“What I’ve talked about the entire series and throughout this playoffs is about intensity and effort, desire and will of our players.” — Bill Laimbeer
You can feel it in the pregame shoot-around before each game, the electricity permeating the stands. You can sense the anxious vibe in each individual seat as the fans file in. You can hear it in the voices echoing around you as the players make their way out of the tunnel for warm-ups, their pulse already picking up speed. You can see it on the players faces, especially their eyes, as the referee steps to center court with the ball in hand, ready to toss it up. And just as the ball soars into the air and the clock starts, you can feel it saturate an entire arena for the next 48 minutes from now until April 14th.
The Playoffs are coming.
It’s already started, that buildup, that percolating excitement before each game because at this point every single one matters. Each game from now until the middle of April will mean more than just improving your seeding, more than just accumulating as many wins as you can to try and grab home court advantage because it’s not about the games at all anymore.
It’s about setting a tone. About sending a message to not only your opponents, but to yourselves.
“It’s time. And it starts with me.”
The intensity, the effort, the desire, the will to rise your game as an individual but more importantly as a team and a collective unit begins now. Because no matter how great the regular season is for professional basketball, the playoffs are a different animal altogether, exponentially amplified in excitement and anticipation, percolating with a weight and frenzy that each moment merits to an almost unbearable degree. The scintillating shadow of what could be already looms large over the Ford Center.
Because each game, each half, each quarter, each possession, each shot, dribble, pass and decision in the playoffs can not only turn a game, but a series, a career and even a franchise. You don’t even have to have a team of your own to enjoy the NBA playoffs because the hustle and the physical, psychological and emotional investment is so viscerally on display at all times. You can see it, almost tangibly feel it through the stands or through your television set. You can witness, almost touch, the sheer heart that each player lays on the line each trip down the court. It’s a beautiful, captivating thing.
But when your team is there, when you have a vested interest as a fan, you experience that exponential amplification in excitement, nervousness and intensity on a much more personal level. You feel like it’s happening not around you, but to you. Can you imagine how the players feel? Knowing that each game carries the burden of impacting tomorrow, of how this year could be the year where your career changes forever. Maybe it’s not winning a championship immediately, but what if it is the maiden voyage into the next frontier of meaningful runs at a ring for the next decade?
If I’m overdoing it, if you think I’m painting a picture of intensity and importance too vividly for something as trivial as a game then you definitely have the right perspective on where sports should fit in the grand scheme of things. You’ll never hear me say different. It is just a game and there are infinitely more important things out there to put your time and effort into. But you know what, sometimes the commercial is right, sometimes a sport, from football and basketball on down, is more than just a game.
Sometimes it’s about a ravaged city finding hope and joy again in their football team’s opening season game back in the Superdome. Sometimes it’s about a father flying back from his sick daughter’s hospital bed and walking into an arena, dressing and immediately checking into the game to a thunderous applause as he hits clutch shot after clutch shot to spur his team onto victory. Sometimes it’s about those moments that give you chills, that take your breath away at the sheer beauty that human athleticism is capable of and what selfless teamwork can accomplish together that could never be accomplished as an individual.
Other times it’s about a father teaching his son the proper follow through on a jumpshot when they otherwise would not have made time for one another. Or a family standing to their feet as their superstar player sinks a buzzer beating three, embracing not just the outcome of an athletic event but the wondrous joy of experiencing it together.
No matter how you spin it, just like life, the game of basketball is about moments. Those moments that stick with you throughout your life, that inspire you to dream, that you can share with the people you love or with 18,000 perfect strangers who for at least those 48 minutes, might as well be family.
And there’s just no better place in all of basketball to experience those moments than in the playoffs.
Can you feel it? Are you ready?
Because believe me, it’s already begun.