Monday, October 30, 2006

The Most Beautiful Game In The World

For the better part of my formative years, the only sport I really cared about was the NFL. I got my bedtime extended when the Dolphins were on Monday Night Football and generally enjoyed wearing my Marino jersey on Black and Gold Days in elementary That’s right, kids, there were Black and Gold Days, which when you think about it, are pretty discriminatory for those who don’t own, or wish to own, any Steeler regalia. When I pen my letter to West Shamokin bemoaning the lack of a volleyball cheering section – kids these days are simply too cool – I’ll also add in the fact that having Black and Gold days segregates those that aren’t fans of the hometown team. Granted, I was happy to be segregated from the village idiots that comprise Steeler Nation, but they don’t have to know that.

I eventually added all the other sports to those that I followed, but college basketball was the other shining beacon that carried us through the dull winter months. March Madness meant that the leaves were budding, the birds were flying home and Billy Packer would be making an ass of himself on national television. I skipped the first Thursday of every tournament from sixth grade on, first faking illnesses and then simply pointing to my shiny GPA as reason enough to take a day off. Despite their understanding my need to see Cincinnati and Oregon tip off a meaningless eight/nine game at 12:15, my parents never let me put “March Madness” on my excuse.

It’s funny how things change, as the two sports I enjoy the most now have flopped, with the collegiate football and professional basketball taking precedence over their counterparts. My decline in NFL interest isn’t overly remarkable, with the loss of Sunday Ticket this autumn making it impossible for me to follow the sport in the way I’d grown accustomed too. When you combine that with the fact I had a college football-based website thrust upon me halfway through summer and it’s no surprise I find myself much more concerned about the computers in the BCS poll than the homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.

The reason for this post is that the NBA regular season starts tonight and I need to verbalize how I left the hustle and pageantry of the college game for a bunch of overpaid, gun-wielding rappers who can’t throw the ball into the ocean most of the time. At 8:00 this evening, the defending champion Miami Heat start the season against local flavor and newly-minted Central Division favorite Chicago Bulls, and I couldn’t be happier.

Why did I migrate over to the bloated League regular season and even slower moving postseason when the college game offers so much? The Sunday the brackets are released and the first Thursday of the tournament will always be two of my five favorite days of the year, but those sixty-three games feel so ephemeral. While I’ll strongly contend that over the last decade, one of the best teams in the country has won the championship, I’m not sure that the very best team always gets to cut down the nets. Sure, those first round upsets are fantastic, and who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story, but don’t you wish that Florida/Villanova was a best of seven, not a one-time only deal where one bad shooting night can end your collegiate career?

The NBA seasons may be long, but they allow for the unraveling of beautiful storylines. You don’t have to worry about players graduating and a great core being disrupted, because despite free agency, it’s possible to keep your key pieces in place for long periods of time. Fresh blood is injected into the league every year while former stars settle in as role players, and these over-arcing storylines, the possibility of trades and playing a team eleven times in seven months means that not only do the players know each other well, but they’re predicting the next move their opponent is going to be making. Sure, we might always discuss Manning vs. Brady, but when are they ever on the field for the same play? Never. Shaq vs. Kobe happens anytime that the latter drives into the lane.

There is no sport, when played at its very best that flows more beautifully than basketball. Football and baseball, even at their best, are interrupted after every individual play. I understand soccer decently well at this point, between the World Cup, the women’s soccer games here and FIFA, but seriously, it’s soccer, which is like a less slippy version of hockey. When five players have locked onto the same brainwave and are executing an offense and helping one another on defense, there isn’t a more pleasant thing to watch in all of sports. When two groups are playing at that level? Masterpiece theater on the hardwood, accompanied by pumped in music and pom girls.

Many will argue that the NBA is extremely dull, but I’ll argue that it’s only a dull sport for a dull mind. Wrap your conscious around the philosophical implications of Gilbert Arenas attempting triumph over LeBron James or Kobe’s dichotomy between appeasing his inner desire to be The Man while needing his teammates in order to achieve the ultimate greatness. While numbers are important, it can’t be reduced to cold, careless computers like baseball; there’s still something to be said about the pass before the pass or the strong hedge on defense that only the most sophisticated formulas could hope to calculate.

So the NBA season starts soon, but you don’t have to worry about the only updates on this meager site coming about roundball. I’ll get my basketball Jones out at, well, The Basketball Jones or FreeDarko. There will be an occasional post about how angry I am the Magic took Redick over Brewer or how my adopted team for this spring, the Wizards, are playing some great ball, but this is just a set up for the coming months. There’ll be television stuff, movie stuff and life stuff coming oh-so-shortly, so please stay tuned.

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