Josh Smith. Monte Ellis. DeMarcus Cousins. Russel Westbrook. Some of the most criticized players in the NBA. ”Not a Winner”. ”Uncoachable”. ”Not a team player”. ”Selfish”. Many labels are placed upon people whom we do not feel are performing up to our expectations, our hopes for them, our aspirations, our …
This, unfortunately, does not stop here. Children in sports are constantly viewed as less than an imaginary level of status worthy of value and respect. We shake our heads at other parent’s children. Our own children, players, students, etc. What is this standard? What is this imaginary plateau to which we pressure and reinforce, negatively or positively, people to strive for?
As the new season of basketball of all ages approaches, maybe we should consider this question? Why do I have expectations, what are they, and are they true? Sports are games. A form of entertainment. A source of community and opportunity to build relationships. Just something to ponder. Even if someone under-performs whom you are watching or playing with, maybe take a minute to take in the friend whom you share the court with, the smile on your child’s face throughout the game, the friendships on your team, the entertaining play the athlete makes on the television, even if it does not equal to the game victory you had hoped for.
So who’s a loyal fan?
Is it you?
The die-hard fan, loyal to the end.
Who’s the heart and soul of their franchise, only to find himself traded? Have we forgotten that this is a business? Owners are business men first, second, and third and a fan dead last.
Embracing the business of professional sports can actually make for a more exciting experience, like the stock market (that I know next to nothing about) someone has to sell for someone to buy, fall to rise. Instead of being devastated by the fall anticipate the rise. This is only natural.
Cleveland Cavalier’s fall became the rise of a Miami Heat dynasty run. Duke University Men’s Basketball’s loss of spectacular Kyrie Irving became Cleveland Cavalier’s renewed hope. The Seattle Supersonic’s loss was the city of Oklahoma’s great find.
So with that said, what is on the horizon?
The Houston Rockets are poised for the next Shaq/Kobe dynast run possibly. Los Angeles Lakers are more resolved than ever to take a page from the San Antonio Spurs book and turn back the clock of time next season. The Golden State Warriors will be ready for a title shot as they step onto the top floor of the league. The Brooklyn Nets are all-in.
So as this offseason continues. Summer League unfolds. Let go of old ties to franchises and grab ahold of the new horizons emerging around this wonderful business of professional basketball.
Ps. Shouts out to Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Do you remember that one guy that played for State?” “Yeah, whatever happened to him, he was pretty good?” Well I’ll tell you what happened to him, he just made the roster of the bottom feeder near you. If you are still unaware of what a bottom feeder is, it is a team that perpetually uses terminology such as rebuilding, long-term plan, development and potential when describing its team’s future.
The future of a bottom feeder tends to lie in its past. How this team has been doing for the past 5-10 years is precisely how it will continue to do as the present season develops. However, the very reasons that this team remains at the bottom is exactly why many of the fans continue to come and support and admire many of its prominent players. These teams are often laden with very talented athletes and exciting players, they score in entertaining fashion and do breathtaking theatrical feat through the air that remain at the tail end of many ESPN highlight countdowns. They often play hard in big games just before bowing out at the end leaving the fans believing in a brighter future and jerseys selling at a steady rate.
You’ve seen them play before and will probably recognize your team if you read this article carefully. The star player is often a gifted athlete who has explosive scoring outbursts and numbers that keep suggesting he was “robbed!” as the all-star rosters are chosen. The fact is that he may be that exciting and immensely talented but his team can’t win and won’t, but that’s ok. I love seeing him partake in scoring exhibitions back and forth with the great players on opposing teams and even overtaking them for the occasional moral victory. The star players are generally traded at some point when the cost of keeping them overtakes their value in produced wins and team revenue, only to see them leave and play a valuable role on a playoff bound team’s run for a title.
Few of these teams will take extreme measures to leave the bottom cellar of the league, ridding themselves of the inconsistent, unproductive excitement for the consistently mundane but productive all for the chance to shed its past and give its loyal fans the reward they dream of, becoming a middle-of-the-pack team that I have deemed the “Mercurial Middle-man” team (see upcoming article).
Until then, if this is your team, enjoy the excitement and fun that your team brings each night. Sure they’ll frustrate you at times, leave you wanting as playoffs come around and disappear when it’s time for all-star balloting (besides that’s what the slam dunk and three-point shoot out events were for) but rest assure you will be entertained, isn’t that what games are for?
