Why the NBA Suddenly Has My Interest

In case you didn’t already know, I’m from St. Louis. Although we somehow still manage to have more NBA championships to our city’s resume than 12 cities with a current NBA team, the last time St. Louis fielded a basketball team was during the year 1958.

I was not alive during 1958, and thus I have no recollection of professional basketball being played in St. Louis. Considering the fact that St. Louis was a three sport city for the first 17 years of my life and I was heavily invested in all three of those sports, professional basketball just never really interested me.

For me, the NBA has just always kind of been there, and recently I’ve been extremely critical of it. In the past, I’ve criticized the NBA for just being a dunk fest with some three pointers sprinkled into the mix. I never saw or heard of any defense being played, and when SportsCenter would fawn over a big dunk as a top 10 play, instead of a diving catch in baseball or an amazing goal in hockey, I would lose my mind and just get really angry at the NBA for being stupid.

As recently as 2015, I wanted no part of the NBA and would publicly and prominently announce that while almost dis-owning the entire sport. Basketball and I didn’t get along, and it was really a shame.

So, what changed?

Well, let’s start by taking a look at the sport of basketball as a whole. My brother has played basketball for as long as I can remember, and so the game has been in our household since the dawn of time. My dad coached and my brother played, so I have spent a lot of time around the sport in an intimate setting and couldn’t stay mad at it for longer than a week maybe.

The NBA has always been a different story for me. I don’t exactly know if I can pinpoint the reason(s) why, but I’ve just never liked the NBA.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always believed that the NBA is predictable. In basketball, if the starting 5 that you put out on the floor is better than the starting 5 that I put out on the floor, your starting 5 is going to win that matchup 97 times out of 100. And that’s just how it is.

In mostly all other sports, there is a great equalizer.

In baseball, the great equalizer is the pitcher. No matter how good a line-up is, if there is a pitcher on the mound that has it going on any given night, that line-up has no chance of hitting him.

In hockey, the great equalizer is the goalie. If you run into a hot goalie that’s just stopping every shot put on net, you won’t score and you won’t win. Teams have ridden a hot goalie all the way to a Stanley Cup title, and the goalie can change games singlehandedly.

In football, the great equalizer is the sheer physicality of the game. The amount of punishment that is dished out over the course of a 60 minute football game can be truly terrifying and can take the greatest players ever seen on a field and turn them into shells of themselves.

In basketball, the great players are going to be great. It’s rather predictable and I guess I just always found it boring. Every single year, LeBron and Kobe were going to be the show stealers, the Spurs were going to do something significant, and everyone else would just be pawns in the court of Kobe, LeBron and the Spurs.

kobelebron
Photo by Mike Ehrmann for Getty Images

It was all just so predictable.

And, with that in mind, why would I want to watch teams like the Jazz or the Bucks or even the Dallas Mavericks when there just weren’t going to matter later on. Watching those teams was like doing homework that you knew the teacher wasn’t going to collect. Why put in the effort and waste my time when it just isn’t going to matter? And that lack of variety just turned me off from the game.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when it happened, but that all changed for me sometime around last year. The NBA suddenly and rapidly expanded from being just a league about LeBron, Kobe and the Spurs, and turned into a genuinely fascinating showcasing of superstars.

I found myself attracted to players such as the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl Anthony Towns. I suddenly started caring about who was going to win the NBA title instead of just assuming it would be a simple multiple choice test.

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Karl Anthony Towns celebrates after throwing down a dunk. Photo by Brad Rempel for USA Today Sports

Would it be LeBron or would the Warriors do it again? Boy, the Hawks and Raptors are awfully good, what if they made it to the finals? Wow, the Thunder are really good and so are the Clippers; this is really interesting.

I had the benefit of almost being born into a new age of the NBA without much prior knowledge of what had happened in the past. I didn’t care that the Clippers had perennially sucked and that they were the laughingstock of the league for years, I was interested in them now because of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul.

I had the benefit of not knowing the age of dominant Lakers teams and dominant Bulls teams, and thus I got to know smaller teams that would have never had a chance in that era. I got to know the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz, among others.

The NBA suddenly fascinated me, and everything culminated during the 2016 NBA Finals back this past June. The LeBron James-led Cavaliers delivered the first professional sports championship to Cleveland since 1970 by defeating the Warriors in a thrilling 7 game series.

