Sunday, April 29, 2007

Why NBA Watching can be a Chore

A good article on how the NBA has gone Hollywood is in Slatemagazine. But it's not enough to keep the viewer transfixed, and I discovered the Slate article during an interminable time-out in the Miami Heat/Chicago Bulls game this afternoon.

Personally, following the NBA for me has been over fifty years of observing athleticism trump values and discipline disappear before flashy spin moves and no-look passes and slam dunks that fabulous TV coverage can now catch for highlight replays.

I first watched the NBA back in the fifties when the Milwaukee Hawks drafted Bob Pettit who became one of the leading scorer/rebounders in the NBA almost instantaneously [he averaged over 20 a year in both categories during his splendid career]. [Trivia: the name "Hawks" is derived from "Black Hawks," whose eponymous Sauk ancestor was from the area near the Quad Cities in Illinois/Iowa where the team got its start. Thus Blackhawk is the only human whose name is appended to a pro sports franchise, and it's two franchises, the Chicago NHL and the Atlanta NBA teams.]

Then I followed the Hawks to St. Louis where I used to watch future NBA Hall of FamerLenny Wilkinsat the St. Louis U. gym practice with the his Hawks team after my own intramural games were over.

In DC, I became a fan of the old Washington Bullets, formerly the Baltimore Bullets, who changed their name because of the obvious association with Dodge City on the Potomac the nickname elicited. I used to play and put together an intermural team with some buddies at the State Dept, including a fellow who played with Bill Bradley on the Princeton Tigers team. One of our practice sessions, who walked in to shoot a few practice shots but Moses Malone! A very big large dude.

Moving to Chicago, I arrived about the time of the Bulls' reign as a legendary franchise built around MJ, the best player I've ever seen play. The only playoff game with the Bulls I watched was with tickets given to me by Ilham Aliyev, whom I was escorting around Chicago for Amoco Corp and who is now President of Azerbaijan.

Now I'm a Miami Heat fan in my dotage and I began this blog while the Heat were missing free throws at a pace worse than a high school B-team. I watched one-armed Dwyane Wade, a Marquette U. product and possible MJ successor, falter with seven turnovers. DW hit his free throws, but it looks like a sad denouement for NBA All-Stars like Shaq, Zo, Gary Payton, Jason Williams and Antoine Walker. Also Posey might be trade bait, as his play was erratic and his arrest during the playoffs a distraction. Shaq may remain, but will he and Dwyane and Jason and Kapono and Haslem, who also played poorly, be enough to build a team around? And is Haslem up to the task? Is Jason, who also committed multiple turnovers, still a prime time player?

Finally, will Pat Riley, who was out for part of the season along with almost every Heat player, up for years of rebuilding?

Also, the NBA game style is becoming very boring. NBA players do not practice free throws, nor do they consider the backboard part of scoring opportunities. Offensive rebounds, including hanging around to see if the second free throw makes it, are becoming too onerous for the average NBA player. No blocking out or other offense/defense basics appear to be important. Bounce passes have disappeared, palming the ball and often carrying the ball are okay, the officiating sucks and sometimes looks like point-shaving to the cynical. A dozen times, Ben Wallace, notorious for not taking flops, fell backward any time Shaq got near him and Shaq got the foul call from the refs, who might have been told to keep the larger media market of Chicago in the mix.

Also, the NBA markets itself as a glamorous celebrity magnet, with frequent cutaways to Jack Nicholson on the sidelines for Lakers games [No Knicks games are broadcast nationally, so Spike Jones is not seen so often]. The fact that Kobe Bryant was accused of rape and mysteriously the case went away, with only a loss of a couple of endorsements, but then came back stronger than ever, with fellow-non-championship ringholder Charles Barkley cheerleading him as "the best basketball player in the world," which autistic remark being repeated by the ESPN chorus as frequently as possible.

Question: if Kobe is the best B-ball player, why don't the Lakers have any rings since he signed on?

Now that the Heat are out, the Suns are my next bet. Nash is a TEAM PLAYER and an MVP player and Barbosa and Co. are exciting to watch. I'll take either one over "the best basketball player in the world" every day of the week.

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