An Indiana die-hard’s perspective on the new NBA season
Being a sports fan is mostly torture.
One moment, you’re watching your beloved Indiana Pacers—perhaps the NBA’s deepest and most talented roster—dismantle the hated Detroit Pistons, on the road, without their unquestioned leader and future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller, establishing themselves as legitimate title favorites in the process. The next moment, a cowardly fan is whipping a beer at Ron Artest, and Ben Wallace’s brother is punching out your hopes and dreams.
The infamous 2004 brawl between the Pacers and Pistons effectively ended Indiana’s 10-year run of championship contention. After a solid decade of excellence and tantalizing flirtation with the game’s ultimate prize, the melee’s subsequent (lopsided, franchise-murdering) suspensions sent my hometown team into a spiral from which it is still recovering. We’re both still recovering.
When it comes to NBA fandom, almost everyone can point to some similar kind of tragedy. The association’s history is rife with disappointment: devastating injury, egregious officiating, front office incompetence, free agent abandonment. If you are a fan of any particular pro basketball team, you are a victim by default.
But the truth is, we should be grateful for our fan martyrdom. If we didn’t have fingers to point, curses to blame and scapegoats to burn in effigy, then rooting for an NBA team would be a depressing prospect. Every bad-call bogeyman and heartbreaking “what if” shields us from the fact that the NBA is the most predictable, top-heavy league in professional sports. Most of our teams really don’t have a prayer.
Unlike the NFL, the NBA doesn’t value parity; though 16 teams make the postseason each year, only three or four of them have a conceivable chance at taking home a title. As we face the prospect of a brand new basketball season in which the vast majority of our favorite teams will toil thanklessly in the long, dark shadow of greatness, it’s fair to ask: What’s the point?
The simple answer is that the league hasn’t been this deep, talented, compelling and colossally exciting to watch every single night for the last 25 years, and rooting for teams bound to lose actually serves to liberate us, leaving us free to enjoy the breathtaking array of talent the league currently has to offer.
Take just a cursory glance at the long list of also-rans and tell me you’re not excited. The Milwaukee Bucks are probably lottery-bound, but every night they’re trotting out the electrifying backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (and some of the sickest road jerseys in the game). No one is league-passing the Golden State Warriors, but come on; the sweet shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the shameless self-promotion and potential superstardom of Harrison Barnes, the suffocating help defense of Andrew Bogut…you’re not going to tune in?
Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao hustling their way to thrilling losses in Cleveland. The Phoenix Suns trotting out the bizarrely compelling lineup of Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola night after night. James Hardin and Jeremy Lin weirding up the backcourt in Houston. The Dallas Mavericks and their hodgepodge mix of Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo.
Orlando will introduce rookie coach and former Kansas standout Jacque Vaughn this year. Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon will team up in New Orleans, as will Greg Monroe and Andre
Drummond in Detroit. Two crazily assembled New York teams will vie for the Empire State’s attention. The delightfully bad shots and jaw-dropping dunks of Josh Smith will begin anew in Atlanta. Every one of these teams has a story. Every one of these teams has otherworldly talent. Every one of them plays hard.
And, in the end, none of them stand a chance. But then again, neither do most of us die-hards. This year, rather than hanging our heads, let’s take a good look around and take it all in. Just because we know how the story turns out doesn’t mean the route we take to get there isn’t spectacular.
The NBA: Where Something Worth Watching Happens.