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LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate their first ever NBA Championship victory. Photo by Bob Donnan for USA Today

In a sport and a league that I normally would have paid no mind to, I was completely drawn into every single game. When the Cavaliers won that 7th game and clinched the title, I was hooked on the NBA. The very league that I had criticized and turned my nose up at for all the years of my life now had my full attention, and I’m loving every second of this season.

I am a unique fan of the NBA because I don’t have a hometown team and I don’t have a favorite team. I am as non-partisan as it gets in my fandom of professional basketball. I watch the game because I love the game. I love players more than I love teams. And I believe that’s part of the reason that I’m enjoying this season so much.

I don’t follow the highs and lows of one particular team, so I don’t experience any anger or sadness towards the NBA. I don’t have a team, so I really never lose. As long as I get to see the superstars that the NBA has to offer play quality basketball, I don’t ever lose.

And that’s also the main reason why the NBA has my full interest and why I am a fan. The plethora of superstars in the Association is incredible and more diverse than I think the game has ever seen.

Like I said earlier, I grew up in an era of the NBA that was dominated by Kobe, LeBron and the Spurs. Outside of those two players and maybe one or two others here and there, there were no real bona fide superstars that were worth paying attention to.

That is definitely not the case with the current NBA.

The league is infused with superstars, young and old, and it’s incredible to watch and witness night in and night out. And those superstars aren’t just in prominent locations like past years.

In the past, your true superstars have really only been in LA or Boston or Miami. Now, you’ve got stars from Milwaukee to Utah to Portland and Charlotte.

Last Friday, January 6th, ESPN was broadcasting a game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks. Normally a random game that I would have no interest in, I found myself not only watching this game but watching the game after having looked forward to it for nearly the full day leading up to the telecast. I found myself completely enamored with Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and just had to tune in and watch him play when I had the chance.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo rises up for a dunk over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Bucks

And that’s the sort of effect the NBA has on me now.

The league is so chalk full of superstars from coast to coast that I find myself circling games to watch and tuning in night after night just so I don’t miss an opportunity to watch these players.

This past Sunday night, January 8th, I found myself watching a double overtime thriller between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Detroit Pistons. It was 12:30 AM and I had work at 9 AM the next day, so why was I watching? Because C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond drew me in and made sure I couldn’t miss this seemingly mundane matchup.

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Photo courtesy of Portland Trail Blazers

The NBA has always been a star and player driven league. Players will always mean more to the league than teams will. The names of ‘LeBron’ and ‘Kobe’ and ‘Steph’ and ‘MJ’ will always mean way more to the overall fabric of the NBA than teams like the Lakers or the Celtics.

That being said, the NBA has never had more stars than right now. And that diverse and widespread star power has drawn in a previously uninterested and even inimical person like myself and converted me into a huge fan.

Excited to see where this league continues to go.

Why the NBA Suddenly Has My Interest

Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Cultural Problem

Hello, it’s me, how are you? It’s been a whole 26 days since your eyes and my writing have been together. But wait no longer, my loyal reader, for I have returned. And what has drawn me out of my writing slumber? The cultural issues of basketball.

About 2 weeks ago, on December 3rd, the Boston Celtics defeated the Sacramento Kings 114-97. Within that game was the storyline of Kings’ guard Rajon Rondo returning to Boston, the city where he played his first 8 NBA seasons.

Without knowing any other background, one can reasonably infer that Rondo’s emotions would be quite high. And one would be spot on in conjecturing such, as Rondo was given a technical foul by referee Bill Kennedy.

Rondo then proceeded to get right in Kennedy’s face and presumably say some not so nice things. Kennedy then ejected Rondo, Rondo left the court, and that was that. So why am I devoting an article to this? Because what Rondo said to Kennedy reflects a much bigger problem in the NBA that is deeply rooted in the overall culture of basketball and really needs to be changed.

Kennedy publicly announced, just a few days ago, that he is gay, effectively becoming the first referee in any of the 4 primary North American professional sports to come out as publicly gay. And while the sports world applauded and came together surrounding Kennedy, as they tend to do nowadays, the news took a horrific turn.

Rondo was suspended 1 game by NBA commissioner Adam Silver for making “homophobic remarks” towards Kennedy. I was genuinely disgusted.

Rajon Rondo - Bill Kennedy
Photo by Rich Pedroncelli for AP

Rondo has always been known as a complicated personality, a guy who is “too smart for his own good” according to Fox Sports’ Kristine Leahy. But there are a lot of things wrong with what happened here.

