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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.