came as no surprise to me to hear this week that the league was set to lose $400 million dollars and the All-Star game, while being played in front of the largest crowd in attendance, had the second lowest television ratings ever.  And there is talk that the league will enter the second player lockout in a 12 year span if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by the 2011 season.  What a shame.

It seems that the NBA is in a tailspin from being the premier professional sports league in America into the laughing stock of the sports world.  The league has lost its way and I don't know if they'll be able to right the ship in time.  And I have a hard time caring if they do.

Favorite song on the iPod Shuffle:  "That Was A Crazy Game of Poker" by OAR
Looking forward to:  Baseball season.  The pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week, which means I'm that much closer to $1 beer night at Rosenblat Stadium.
Thinking back on:  where I put my basketball cards when we moved last year.  I might have to dig those out and relive the joy of trading cards from my youth.

1 comment:

  1. My team was very good around that era, with Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, and Buck Williams. Off the bench came Danny Ainge and "Uncle Cliffy" Cliff Robinson. Too bad they choked a championship or two away. Poor Blazers.

    I know you complain of excessive contracts, but on the other hand I wonder, is the salary cap to blame for teams that lack greatness.

    Also, my personal penchant. This may sound racially insensitive. But, the shot clock at 24 seconds has ruined the game for passing and ball control, which in turn has ruined the game for the American white male. When the American white male is not excited about watching the game, it loses money. Right now...that money is going to football.