First off, Rondo could not be more out of line here. He has denied that he knew Kennedy was actually gay, but either way, using the word that I’m presuming he used to insult someone is just not okay in any circumstance. Whether or not that was a heat of the moment thing doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

It’s really dumb to me that the excuse of, “Oh it was just a heat of the moment thing and doesn’t reflect my true views” is given a pass every single time by members of the media. When you’re angry, you often do really mean what you say, and that excuse is tired and poor and I’m not letting Rondo off the hook with this one.

If he had said something insulting the call – “that’s a bullshit call, ref – that just somehow seems way more acceptable to me. But attacking Kennedy personally crosses a line for me and reflects a greater issue within the culture of basketball.

Unlike any other sport, basketball is known for its trash talking nature. It’s a tightly contested sport between a bunch of highly competitive athletes who are consistently near each other; trash talk is bound to happen and it does in spades. But trash talk, to me, has become less about getting into your opponents head to gain an advantage, and more about just flat out insulting them and dragging them so far down, mentally, that they don’t play to the level they are capable of.

The end result is the same in both circumstances, but the method of getting there is much different. As Rondo demonstrated in his “heat of the moment” homophobic remarks towards Kennedy, trash talk is getting personal.

When asked about it, legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he wasn’t surprised at all. “You see it all the time…it’s unfortunate and disgusting. Bill is a great guy and a class act, on and off the court. To act in a derogatory way toward anybody in the LGBT community doesn’t make sense. But surprised? Of course not.”

Gregg Popovich
Photo courtesy of AP

That’s messed up. Considering how hard certain groups of people have had to fight to attain even a semblance of equality it disgusts me that derogatory remarks towards those in the LGBT community – among others – are still second nature to some.

And considering that Pop says that things like this happen “all the time” it tells me that this is a cultural issue within basketball. As I mentioned earlier, the trash talking nature of the sport has been carried too far to me and needs to change. Trash talk about your opponent’s game is cool and I’m not saying that’s what needs to go, but the homophobic slurs and the personal attacks within that trash talk have to go.

Lastly, Jalen Rose – a notorious trash talker if there ever was one – recently said that “not enough has been made about Rondo’s homophobic comments.” If freaking Jalen Rose takes issue with Rondo’s comments, then we all should be too. Change trash talking, make basketball a more inclusive sport, and watch it grow internationally.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Cultural Problem

Ryan Riffs: How Seth Russell’s Injury Affects the College Football Playoff

Back in August, as the college football season was starting, I set my College Football Playoff field to Ohio State, TCU, LSU and Baylor, (yes, I had two Big 12 teams don’t judge me). I had Ohio State winning it all, and felt pretty confident in that prediction.

Fast forward about three weeks of Ohio State struggling and Baylor dominating and my National Champion pick had switched over to Baylor. An breathtakingly dominant offense combined with a more than adequate defense, and Baylor had me sold.

Photo for Associated Press
Photo for Associated Press

Entering week 7 my pick hadn’t changed. Baylor’s offense looked dominant once again in the first half against Iowa State before I turned the channel away to focus my attention on a more exciting game. Well, while I turned away something happened that is going to change my National Championship again.

First off, I want to wish Seth Russell a quick and speedy recovery from a scary neck injury that will keep him out for the rest of the 2015 season. His health is the thing that matters most and I wish him all the best in his recovery.

The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 1). Photo by Ron Aydelotte for Waco Tribune
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 1). Photo by Ron Aydelotte for Waco Tribune
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 2). Photo by Ashley Landis for Associated Press
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 2). Photo by Ashley Landis for Associated Press

But holy smokes does it shake up the Playoff picture.

Baylor’s offense has been just stupid good so far with Russell, averaging 686 yards and 61.1 points per game. That is absolute insanity and you couldn’t even put up those type of numbers in a video game because you’d get too bored with scoring so much.

Russell has been leading the charge, throwing for 2,109 yards with 26(!) touchdowns to only 6 interceptions, and adding 402 yards and 6 more touchdowns on the ground. He’s up at the top with Leonard Fournette in the Heisman picture and is just insanely talented.

Without him? No one knows what to expect from the Baylor offense.

Art Briles insists that the team is “in good hands” with back up Jared Stidham, but consider me skeptical. The Baylor offense has always relied on really good quarterback play – read: Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Nick Florence – and without Russell I don’t know what kind of team Baylor will be.