BASKETBALL IS BACK!!!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here is some unsolicited insight to temper expectations about the upcoming NBA season. During each off-season each team attempts to do something noteworthy to convince it’s fans, the consumer, of why they should continue to buy the product or support their team through buying tickets, jerseys, watching televised games and maintaining interest in this upcoming season.
Unfortunately, most of this tends to be a lot of false hype, blue smoke, the proverbial banana in the tailpipe (see Eddie Murphy “Beverly Hills Cop”) and that’s ok, as long you don’t take the bait. Just nibble on it as most fish do my bait when my dad and I go fishing.
Teams will sell you many lines such as the “rookie sensation”, the “big trade acquisition”, the maturing young players that are about to “take their games (and subsequently their teams) to the next level” and so on. When the players hit the court what you tend to witness is little variation from the original script sold the year before.
To keep a proper perspective, LeBron James and Kevin Durant who both led their respective teams to the NBA Finals last season both missed the playoffs the first two seasons of their careers, with gradual improvements in success the following years. Considering twenty-eight of the other teams in the league who do not have one of the two arguably best players in the league we might assume that marginal improvement to be the average expected goal of each team.
So when you’re putting together your NBA Fantasy League and regurgitating new proclamations of your team’s future success (which is half the fun of being a fan) remember that the hype is just that, something to chew on, nibble, take a big whiff and a long look at, but don’t buy. As the season begins enjoy the excitement of renewed possibilities of higher success, cheer as your team gives their all and don’t stop bragging about, making excuses for and hoping from within, but temper your expectations so you enjoy the game for the game’s sake and not some business strategy to sell for the sake of increasing revenue and apparel sails.
I’m watching Pardon the Interruption on ESPN and I hear a quote from Michael Beasley who is now a recently signed free agent by the Phoenix Suns. Michael Beasley, aka Be-Easy, declared to the National Basketball Association he is guaranteeing to be an all-star next season. To those who are unaware of who this player is, he is a former #2 pick in the 2008 NBA draft, selected right behind Chicago Bulls star player and former MVP Derrick Rose. Beasley, highly criticized for not playing up to his potential is being given a fresh start with the Suns to become the star player he seems determined to become.
When asked who my favorite player is my patented response remains, “I don’t have a favorite player; I follow certain types of players.” These are my types-of-players.
- The “gym rat”. He simply loves to play and be around the game of basketball. The ballplayers from my neighborhood have a saying, “if the gym had a cot to sleep and a fridge to eat we’d live in the gym.” Chances are, if you hear the bouncing of a basketball or the squeaking of tennis shoes, you’ll find the gym rat.
- The “baller”. He loves being that guy: the one who has the ball in his hands at the end of the game. This player doesn’t shy away from the big moment, he goes and finds it. He plays to win every time he steps on the basketball court. It doesn’t matter if it’s against the school for the blind or Michael Jordan himself.
- The “knuckle-head”. Immature, unreliable, potential. He just doesn’t seem to get that some of us have worked really hard to get to the position where we are and the game should be taken seriously. For this individual it is hard to take seriously what comes so easy (see, Mr. ‘Be-Easy’ up top). Putting the ball in the basket comes as easy as blowing one’s nose (unless you’re 4 years old and prefer your sleeve).
- The “player”. He is often without a distinct position because he does a little bit of this and a little bit of that. This is the guy you simply put on the court and allow to play because he makes things happen, sometimes driving coaches and fans crazy in the process. This guy has a hard time staying within the play but always finds himself at the center of it for better or for worst.
They love to be on the basketball court because if it wasn’t for the court they would more than likely be somewhere you’d rather not. For them the court is a sanctuary, a place of refuge and solace where as long as the ball is in their hands they have prestige. Their economic status and home situation don’t matter, and all that does is this moment where they find peace with their world.
You’ve seen them on the court before. They are always there trash-talking and ball hogging and calling “NEXT!” out loud as they approach, anticipating the sweet move they’ll put on their unsuspecting defender, seeing the ball sail through the net, causing the audience to “ooh and ah” from the sidelines, all is right in their world. There are many guys in the NBA that fit into these descriptions of my favorite ‘types-of-players’ which is why I love watching this game. For now I simply focus on Mr. Beasley, highly talented and undervalued, simply calling out ‘NEXT!’ ready to receive the rock for his moment to shine. Rest assure I’ll be watching him put that sweet move on his defender as I ooh and ah and all will be right in the world as that rock goes through the net. So, all-star. I’m a believer. Main attraction. Be-Easy. I’ll be watching. I’ll be grinning, as I root for my type of player as you hoop for you, your team and for me and all will be right in our world.
