It’s no secret I’m not a big NBA fan. One reason is I have no favorite team. I’ve lived in New York all my life but have no allegiance to the Knicks. Certain players draw me to certain teams—Jordan to the Bulls, Duncan to the Spurs—but I don’t root for one exclusively. I think that makes it harder to be a fan.
Another reason is I like college hoops a lot more. Nobody sat me down at a young age and made me choose between the two, but I think it’s very difficult to be a dedicated fan of both college and pro basketball (that is, and maintain any sort of life outside of watching basketball). They play on the same nights during the same months. (I prefer college football over the NFL, too, but the Saturday/Sunday games make it far easier to follow both.)
I have a few friends who enjoy the NBA, including a college friend named Larson who is always questioning my disinterest with the league. He, like many others, tells me the NBA is a collection of the greatest basketball talent in the world, as if I didn’t realize this.
What’s interesting is how people like Larson constantly sell the NBA. At first, people are curious, wondering if not being a fan is against my religion or something. Then, they feel bad for me, because I am missing out on great entertainment. Usually, they get angry, frustrated that I don’t get it.
On one hand, it’s admirable, and their passion shows how great these people think the NBA is. The problem is, that passion can’t be transferred from one person to another.
The other interesting part is that I never do this with non-college hoops fans. I realize there are a lot of schools, and December games may not intrigue you, and the quality of play can’t compete with the NBA. Especially if you didn’t attend a school with some hardwood tradition, I can easily see why you wouldn’t be too interested. But for whatever reason I never feel the need to sell the game. It’s incredibly entertaining—nothing beats March Madness, I say—and if you’re not paying attention it’s your loss. Maybe I’m a bad friend for not pushing it more. Or maybe I’ve realized that for those who don’t care, it’s a lost cause. That being said…
I watched a fair amount of the action this past weekend, including all of the Chicago Bulls-Indiana Pacers game. The Bulls posted the NBA’s best record; Indiana was eight games under .500, though they played better since firing their coach in late January. Most figured the Bulls would coast to the second round, needing only four or five games to do it. That’s still very possible, but the favorites trailed by 10 with 3:30 to play in Game One.
That’s when Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, who had been awesome all game, took his play to an even higher level. In consecutive possessions, he fired a missile to Joakim Noah on a fast break for a dunk to cut the lead to four, converted an and-one basket, knocked down a jumper to tie the game, then drew multiple defenders and kicked out to an open Kyle Korver for a go-ahead three with 48 seconds left, Chicago’s first lead.
Anyone who has seen Rose play (at any stage of his playing career) knew before Saturday that he was a stud. He’ll likely win the MVP award this season, his third in the league (at 22, it would make him the youngest MVP in NBA history). Had voting occurred after the playoff’s opening weekend, Rose may have been a unanimous winner.
|That jersey number seems awfully appropriate. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
I’ve written before about athletes who are worth the price of admission, and while the bar rises with ticket prices, Rose definitely belongs in that category. As my friend Griffin says, Rose is like LeBron, just a few inches shorter (6’3). In other words, he’s a physical freak who can blow past the defender and challenge two more at the hoop, twisting around one and taking contact from another, all while switching the ball from one hand to the other in mid-air and making the basket.
In Saturday’s game alone it was amazing to see how many times an Indiana defender set up for a charge only to discover Rose had managed to avert contact altogether. His body control is equaled by few, and his ability to take contact (especially impressive considering he’s only 190 pounds) and still finish also puts him among the league’s elite.
Rose’s outside shot became more reliable this season (his three-point percentage was a respectable 33 percent; last year it was a dismal 20). His free throw shooting jumped nearly 10 percentage points, up to 85 percent, important considering he has the ball in his hands in key moments and repeatedly draws fouls (Rose was 19-of-21 from the line on Saturday). Defenders will still sometimes play off him, and if he’s not feeling confident in his shot, his amazing quickness allows him to drive past them anyway.
The only player to rank in the top 10 in both scoring in assists this season, Rose is an eye-popping talent that even casual pro basketball fans will certainly enjoy watching. I know I have.
NOTE: The NBA needs to change its playoff scheduling format. I understand money drives all decisions, but the non-travel off days and extended layoffs for travel are ridiculous. Every series in this opening round takes at least one day off between every game. All but three have two days off between Games One and Two.
Major League Baseball is just as greedy as the other professional leagues, but it realized (I imagine) that fans lost interest as the off days piled up. There should be no days off when the teams are staying in the same city, and one day for travel when the series shifts to the other arena. That is what MLB did this past postseason, and it helped the playoffs sustain their momentum. Hopefully the NBA will follow suit next year, if there is a season next year.