Recently, something funny happened. I moved to NOLA and witnessed firsthand the CP3 renaissance; I watched a Western Conference playoff race that saw a 48-win team--a team that would've been the East's #4--miss the playoffs; I saw point guards playing like points guards, and big men playing like big men. Suddenly--and out of nowhere--I became... gasp... an NBA fan.
Now, I am the first to admit that this revelation has left me in a state of shock. Me--liking the NBA? Me supporting the league that made Juwan Howard a gillionaire and paid Keith Van Horn several million dollars just to be a paper-element of a trade? Geez. What's come over me?
In order to explain this strange development (and mostly for my own peace of mind), I've thought a lot about my newfound fandom. The following points, which serve to explain my own transformation, will perhaps also say a bit about the current (exciting) state of the Association.
1. Having a "hometown" team
When I lived in South Carolina, the two nearest NBA franchises were the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks. That's right: an expansion team made up of college superstars with tenuous pro potential, and a franchise known for its... how to say it?... utter suckitude. Sure, I'd grown up idolizing the Zo/LJ/Mugsy Hornets, but they were long gone, transferred to New Orleans, then OKC, then back again.
In the summer of 2007, as fate would have it, I relocated to the Big Easy with the hopes of helping to rebuild the city's education system. I assumed I'd be caught up in Saints fever, what with the recent NFC title game run and all. Little did I realize, however, that the now-New Orleans Hornets had gone and built themselves a lil' basketball team. Armed with Byron Scott (Finals-tested coach), Chris Paul (a college stud I knew of), David West (the guy who beat out Dwyane Wade for NPOTY honors), and Peja (the streakiest jump-shooter this side of Ray Allen), the Hornets have quite a nucleus. But who--honestly--expected this kind of season?
From the get-go, the Hornets seemed destine for success, and it took me little time to fall in love with their story. CP3 looks like he could be better than Zeke. David West is a legit All Star. Tyson Chandler is showing the promise that the Bulls saw in him at an early age. Peja's shots never seem to touch the rim. Were it not for a few slip-ups at the end of the season, NO would've earned the #1 seed in the most heated conference race I've ever seen. Indeed, here in NOLA, I feel connected to an NBA franchise for the first time in my life.
2. New faces at the table
For most of my lifetime, NBA seasons were foregone conclusions. When #23/45 was around, you could pretty much guarantee a Windy City title; once Shaq and Kobe teamed up, Tinseltown was rife with gold. In fact, since I was born (long ago, in 1983!), there have been 3 3peats, 3 repeats, and a 3-out-of-5. Amazingly, every champion since 1983-84, with the exception of the Miami Heat, has one more than one title in the past 25 years. Sure, the NFL has had the Cowboys and the 49ers, and baseball has known the Yankees; but, of the 3 major U.S. sports leagues, the NBA has been the home of dynasties.
This season, due to a broad array of circumstances, things really are "up in the air."
- As eloquently stated on this here humble blog, the Pistons' are getting older. Their stretch of Eastern dominance may be coming to an end.
- The Celtics, in a MAJOR coup, ended up with a roster featuring KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. Suddenly, the guys in green are a force to be reckoned with.
- The Spurs are on the once-great/now-questionable border.
- The Suns have Shaq, and a beastly Amare.
- The Mavs are inconsistent but still loaded with talent.
- The Jazz are ruthless at home.
- The Rockets won like 383,393 straight games.
- The Hornets are for real.
- So are the new-look Lakers.
Especially in the ridiculous Western Conference, outcomes this season are not definitively predictable. Every 1st-round matchup--even the #1-#8--is not only competitive, but entertaining. Now, instead of complaining that the playoffs should be trimmed to 4 teams from each conference, I want to watch every single game of every single series. At least in the West. (Pistons/76ers is a yawner. And Raptors/Magic is so-so... but even that one features the inhuman Dwight Howard.)
3. Young players with loads of talent
More than any time I can remember, these days are chock full of NBA talent. Consider these NBA seeds, listed by star player(s) rather than teams:
West: #1 Kobe Bryant, #2 Chris Paul/David West, #3 Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobli, #4 Deron Williams/Carloz Boozer, #5 Tracy McGrady/Yao Ming, #6 Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire/Shaq, #7 Dirk Nowitzki/Jason Kidd, #8 Allen Iverson/Carmelo Anthony
East: #1 Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen/Paul Pierce, #2 Rasheed Wallace/Chauncey Billups/Richard Hamilton, #3 Dwight Howard, #4 Lebron James, #5 Gilbert Arenas, #6 Chris Bosh, #7 Andre Iguodala, #8 Al Horford
Except for the laggers in the East, each team features legitimate stars who are fun to watch.
4. A variety of stars
I used to think that the NBA was personified by the Knicks--that every team featured tons of guys who play no D and stand around watching the guy with the ball. Nowadays, however, I see people playing their positions... a virtual constellation of players and roles, all delivering eyepopping action.
Guys like Steve Nash and Chris Paul have rejuvenated the speed game, playing the "pure" point at times, and caring more about assists than points.
Players like Kevin Durant and David West reside somewhere between guard and forward--athletic dudes who can cause trouble no matter where you put them.
Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard are huge, but not in the monolithic way of older Shaq and mid-career Ewing. They're more like athletic forwards who can guard your team's big man.
I never foresaw myself becoming an NBA fan. But, due to a fortunate set of circumstances, the Association is now a part of my sports consciousness. With so many young stars making the potential for parity a reality, I may be on NBAndwagon for a while...