I don’t mean to say I don’t know anything about this game, because I think I do. But then again, I thought I knew a few things about Intellectual History of the 19th Century, but my exams and final grade said different. But this NBA season just officially ended and really that concludes my first full season as a true NBA fan. And I learned lots.
I do feel like I had a decent handle on this game. No matter how you slice it, basketball is basketball. I played it, I coached it a little and I’ve watched it. But I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything this season actively following it for a full year. Because I sure did. Mid-level exceptions, salary cap, trade restrictions, restricted free agents, how the lottery actually works – those were a few of the smaller things I figured out early on.
But this is the first time I’ve ever closely followed the NBA game. In the past I watched M.J. when he played, watched the playoffs and maybe watched a good regular season game. When the Hornets stopped by for dinner in 2005, I followed. But not like I followed the Thunder. It was more looking at the box score each day on ESPN.com and either saying, “Cool they won,” or “Oh, they lost.” This season, I watched probably something like 84 out of 89 games (including preseason) and attended many. And it was all awesome.
So these aren’t revelations for fans in Boston or L.A. They know this already. But Oklahoma City fans are new. We’re like the 19-year-old freshman that decided he needed to expand his music taste from Kanye and Nickelback and finally gets into the Beatles and comes banging on your dorm room door saying, “Dude, Eleanor Rigby is a freaking awesome song. John Lennon Paul McCartney is a really good writer.” So here’s 20 revelations (or just things I learned this season) both about the Thunder and the Association in general.
1. The NBA All-Star game is simply the best of all the major sports.
We all know the Pro Bowl sucks. People care as much about the Pro Bowl as they do John and Kate Gosselin’s marital problems. Baseball’s All-Star game used to be the best until interleague play ruined it. But the NBA’s game is such a production. It’s not just a game, it’s a whole weekend. Even though the events always turn out to be lame and slightly boring, we still get jazzed up about them. Snickers Skills Challenge! Woo!!! But there’s musical performances every 10 seconds and awesome celebrity appearances. The actual game is rarely close, but it’s entertaining. The NBA is so personal as you can see the players’ faces clearly and every expression and every laugh. You can see the players are having a great freaking time, so you do to. Plus they get a little crazy and show off. Shaq handling in the open court. Behind-the-back passes on every fast break. Ridiculous oops and dunk attempts every two possessions. It’s just FANtastic (see what I did there?).
2. NBA players DO play hard.
Having watched college basketball basically my entire life, it’s easy to assume they don’t. It’s really one of the biggest complaints college ball lovers have. They don’t play hard. They’re just standing around. It’s all 1-on-1. College offenses run a lot of sets and motion because there isn’t the sheer skill. In college, there’s really no isolation plays and there’s a lot of zone played. So it’s easy to assume that college players are playing harder when in reality, there’s no difference. And then you’ve got the NBA 3-point line being further back so the spacing is better giving more opportunity for one-on-one or two-man games. I got the opportunity to sit basically courtside this year at a Thunder game. And let me tell you, those guys were playing freaking hard. People say all you need to watch in an NBA game is the fourth quarter because they don’t try for the first three. This is something I’ll never say again. Because those guys are busting their butts (for the most part) for the full 48. Now sure, the Clippers may not show up at all in the season finale, but come on, that’s the Clippers. We’re talking about the N-B-A. The Colorado Buffaloes have been doing the same thing for years, but nobody says anything.
3. Buzzer beaters are freaking awesome any way you slice them.
Jeff Green’s at Golden State was the highlight of the season for me. I used to hate the NBA timeout-advance rule, but I’m a fan now. It gives an otherwise hopeless situation a breath of life. 1.2 seconds left? No sweat. Timeout and now all I need is a well-drawn up catch and shoot. Of course, OKC got the short end of this a couple of times (CARMELOOO! shakes fist), but still, nothing brings you off the sofa faster than a completely stunning buzzer beater. Heck, I even go “Oooooh!” on most 24-second shot clock buzzer beaters. Just something about the ball going through the hoop with the “waaaaaa” of the horn in the background.
4. Evidently, you’re supposed to hate the Lakers.
This I did not know. It’s not like I love them, but I have no qualms. They seem like a fair bunch. Kobe is masterfully skilled and the ultimate competitor. Phil Jackson is cool like Fonz and always throws in hidden barbs at people and that keeps him interesting. But apparently, they suck. Now of course I was born in 1985 so during my major sports-rearing years, they weren’t all that relevant. The most I remember about them was Kurt Rambis, Anthony Peeler and Eddie Jones. And that their NBA Jam team stunk. Now I’ll admit to disliking some of the title teams in the 2000s but that was more because I was somewhat of a wagon Kings fan (who didn’t love that team?) and it miffed me that LA stole that series. But now that I know that as a basketball fan I am supposed to hate the Lakers Fakers, I will now boo everything they do.
