December 2, 2016

I can't care about this game: My inability to follow the NBA

For some reason — be it nostalgia or an effort to reconnect with my youth — I have long wanted to rekindle the love I felt for the NBA when I was a kid. So, at the beginning of the current NBA season, I vowed to once again watch games, keep tabs on the standings, and revel in the skill and artistry of the league’s players. (Basketball is an amazingly beautiful game — even more so, in my opinion, than soccer.)

However, it’s just not happening.

I can’t do it. I can’t make myself care about the NBA, especially since I am such a fan of men’s college basketball. Recently, I watched Villanova and Purdue play in West Lafayette. The score was high and tight, the teams were running the court, trading baskets, and the crowd was going wild. Excitement and adrenaline radiated from the TV. “The NBA can’t compare to this,” I thought.

Besides, I have way too much stuff going on anyway, too many things to keep track of and do already. One of my resolutions for 2017 will be to do less and enjoy it more, and not following the NBA will help do that.

However, despite the fact I can’t make myself do it, I still feel the urge, the need, to follow the NBA, too. I feel guilty for not doing it. Basketball is my favorite sport, so it seems logical for me to follow the pros. I followed both the NBA and college basketball at the same time once before, so I feel like I should do it again.

Why? Because the NBA was my first love. Though I have followed men’s college basketball to varying degrees and cheered for the Hawkeyes since falling head over heels for basketball in 1992, I followed the NBA much more closely during those first few, formative years.

I was obsessed. I religiously checked the scores and standings in the paper. I watched NBA Inside Stuff on Saturday mornings, recording the epic “jam session” segments. Decorating the walls of my room were posters featuring Shaq, Michael Jordan, and the Dream Team. I watched regular season games and closely followed the playoffs, reveling in the heightened intensity and stakes. (Though the Bulls-Knicks series received all the attention, I remember the Jazz-Rockets series being especially intense.) And I collected hundreds of cards, the choicest of which — the Jordans, Pippens, Robinsons, Barkleys, et cetera — I placed in special, plastic cases. (I put all the others in a shoebox, which I can’t find. I hope I didn’t throw it away in a fit of spring cleaning.)

However, my fascination with the NBA faded to almost nothing during the 1994-95 season. After watching the previous three NBA Finals, I barely followed the Houston-Orlando series that year. I made sure to know who won (the Rockets swept the Magic), but that was it. I doubt I watched a single minute of the entire championship series.

Such has been my relationship with the NBA ever since.

Why, after years of religiously following the league, did I lose almost all interest in professional basketball? Looking back, I think there were a couple reasons.

Starting in the 1994-95 season, I was unable to watch my favorite team, the Atlanta Hawks, as much as I had before. Previously, many Hawks games were broadcast on TBS, then considered a “superstation.” According to this 1993 NYT article, the NBA inked a four-year deal with Turner that forced TBS to stop televising Hawks games after the 1993-94 season. After TBS dropped the Hawks, the team was rarely on TV in Iowa City. Without the ability to watch my favorite team often, I started losing interest.

(During that first post-TBS season, I tried to watch the Hawks whenever they were on TV. I even tried to skip my DARE graduation ceremony because the Hawks were playing the Sonics that same Friday night on TNT. I purposely did not tell my parents about the ceremony because I knew they would make me attend. When the day of the ceremony and game came, I thought I was in the clear and would happily be lounging at home that night, watching the Hawks, while my classmates attended the boring-ass graduation. It was going to be glorious! However, at the end of that school day we had a small meeting or school ceremony, which I either didn’t know about or had not mentioned to my parents. Well, who did I see standing against the wall of the commons when the class walked in? My parents! When the principal ended the gathering by saying, “See everyone tonight!” my parents became curious and asked my teacher, “What’s going on tonight?” Needless to say, his answer blew my plan to smithereens and my parents forced me to go to the ceremony.)

That 1994-95 season was also when I read Brian Jacque’s Redwall. Instead of watching games, I preferred to devour other books in the Redwall series, like Mattimeo, Salamandastron, and Mossflower. (It was probably around the same time I stopped reading Fear Street books.) Redwall also rekindled my love of writing, and I started headlong into a massive, third part of a science fiction series I was writing. (I didn’t finish it — no doubt a sign of things to come.)

Around the same time, my dreams of becoming an NBA player slowly faded. In the summer of ’95, I became interested in radio and DJing, so my aspirations shifted. I continued to watch and attend Iowa men’s basketball games, but my obsession with the NBA faded to a passing interest.

Plus, the NBA seemed to change when Jordan returned (the first time). The Raptors and Grizzlies entered the league in 1995, and many of the teams changed their logos and jerseys in the mid-nineties, lending a garish unfamiliarity and childishness to the league. (The Rockets' jerseys and logo during the late nineties were especially ugly.) The Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium were demolished, so historic, quirky home courts were replaced by sparkling new arenas with rings of luxury boxes. Star players changed teams, most notably Clyde Drexler and Shawn Kemp). (Speaking of players changing teams, I cried when the Hawks traded Dominique Wilkins to the Clippers for Danny Manning in 1994. It may have been a good trade in theory, since Manning was younger and some may have thought ‘Nique, whose contract expired at the end of the season, was entering the twilight of his career. But it didn’t turn out that way. Manning became injury prone and barely played ever again. Dominique, however, remained productive, playing for the Celtics, Spurs, and Magic, with seasons in Greece and Italy sandwiched between. It is likely the worst trade in NBA history.) And the Bulls’ dominance became annoying. It’s great when good, deserving teams win it all, but it gets boring when the same team wins year after year. That’s one reason why I don’t follow European soccer leagues much anymore.

Though times changed, my apathy toward the NBA continued. I kept track of the Finals, mostly out of nostalgia. I look a liking to late-night Sonics games because of Reggie Evans (a former Hawkeye). The mid-naugties Suns were fun to watch because of their fast-paced offense led by Steve Nash and often punctuated by Amar’e Stoudemire. I cheered for the Celtics during the 2008 Finals, and watched each game of the 2016 Finals in an attempt to rekindle my love for the league. (I was hooked, but my interest obviously did not carry over into this season.)

That’s been about it. Nothing has compared to those first couple years. Will my interest in the NBA ever reach that level again? Probably not. Will I ever become interested to the point where I watch more games and keep track of the standings? Maybe. Though I have dismissed the NBA in the past, I’m much more open-minded now. Sure, the atmosphere at games can’t compare to college, and sometimes the players don’t look like they care, but it’s basketball.

If it’s going to happen, however, it probably won’t be this year.