How do I put this.
As a female person who is a fan of/has written about the NBA, I often find myself confronted by well-meaning mansplainers who enjoy challenging my love of pro basketball.[*] There are, of course, myriad things to criticize about the league. But these mansplainers are concerned with the basketball side, the game itself. In the thick of March Madness (about which I readily admit I know relatively little, not being a big NCAA fan myself—though, speaking of things to criticize about a league!), they trot out the old favorite claim about the NCAA being “more real” than the NBA, or some authenticity announcement of the kind. It’s “better basketball” (what?); the players are hungrier, they “want it more” (really?); it’s more of a “team game,” not just about “one big star making shots” (please enjoy); etc., etc., etcetcetcetclakjsdfklajdf.
It occurred to me recently that my whole aversion to getting into NCAA basketball might be more about these sorts of people and the prospect of having to keep hearing this insufferable, one-note claim.
Last night my friend Drew, more of a baseball man himself, correctly pointed out that claiming to like the NCAA’s brand of basketball better than the NBA’s is like saying you only watch for Minor League teams, and then when regular season MLB comes back, you lose interest.
I’d be willing to bet everything I have that there is not one NCAA player who’d rather be playing NCAA ball for the rest of their career than matriculating to the NBA. The NBA is where the best players in the world go to compete with each other. It’s unclear to me why this is such insulting news to the NCAA fanatics. The NBA offers a level of competition high enough to compel the most brilliant players to innovate new ways of playing the game. This is why the “star players” NCAA fans so loathe are important in the NBA game: not just because they are the fucking best and show us the outer limits of human athletic potential, you numbskulls—although how can you possibly not be entertained by that—but because these are the players who don’t just participate in games but set the terms of the game. Star power is a major part of what the NBA is about because the NBA is the league where players of this caliber—and, hell, just as impressive, players with the capacity to actually play with players of this caliber—go to play. And because this level of competition has continuously forced radical innovation of the game, watching NBA basketball, at its best, is a historical experience. You are watching players so good at a game that they exceed its limits and change it by playing it. Right in front of your eyes.
It’s perfectly great to love NCAA ball. In fact I do get it, I get what people love about it, I get that the whole culture around it is a different and wildly entertaining breed of sport. Maybe you like both leagues for different reasons! Great. Totally understandable! But I do not, will never, get how a person could actually prefer NCAA over NBA. Different, yes. Better? No. By definition, not better. Such a person would seem to be more a fan of the culture around the NCAA than someone who understands, and loves, the game of basketball itself.
[*] In the worst cases, questioning my love of the game has included questioning my motives: “So, like, did you just get into it to get attention from guys?” is actually something a man asked me last year. In other cases, challenging my fandom has amounted to quizzing me about stats/history/trivia/etc. I would describe myself, on a scale of Ignorant to Expert/Authority, as being ‘Very Knowledgable’ about the NBA. But I’m not the encyclopedic sort with respect to anything I amateurishly love—my favorite authors, shows, movies, whatever—and I readily admit when I don’t know something, because, how much currency does knowing a fact have in the age of Google? But in any case, such dudes can barely contain their victory dance when they tell me something I didn’t know. “You didn’t know that??!?” It’s like they’re playing Stump the Panel.
Boxer to Boxer
Playing magnificently and futilely in the final minutes of tonight’s Lakers loss at home to the Magic, Kobe reminded me of Boxer the Horse. Always doin’ work, even when all it’s for nothing. This other boxer sees you, Kobe.
There is no Center
The NBA has deleted the center position from the All-Star Game nomination ballot. There is no center in the All-Star Galaxy! This is seen by many an NBA junkie, myself included, as the first step toward the eventual extinction of traditional, fixed position delineations in the league. And sure, the NBA nerds out there are all but unanimously condoning the centerless ASG ballot, but the hero Bethlehem Shoals foresaw, and proclaimed, the end of static positions (assigned to particular players according to their main role on a team) way back. Most recently, he wrote about it, brilliantly, for The Classical. Witness his prescient utopian-anarchist vision!:
I used to be a positional relativist, with players’ roles determined by a set of responsibilities that had to be distributed across the roster. However, this now seems way too rigid, as it locates the possibility of unflinching order somewhere between a team’s identity and the identity of the individual players—neither of which was supposed to slip or crumble. Now I would say I’m more of a positional anarchist, but not in the violent, liberal-arts-kids gone wild, sense. I’m thinking more of the utopian version of anarchism, where everyone is provided precisely through the rejection of overarching order or authority.
There’s a lot more to this than theory. In practice, it’s already been happening, all over the league, for a long time. The NBA isn’t the game changer; the game is changing the NBA.
Keep the band together
Unsurprisingly, but satisfyingly, my favorite team preview comes from Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie, where he surveys the conditions and conditions of possibility facing what has been, in the last two seasons, my favorite team to watch, the Memphis Grizzlies. Here’s an excerpt from his preview—but go read the whole thing at BDL:
For a team that has spent precious little time as the overlooked underdog, an NBA junkie’s fave dragon (Favrgon), the Memphis Grizzlies might be looking down the barrel of something scary if they can’t make some noise next May. A first round exit at the hands of a very good Los Angeles Clippers squad last May came on the heels of a second round run in 2011, and while this team has third round or even Finals potential (given a series of productive matchups), the cap figures and age issues surrounding the club don’t portend well for years of keeping the band together.
Mostly because the nearly $47 million spent on Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol this season will jump to nearly $50 million and then nearly $52 million in the two years following. A potential new ownership group might be fine with paying tax-level dollars just to keep this current roster running, but even in New York or Los Angeles this payroll (in the mid-$70 millions next season even if Tony Allen isn’t retained) would be tough to live with. For a team still trying to develop depth, it’s damn near in the way.
Which is why 2012-13, sadly, has to be so telling for both the franchise, the players involved, and the fans. A team with two All-Star caliber bigs, a game-changing defender in the back court, and two still-improving sub-stars at small forward and point guard should be able to do terrible things to even the Lakers and Heats of the world; but if Memphis doesn’t impress this postseason the hard sell for one or more max studs could be on the move. A shame, but reality in any market. Get to work now, then.
Look. @NotBillWalton doesn’t hate the groundbreaking female sportscaster Doris Burke because she’s a female. It’s just that the mere sound of her voice causes him physical agony. Shut up while I’m watching my sports, woman!
The fact is that @NotBillWalton tweets are often notably misogynist messages. I had to unfollow the account myself after feeling offended more than once by what seemed like plain nastiness. Here are just a few selected recent fuck-yous to women from that classy account.
Theme: Loathsome morons! Women don’t just suck at announcing basketball, they suck at playing it, too!
Theme: Blame the bitches!