5. Kevin Durant is good at basketball.
Holy crap in a sack, is he good at basketball. Some guys you can just see it. They have total control of the game and they know what they’re doing. It’s effortless. It’s like a watching an awesome scene in a movie and all of a sudden saying, “Man, that guy’s good.” And the best part is it’s only going to get better. Like Simmons says, what’s the ceiling? What are we to expect next year? If he adds some muscle and a couple post moves, are they going to be making new rules to make it fair for defenders? Will they be Durant-proofing the rules like golf courses did with Tiger? He’s got a pure mid-range game, a lethal outside shot and he can get to the rim any time. He is good. And for the 1,563rd time, he’s just 20 years old. I am excited to see where he goes from here, if you can’t tell.
6. Watching good defense is a lot more fun than watching good offense.
One reason I got a little bored with the NBA back at the beginning of this decade is because it seemed like players made everything. I actually had a real conversation with a couple friends when I was like 10 or 11 (yes, I remember this) wondering if it were possible to put some sort of tracking device in the ball in order to make it go through the hoop even though a shot may be off. But then I started noticing great defensive teams like the Spurs. And it really was a beautiful thing to watch. To see perfect rotations, great help defense, excellent man-to-man coverage and physical play was better than just seeing the ball go through the hoop over and over. And it made me appreciate a team that’s able get the ball to go through that little round hole. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is more frustrating watching guys miss open jumpers over and over again, but that’s because you know they should be making it. In the NBA, players are so talented that they should knock down open jumpers And that’s what makes me appreciate good defense even more.
7. Speculating in the NBA is a lot more fun than any other sport.
One player can turn it all around. It’s not like drafting a good running back. Sure maybe he’s an incredible athlete, unbelievably strong and basically perfect in every way (Adrian Peterson), but he’s just one of 11 on the field. In basketball, one guy can really change it all. In the past, all we did in this state during the offseason was talk about a bunch of high school kids and what college they might go to. And let me tell you, it’s a lot more fun to wonder about draft picks, free agency and trades than recruiting.
8. It’s a little bit sissified (copyright: Jim Traber).
These flagrant fouls are ridiculous. Everyone talks about how back in the 80s, a guy could hit someone in the face with a toaster and not get tagged for anything, but they also talk about how “physical” basketball is now. So I don’t know what to believe. I’m really talking about my dad here. He’s always complaining about how all the game is anymore is pushing and shoving. On one hand you hear about how you’ve got to foul a guy hard so that you make sure he doesn’t get an and-1. On the other, if he falls awkwardly or the crowd goes, “OHHHHH!!!!” then you’re hit with a flagrant one. Tempers flare, people foul hard and guys bump into each other. It’s no big deal. I’m not going to get in a fight with the cashier at Wal-Mart just because I saw Trevor Ariza shove Jameer Nelson. Let boys be boys.
9. Your team will mail it in every once in a while.
I know I just got through saying that NBA players DO play hard, but sometimes it’s just not working and after six minutes and everybody knows what’s coming. Whether they’re good or bad, a team is just not going to show up some nights. It happens in an 82 game schedule. It’s your third road game this week and you played 44 minutes last night. You’re playing in Milwaukee and you know what, I’m trying but I’m not really trying. It happens. We all know and it’s just best to accept it. I really don’t blame them for it. But the thing is, the good teams somehow win some of those games. The bad ones get humiliated.
10. If a team moves to your city, people will hate you.
It took me a while to get over this. At the beginning at the slightest “you stole the team comment” I was ready to put on my debate hat and go to war. I felt the need to try and explain the situation and OKC’s side to everyone. But you know what? They don’t care. They know the story. They know the truth. It’s just fun and it’s easy to think that way. Baltimore learned this lesson with the Ravens. Nashville with the Titans. Heck, people in Brooklyn still aren’t over the fact their Dodgers are on the West Coast. When a team moves, childhood obsessions and loyalty is ripped away. That $200 authenic Sam Perkins jersey in your closet now seems worthless. But it happens and will continue to happen. Best for everyone to just move on. Get it? Probably not, but oh well.
11. Sam Presti is smart.
Some would even call him a genius. Let’s take a quick look back shall we? Drafts Kevin Durant. OK, so my wife could could have made that pick. But then somehow he turns Kurt Thomas into an unprotected first rounder, he grabs an extra first round pick for Johan Petro and he acquires another pick for Kurt Thomas again. He drafts Russell Westbrook. Then the whole Tyson Chandler deal where he turns out to be completely right. He spins a late first round pick for 24-year-old Thabo Sefolosha who immediately makes a major impact. Heck, even the Chris Wilcox for Malik Rose deal turned out to be a good trade. He somehow has everyone in the league talking about his 23-win team and even had some people pegging him as Executive of the Year. I don’t know how, but this guy has got it figured out. That is, until the team wins just 28 games next year and everyone is calling him overrated and stupid.