Baylor has looked way better than TCU so far this season, but does Russell’s injury open the door up for TCU to snatch up the Big 12 and secure a spot in the playoff barring another bad loss? Can Oklahoma State possibly even slip in and surprise some people?

Russell’s injury completely shuffles up the Big 12 picture, as well as the Playoff picture, and now I have to make a pick a new national champion. So who is it? Stay tuned.

………….

I don’t talk about the NBA much because I think their product is a bit of an insult to basketball. It’s just dunks and three pointers and there’s barely any quality defense played. But for the first time in at least 10 years, I can honestly say I’m excited for the NBA season to begin.

In the past, the NBA’s been predictable. It’s been LeBron and Kobe and Durant and some boring team – like the Heat or the Lakers or the Spurs or something – was basically guaranteed to win the championship. But this year? This year is different.

The NBA had some refreshing variety in the 2014-15 season, and it actually pulled me in as a fan. Instead of all of the typical mundane things I talked about above, the league was fairly unpredictable.

The Warriors were the best team around, Anthony Davis emerged as an MVP candidate, James Harden played exceptional basketball, Kevin Durant wasn’t even the best player on his own team, the Hawks and the Raptors were two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team actually thrived. The NBA was actually exciting.

The Warriors won their first title since 1975 and have a good chance of repeating in 2016. Photo by Getty Images
The Warriors won their first title since 1975 and have a good chance of repeating in 2016. Photo by Getty Images

And this year? I really have no idea what’s going to happen. The Cavaliers might finally win a title, the MVP is a total crapshoot, there’s a good crop of exciting rookies, and young upstart teams – like the Timberwolves – have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs this year.

Unpredictability is the spice of life, and the NBA has it in spades this year. Hopefully the league can deliver on the promised excitement, but suffice it to say I’ll be paying close attention this year for the first time in as long as I can remember, and that’s a new and exciting endeavor for me.

…………..

After having my heart ripped straight out of my chest for the fourth consecutive year last April, I’m really trying to keep my emotions about the St. Louis Blues in check this season.

Every year I tell myself that “this team is different this year, and this is gonna be the year they finally do it.” And every year I’m sorely disappointed. So this year I’m just trying to enjoy what the Bluenote puts out on the ice and not get too emotionally attached.

But I’ll be damned if I’m not incredibly impressed with the team already this year.

For years the Blues have been an extremely disciplined defensive team with not a lot of offensive flair. You had to really enjoy the grit and grind of hockey to enjoy watching the Blues play. But with Vladimir Tarasenko putting on a breathtaking show every night and the emergence of Robby Fabbri, the Blues have a lot of excitement and flash now.

The Tarasenk-show in full effect. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Tarasenk-show in full effect. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

They have guys that excite a fan base, that can sell tickets. Every night I find myself looking forward to watching the Blues, because with the Tarasenk-show and Fabbri doing their thing every night, you never know what could happen.

Robby Fabbri reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the Oilers on opening night. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images
Robby Fabbri reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the Oilers on opening night. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images

And on top of that, the team has weathered a crazy storm of injuries beautifully so far. Kevin Shattenkirk, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund and Paul Stastny have all bitten the injury bug so far, which has been absolutely brutal to watch.

But seeing guys like Colton Parayko and Scottie Upshall step up their games to fill in those voids has been amazing. The team hasn’t really missed a beat without 4 of their best players, and that’s a testament to the outstanding depth and mentality this team has.

It’s okay to be excited about the Blues, because oh my gosh they are so fun to watch, but don’t be sold yet. When mid-May rolls around and these Blues are still playing, that’s the time to believe.

But like I said about the Rams the other day, enjoy what the Blues have going. Tarasenko is a once in a lifetime talent who would be considered the best player in the NHL if he didn’t play in St. Louis. And Fabbri has a chance to be that special as well.

There was a long period of Blues futility, where winning hockey was as foreign to the city of St. Louis as winning football is nowadays. But these days are not those days, and winning hockey is customary and expected. Don’t take it for granted and enjoy this team while they’re good.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

The Blues are a unique gift, featuring an owner that actually cares about his fan base – very deeply so – and an on-ice product that’s on par with any team in the league. So watch it, enjoy it, wear your blue proudly, but make them earn your belief and respect in April and May.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Ryan Riffs: How Seth Russell’s Injury Affects the College Football Playoff