The NBA is the gift that, at least for the past 64 years, keeps on giving. Personal recollections of seasons past, as well as an eager anticipation of the forthcoming season, have once again conspired to rekindle thoughts of some of the things I love about the NBA.
• At the top of the list are the incredible skills of the world’s greatest athletes. Only soccer players and marathon runners are in better condition. Only football players get hit harder. Only high-jumpers and volleyball players have equable hops. And, even though they are not shadowed by aggressive defenders, only gymnasts and acrobats have more moves.
• Close games, no matter who’s playing, or where or when they happen to be playing. The Nets versus the Timberwolves in a half-empty arena in early April, say, when neither team has a chance to make the playoffs or to increase or decrease their odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft; an apparently meaningless game at the end of a long, grueling season that for them can’t be over quick enough. But the interest in this scenario is to see which players, who are all so used to losing, will step up and play with courage and ferocity, and which will just go through the motions.
• The entirety of a seven-game playoff series. The special appeal here is to follow the human chess matches as each coaching staff digests every game and gets deeper and deeper into their opponents’ game plan. A corollary interest is to observe how well, or how poorly, players can make the necessary adjustments from game to game.
• Being 6-9 and a one-time pivot man, it’s increasingly depressing to see more and more 7-footers shooting treys and playing more like guards than like centers. That’s why I particularly enjoy the footwork, power, speed and skills of accomplished post-up scorers such as Tim Duncan, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Luis Scola, Yao Ming and Pau Gasol. Even the comparatively simplistic pivotal endeavors of bigs such as Chris Kaman, Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard, as well as the occasional flashbacks executed by Shaq, can usually ignite my appreciation.
• Next to what transpires in the endgame, the opening minutes of the third quarter are usually fascinating and always significant. That’s when the adjustments made (or not made) by a team’s coaching staff during halftime are dramatically manifest. This brief stretch of time provides an excellent glimpse into the expertise of the coaches as well as the flexibility and discipline of the players.
• I absolutely love it when the league office officially rescinds a technical foul. This is as close as the NBA ever gets to a public demonstration of their officiating staff’s fallibility.
• While I hate any player on any team suffering any kind of injury, there are intriguing possibilities that often result. What’s more fun that seeing how a season-long backup performs as a starter? Or how an otherwise bench-bound third-stringer plays in backup minutes?
• The glorious bounty of NBA games that can be observed from my favorite rocking chair. The literally hundreds of games that are televised on various stations from late October to mid-June more than compensate for the rest of the mindless trash that otherwise overwhelms the airwaves.
• The execution of all the plays that fail to get recorded in officials stats. From the passes that lead to assist passes to bone-crunching screens that tear holes in defenses; from solid box-outs to precise defensive rotations.
• The sharp edge of excitement, passion and anticipation in an important ball game when a win-or-lose shot leaves the shooter’s hand. Will the result be joy? Despair? A foul? A goal-tend? Some other kind of unforeseen infraction? Or a put-back? A game-saving defensive rebound? All of life’s mysteries up for grabs.
And that’s because what I love most about the NBA is that life is a metaphor for basketball.