There is nothing better for a basketball player than to be in the middle of a comeback. The odds stacked against you, out skilled, too tired, beat up and facing inevitable defeat. That’s when it begins, the comeback. The catalyst, a hard foul, gloating from your opponent or simply a teammate who refuses to quit or let you quit, turns into the defensive play that gets the rock back and transitions into a made shot. You are so far down that the opposing team couldn’t really care less; they perceive it as a fluke and calmly look to dispatch their seemingly inferior opposition. A careless, ill advised shot as nonchalant as their overall effort has become, is converted to a quick rebound and outlet, and your team is two points closer. The point differential that was once seemingly insurmountable is within your reach, energizing you further. It’s now too late. Your opponent has relaxed too much to recover. The momentum has shifted and they are powerless to ward off your teams surge of defiance to simply walk off in defeat. Helpless and vulnerable they suddenly become inept in the basic functions of basketball play. With nerves shot and tension building they are overwhelmed by your sheer energy and will, now one bad play leading to another. It’s tied. The couple of baskets they needed for their own victory is now at your fingertips and miles from their grasp. As suddenly as it had begun, it is over. Game. Then come the “good-game” hand slaps and affectionate, yet patronizing, sportsmanship toward your shell-shocked opponents. Go get some water, next is waiting.
Miami’s comeback began last year with the unforgettable comeback of their challenger, the Dallas Mavericks. Miami was in cruise control, overwhelming their adversaries with unapologetic might and suddenly, it was over. Enter the critics. Miami would be kicked while down, backed into a corner with only a teammate to cling to for reassurance that it wasn’t over. Next season had begun and this time would be different. Something had been forged in that fire of adversity. These Heat players would go from teammates to brothers and defy the will of media and fans alike watching to see them fail. After their opponent the Oklahoma City Thunder connected the first blow, it would be the Miami Heat that would take a page from the script of their past and come with a counter that the Thunder couldn’t have seen coming. Though they had only lost by a minimal margin in games 2, 3, and 4 they might as well had lost by a mile. They couldn’t see that they had been lulled to sleep by yet another underdog in the midst of their comeback. As quickly as it had begun, full of excitement and fireworks, it was over. Game. Oklahoma left stunned. Miami, fulfilled.
This is why we love this game. Why we’ll watch and continue to play ‘till the wheels fall off. In life we always seem to be in the game, stunned from blindsided failure or fulfilled from victory that comes from the pains of defeat well learned. So if we indeed see the Thunder back in the finals, watch closely and see if you can see it. Catch a glimpse of the boys coming back out to play, seeking to find their own fulfillment in the midst of another comeback.
The rock never stops.
Somehow when I look at this Oklahoma City Thunder team I can’t help but think of the epic action film 300. Yes, the Thunder have been routed and flanked. James Harden’s no-show in the finals has been as significant as the hunchbacks betrayal of King Lionidas and his 300 men. There is something else when I look into the promising eyes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that tells me like the Lionidas that they will not simply vanish into the night and go down without a fight, this team is determined to meet them in battle nonetheless and seek out their glorious death on the hardwood with blood, sweat and tears.
Unlike the epic 300, Oklahoma will have a tomorrow when this is all said and done. These kids (the core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are all under 23 years of age) will have battle scars well earned and an experience that should leave the league shuddering in their wake next season. With a seemingly endless amount of growth each young member has the ability to do, one can almost be assured that they will coming into next season.
Now, call me an optimist but there is something different about this group of guys than any other team I have seen before. They simply do not know how to quit. Every loss only seems to make them that much more determined to conquer the next. Almost like my buddy Bruce Banner aka the Incredible Hulk, hitting him only makes him angrier and subsequently stronger. My last thought, that I have retained after each NBA Finals game defeat of the Thunder by the Miami Heat is if this Thunder team ever figures out how to beat this Miami team in this series they have the ability to win three in a row. I still hold fast to that sentiment.
So I will be glued to the television at work tomorrow (working at 24HourFitness has its perks) as millions of other fans will be doing: watching a young team too foolhardy to realize that they are down for the count and can’t get up. We’ll watch them get back to their feet unaware that they are in for certain defeat. We’ll see them get back in their stance and position to take one more swing. Miami brace and pray they don’t connect before the fat lady sings.