So today I decided to begin a multi-part series on sports. I guess I could call it "Why I ... Sports". But that is a pretty dumb name. I will begin with basketball, and then move to baseball, football, hockey, and others. I promise I'll get back to other more important stuff later - not like that makes a huge difference to your world.
Basketball should be the most popular sport in America. It is easily the most accessible. You can play it with the fewest people (one). For the price of a gaming system (Xbox) you can buy a hoop for at your house. There are hoops all over the place. Yet, it has rapidly dropped to third out of the "Big Three" sports in America. Why is that? Why is it that there are, according to Bill Simmons of ESPN, "only 19 true NBA fans left in the world"? Since I'm not a sociologist or a sports journalist, I cannot give you the actual stats or studies on that fall. All I can do, is tell you from my point of view. Here is why I hate the NBA - and as a result basketball as a whole.
It wasn't always this way. I loved basketball. I always liked football more, but I loved basketball. I played it in the backyard with my brother, watched it on tv, actually thought about trying out for it, and served as cameraman for a season with my high school team. When I was in high school, I probably thought about basketball more than any other sport - the Cowboys were frustrating me in the NFL, the Yankees were in their lull in MLB, I didn't know anything about hockey. So for a few years, it was big for me. Then I moved to Orlando - a city with an actual team! And I went to games, and the Magic went the NBA finals. I honestly watched every playoff game that year. This was 1995. In ten years, it went from required viewing to apathy to loating. How?
1 - Shaq - I had become a huge NBA fan - and a huge Magic fan. Shaq, Penny. Awesome. They made it to the Finals in 1995 and lost to Houston in the finals. Then in 1996 they made it to the conference finals against the Bulls and got swept. Shaq was the only Magic player who did much, but he still seemed like he wasn't there any more. Then it happened. Shaq was a free agent, and despite the Magic offering him more money - he bolted to the Lakers - killing the franchise. And the way it happened stunk. He and his agent had been talking to the Lakers before the season was over, and the Magic did nothing about it. All of the Olympians were at MGM Studios for a parade in July, and a friend of mine who worked there got a ton of us in for free for it. So we were at the parade, and the crowd was going nuts for everyone. Shaq rides by and yells, "I love you Orlando." Kept yelling it. The crowd was like, "He's staying!" We all left and drove over to visit a friend working at one of the hotels. He says, "Did you hear Shaq signed with L.A.?" Ugh. I think you would be hard pressed to think of an athlete who meant more to a city that left that city than Shaq with Orlando.
2 - The Atlanta Hawks - They were my first basketball love, largely because we had TBS and they broadcast every Hawks game. That and Dominique Wilkens. Number 21. I had his jersey and tons of Hawks stuff. 'Nique was the man. His battle vs. Larry Bird in the playoffs was legendary. The scoring title, the slam dunk title, the battles with Jordan in the dunks. He was awesome. The Hawks started rolling, had some good seasons and some playoff battles. Then in 1993-1994 it was supposed to be their year. Jordan had retired. The Hawks were going to win their division. Nique would get his title. Then they traded him in February to the Clippers! For Danny Manning. AAAAHHH. It was to get them ready for the playoffs, to make more of a charge. Wilkens had been everything to that team, and then for their first serious title run, they traded him for Manning. That was it for Atlanta. They had a few good years in the late 90s, but they had no soul. I firmly believe their terrible play over the past 5-6 years has been payback.
3 - The Player Revolution - Somewhere along the line, the players took over the NBA. I don't know when it was exactly. Was it when Penny led the revolt against Brian Hill with the Magic, leading to his firing? Was it when Sprewell choked his coach and wasn't banned for life? I'm not sure. But now, coaches are not even given one year to turn things around. People like Vince Carter and T-Mac can admittedly "dog it" to get teams to trade them, and there is no penalty. Bit players with little talent play their hearts out during the last year of their contract, and then go back to being slobs once they score a huge contract from some other sucker (Mark Blount, Erick Dampier, the Knicks). Because he was dogging it and whining all the time, the Magic traded T-Mac (along with two other players) last year for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. Later they traded Mobley to the Kings for Doug Christie. Francis was mad about the second trade and quit playing well. Christie didn't want to come to Orlando, so he faked an injury, was deactivated, and then cut this offseason. So what did Orlando get for one of the 5 best players in the NBA? A whiny point guard and an injury-prone center. Good night. But nothing is ever done to the players.
4 - The Showboating - This is not an urban/rural thing. This is a complaint against how the NBA does not care about talent - they care about potential. They have been drafting 18 year olds for so long, they don't ever get polished players in the league any more. And when they do (LeBron, Dwight Howard) they take over b/c they are such a rarity. As much as I hated Bird, his teams were skilled and played with an amazing knowledge of the game. The same with the old Lakers, MJ's Bulls. They only two teams who still cared about that last year were the Pistons and Spurs (coincidence they were the Finals teams?). But even those two would have been destroyed by any of Magic's, Larry's, MJ's, or Isaiah's teams. There is no focus on skills. It is all about dunking and three-pointers. Where are the low post players (besides Shaq)? Where are the true point guards? Everyone wants the highlights. No one wants to work for them.
5 - The Announcers - I don't think that any sport has anyone to compare to the idiots and loudmouths who are associated with basketball. Yes, they are trying (NFL - Michael Irvin, Sean Salisbury, Theisman - MLB - John Kruk). But no one compares to the idiocy on parade between studio hosts, sideline reporters, and "experts." Let us look at the names: Stephen A Smith (ugh), Stu Scott (not the same personality as the NFL Stuart Scott - I swear he morphs on the court), Bill Walton, Greg Anthony, Tim Legler, Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, Kenny Smith. Morons. What happened to David Aldridge? He had class. There are no classy tv personalities in the NBA, except crossovers Mike Turico and Al Michaels. Most of them just yell and overanalyze, just to get face time. Except Charles Barkley - who is absolutely hillarious.
6 - The Boston Celtics - I hate the Celtics and always have. But they are one of "those teams." Every sport has them - the teams that everyone either hates or loves. The Yankees, the Cowboys, the Lakers, Notre Dame. They are the teams that never seem to really lose it. They may have some sub-par years. But never do they become a joke. But the Celtics have managed to do that - it just doesn't seem right. It is like the NBA doesn't have a villain any more. What good is a movie without a villain? How does the NBA let that happen? That is your flagship franchise.
What happens in the NBA then spills down into college and high school. As a result, all basketball has gone down the same route. They all have turned into sorry displays of poor sportsmanship, poor play, boorish personalities on and off the court, yelling and screaming, immature coddled players, and ridiculously stupid decision making. If I want to see incompetence on the screen, I'll watch a Burger King closed circuit camera or any movie involving Rob Schneider. And that is why I hate basketball.