Probably few people who are not professionally invested in the sport of basketball are as excited for the present post-lockout season as I am. I’m going to try and do a writeup of the so-called “offseason” and its ramifications soon, but for now, I just want to say how giddy I am about what’s going on in the league in terms of pure basketball content. Did anyone even know who Norris Cole was until two weeks ago (and also can anyone deny that no mere mortal could possibly be named “Norris Cole”; that a name like “Norris Cole” is only possessed by steely-eyed assassins in spy movies?)? Are you not excited about the possibility of almost literally watching Ricky Rubio *every single night*? Haven’t you missed that remarkable Ray Allen jumper, metronomic in its practiced repeatability?
Paradoxically, the expectation of the season is made all the better for me because I’ve already given up on any notion of success from the teams I follow. I was of course overjoyed with the Mavericks’ title last year and Dirk getting his long-awaited due; now that the team has decided that to substitute the quick-shifting sands of Lamar Odom for the concrete foundation that was Tyson Chandler (and willingly hung the Vince Carter millstone around its neck) it’s pretty clear that there won’t be a repeat, Brian Cardinal non-withstanding. I’ll still watch Steve Nash rack up assists by passing to Markieff Morris, Grant Hill, and Marcin Gortat, but the Suns aren’t a playoff threat to anyone. The Celtics roster is down to something like 3.5 players, and while they’ll probably still drub some bad teams, there’s little doubt in my mind that the Eastern Conference Finals this year will look a lot like they did last year.
So yeah, not caring about how my teams will do makes life a lot more enjoyable; I’ll still pull for them, but I’m much more free to enjoy the weird randomness that the compressed schedule and genuine league-wide chaos are going to offer up. I’m genuinely excited for the Timberwolves this year, and not because of any particular love (hehehe) for the team as such, but just because they’re new and fresh and exciting and they’re coached by Rick Adelman who always strikes me as looking a little bit constipated. I want to see if Mark Jackson knows anything at all about coaching a basketball team and whether the Curry/Ellis tandem can succeed. I’m curious about whether the Heat will finally turn into the unstoppable offensive juggernaut we all know they can actually be. I want to know if the Knicks can win a playoff series (I’m gonna go with a hesitant “yes” on that one). In short, liberated fandom galore.
Of all the sports Americans watch, basketball is by far the most conscious of itself as not just sport but entertainment. Baseball bores me, though I understand that some find it appealing to watch a guy try to hit a ball with a stick for three hours (I am told there is even “strategy” involved, though I’m not sure I believe it). Football lives up to its martial metaphors, with the consequence that intermittent moments of brilliance are frequently obfuscated by the prolonged tedium of a war of attrition. Whoa, that guy just gained two yards, let’s all stop for five minutes and contemplate that! I suppose it’s quite possible to be engrossed in every action that takes place on the football field, but I would hardly call it “entertainment” as such, and generally view it as an occurrence best left running in the background; they’ll show you replays of the good stuff anyway.
But basketball, despite entirely too many foul shots, is dynamic and entertaining. Pretty much every play contains the possibility of watching a human being do something really, really amazing, whether that’s a between-the-legs pass, an alley-oop, or a clever ankle-breaking crossover. Because there are only ten men on the court, you get to see everything that happens so you can follow plays as they unfold. It may be too much to equate basketball completely with explicitly artistic pursuits like ballet, but surely there’s some genuine parallel here that would allow us to appreciate basketball as an aesthetic phenomenon. Since basketball consciously sells itself as entertainment the game invites that kind of analysis. Say what you will about David Stern (and I hatessss him, preciousss), but if there’s one thing you can’t fault the man for, it’s understanding that.
We’re something like 8 games into the season, and it’s turning out to be every bit as great as I’ve expected.