12. Halftime shows can be dangerous. Or boring. Or somewhat amusing.
You nearly had a woman drowning in front of 19,000 horrified people, but then you had acts like “The Oklahoma Trotters” and pick-up games between 45 eight-year-olds all playing at once. You never knew what you were going to get. I will say this – if I have to see the Chinese Bowl Lady again, I may sit on a railroad spike. That music is absolute torture.
13. The playoffs are awesome.
That’s some intense basketball. One day, I hope my team gets to participate.
14. Having an NBA team is better than I ever imagined.
I actually rewound my DVR to hear the ESPN announcers say “Oklahoma City” when they were talking about the Tyson Chandler trade that wasn’t during a random Sportscenter. Want to know something even sadder? I rewound it twice. I just love having a team. I still kind of can’t believe we have one.
15. A run is coming. It just is.
Yes, you may be up 36 points in the third quarter, but more than likely, the final deficit will be more like 12. With a couple tense moments spliced in there with about three minutes left when Chris Douglas-Roberts hits his third consecutive three and cuts the lead to seven. Oh that’s just the Thunder? But seriously, most games a run is going to happen. Not all that often does a team overcome and take the lead and win after being down big, but it will almost always tighten up at some point.
16. Refs stink. Or are ok. Or get a bad rap. Or whatever you want to think.
I really have no idea what the answer is, but I do know is that officiating an NBA basketball game is the toughest gig in all of officiating. It’s like an NFL ref having to make a pass interference call (or letting one go) every 10 seconds. Sure there’s rules to follow and guidelines, but with a game that moves this fast, it’s almost impossible to be perfect. And it funny to think people think that these refs will be. When your team loses, there’s a list of reasons you can always point to – not prepared, out-coached, worse players, bad breaks or bad officiating. It never fails. So when I watch a game, I try to ignore it. It’s a part of it. Sure there’s calls that I think stink. And there are calls that I think are great. But again, that’s just part of the game.
17. We’re a sucker for the tattooed guy.
The Birdman was insanely popular but a drug addict. Robert Swift was popular but contributed just 37 more buckets than I did this year. But for some unknown reason, we like the freak show around here. Lord help up if Dennis Rodman comes out of retirement. We’ll have a bronze statue on Reno faster than you can say Double Team.
18. But conversely, the fewer tattoos you have, the better you are at basketball.
At least in Oklahoma City that’s true.
19. Don’t get too attached to a certain player, because more than likely Sam Presti will trade or release him.
Be careful spending 200 bucks on an authentic team jersey as long as Presti is the GM. You jersey may be rendered worthless by the next morning. Just ask this guy.
20. The NBA is a lot of fun when actually have a team to watch.
I’ll be honest, I was never much more than a Jordan kid that followed the NBA because of that. I watched the playoffs and had the games on in the background while I played Call of Duty online or something but I never was dedicated to watching 48 minutes of NBA ball. This is a college state and we all loved our college hoops. But I’m not just a one ball kind of guy anymore. The NBA has won me. I watch obscure NBA games now between Memphis and Toronto and I enjoy it. I watch NBA TV and even manage to make it through Eric Snow’s painful interviews just because I want to hear what Malik Rose has to say.
ES: Hey Danny. How are you doing?
ES: That’s good. You feelin’ good?”
MR: Sure am man.
ES: You guys played good tonight and won. You happy?
MR: Yeah man.
Baseball is still my favorite sport and will always be, but I love the NBA. The personalities shine through in this sport more than any other. You really connect with players. The offseason is almost as much fun as the actual season. It’s interesting because of the players, but the games always have something cool that happens. There’s always a great dunk, an acrobatic layup or an awesome swat. These guys are freakish athletes and they show it off every night.
After this first full season, I’m officially an NBA fan. Like big time. I’ve always really had three sports in my heart. Baseball, college football and college basketball. I’ve always enjoyed the NFL on Sunday afternoon while I tried to keep my eyes open as I fell asleep to Phil Simms analysis. And the NBA intrigued me a bit, but I more cared to watch SportsCenter’s highlights rather than buckle in for 48 minutes. And I’m not ashamed to admit this is the first season that I’ve ever actually followed, start to finish. The reason why is simple: I’ve never had a team. Sure the Hornets were here and I enjoyed watching the games, but I knew they weren’t ours. This team is.
And let me tell you – I’ve followed MLB seasons, college football and basketball and everything else in between, but an NBA season may be some of the most fun I’ve had. And that’s following a 23-59 team to boot. But watching insane athletes every night, the trade deadline, the moving parts, the constant discussion, the great games… basically everything – it’s awesome. I can’t wait for the next 50 years of this. It should be fun.