Falling In Love All Over Again

Posted by: Avinash on Monday, April 30th, 2007

(Special from your editor’s sports journal, Get Up Eight Times. This was written after Game 4.)

You know, it seems at every point in my life, a basketball team comes along at just the right time to rein me back into the NBA. In the American sports climate, basketball continues its steady decline into the second tier of sports, falling behind even golf and (gag) auto racing in popularity. It hasn’t even been easy for the diehard basketball fan in me to keep on watching, simply because I’m a drifter with no real allegiance to any team, going with the right group at the right moment.

Because of my constant movement around the country and my birthplace in roundball-less Buffalo, I’ve never really had a basketball team to root for, instead drifting from team to team depending on location or the brand of basketball they brought to the floor. I loved the movement and flow that this league contained, and latched onto it from the moment Paxson sank that 3 in Phoenix. At that time, nothing seemed more exciting than NBA basketball.

My first real team came when I was around eight years old. In my youth in Central Florida, we had the Orlando Magic with Shaq and Penny, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott. It was a great team for my childhood, with explosive offensive power and marquee stars, enough to get me excited for the NBA in general and introduce me to the league in general. That was a fun-loving, youthfully exuberant team that didn’t know any better, as they just rumped around the league, always good enough to beat up twenty-five teams and always lose to the teams that mattered. The sweeps seemed bad at the time, but the pain wasn’t too lasting–they’re young, we told ourselves, they’ll grow into that role. Unfortunately, growth never had a chance with this franchise.

When that team broke up after MJ single-handedly sent Shaq scurrying to Los Angeles and Penny became an ankle breaking prima donna, I drifted around without much of an identity. During those waning years of interest, I briefly rooted for Stockton and that choker Malone in Utah to beat the Bulls, and held a sentimental spot for Reggie Miller and the Pacers, who never really got their chance to shine. I was even happy that Shaq finally won one after the endless criticism he endured for being a talentless monster who couldn’t make his free throws. But the disconnect grew as my educational life took prescience. So until the later part of adolescence, basketball slowly drifted away from my periphery.

Then when I moved to Davis, with few friends and chances to academically grow, I came right to a place where the Sacramento Kings were peaking and absorbing Northern California. This was a team with solid fundamentals in unselfishness and passing (perhaps too much of those traits), a welcome relief from the star-dominated league that the NBA had evolved into by 2002. Thus began three years of frustrating shortcomings, a time when Chris Webber became synonymous with ‘star-crossed’, Vlade with ‘flopper’, Brad Miller with ‘whiner’, Peja with ‘choker’. Bibby had one great series and then slowly faded from the big picture when teams realized no one else would step up for the Kings come playoff time and double/triple-teamed him endlessly. There was Doug Christie and his wife, the man of the house. There were those three awful seven game series from 2002-2004, which left more painful scars than the ephermal ones left by the sweeps in Orlando. Pain becomes agony the closer you get to winning it all…and ending up just short.


Now at 21, living in Berkeley, with the Magic team long since gone and the Kings of old about to completely fade away with the inevitable Bibby trade looming, I’ve been looking desperately for a new team to root for. During my own path of self-discovery this past year, I’ve constantly searched for teams that knew where they stood, knew who they were, simply to find an anchor, an example for inspiration in the real world. Orlando was a fun team to watch, but their identity always melted away with their defense when they faced more experienced playoff teams. Sacramento also struggled with identity, always a great regular season team that could never kick it to that next level and develop the desire to win a title. Even when you know what you’re getting with a team, you figure you’d get something similar at a higher level come playoff time. It never really happened with the Magic or the Kings.

So in this playoffs, who to look for?
The Dallas Mavericks are the easy team to bandwagon with. They’re the juggernaut, the team with a bona fide star and a deep cast of characters. But it just seemed like they were on cruise control the entire year, never playing on more than fifth gear–now come playoff time, they look completely perplexed as to how to handle pressure as they did last June. The San Antonio Spurs have devolved from champions to a bunch of self-entitled whiners who exploit the officials to their advantage (they were always notoriously bad, but this year they’ve taken preening to a whole new level). The Denver Nuggets revolve around two stars and The Jazz and Rockets are locked in a scrumfest.

The Cleveland Cavaliers might as well be called LeBron and the LeBronettes–James feels more like a product than an athlete, no discernible identity there. The Detroit Pistons are like the Spurs lite; don’t you remember that awful 2005 series? The Chicago Bulls are fun to watch and my favorites out of the East, but they remind me too much of Orlando. I think sentimentality plays a role here.

That leaves me two genuine teams with genuine identities. The Phoenix Suns are the popular choice, and I really do love watching that team play. But in one sense I feel kind of bad outright rooting for them, since I feel that they’re already a sentimental favorite around the league. So while I admire them, I don’t really root for them in a sense I do for a traditional team. There has to be some sort of edge or stakes being set, some sort of history being made, or some sort of hated rivalry brewing between a feared opponent (which probably won’t come until the San Antonio series, their biggest nemesis for the past three years). Until then, my happiness at watching that team succeed is somewhat tempered.

And that brings us to the surprisingly happy story of this playoffs–the small-balling, free-wheeling Golden State Warriors. This team is probably not going to win any titles for basketball fundamentals, but man are they fun to watch, and behind all the madness is a sort of controlled chaos that allows the team to have fun AND win. It all began with Don Nelson’s genius psychological media ploys. I never really appreciated Nelson considering his underachieving with his old Mavs squads, but he’s been masterful in this series.

Nelson’s consistent playing down of the team’s abilities has seemingly brought new fire to the Warriors, starting with Baron Davis’s reckless abandon, kick-starting the offense and bringing the team and the crowd back to life–his performances in Games 1, 3, and 4 hearken back to Wade’s dominance of Dallas. Add in the overall madness of Stephen Jackson, the explosiveness of Richardson, the contributions of Ellis and Pietrus and Barnes, and you have 3-1, Warriors.

There are plenty of reasons why Golden State stands where it does. Some of it has to do with luck–the matchups favor the Warriors whenever Dallas plays small, and they favor the Warriors when Dallas plays large, but from behind (note that Dallas was at its most comfortable with Diop on the floor with the lead, and that once he got 5 fouls, the run to the finish commenced). Some of it has to do with psychological advantages–Don Nelson trained Avery and worked with Dirk through his developing years. Witness the moments when Dallas tried out small-ball the Warriors in the first three games.

But above all, it shows that establishing identity and holding it can overcome size, depth, and talent in the NBA, and that’s what Golden State has showed throughout this series. Even when the team went through shooting droughts, they never stopped delving from their identity, never adjusted from their small-ball routine through dribble penetration and kick-back 3s. They always forced Dallas to tinker, shift, move themselves around, making the Mavs adjust to suit their style of play. Except for that brief mental lapse at the end of Game 2 and some parts of Game 4, Dallas has let Davis, Nelson and the Warriors dictate the game to them.

Standing in the back of Oracle Arena throughout Game 3 was a new and overwhelming experience. Watching thirteen years of frustration, of thirteen “eighty-two and out” campaings finally melt over into a vast exultation of sheer, utter joy just to see t back in the playoffs…that was something special. Man, the Bay Area has great fans. Just watching the back-and-forth taunting with Charles Barkley has taken it to a whole new level.

I don’t know if the Warriors will win this series, much less get any deeper in the playoffs (Golden State is somewhat mediocre against the rest of the Western Conference), but it’s been one wild, happy ride this past week. Right now the Warriors, in all their sheer recklessness, have found their spot and play with the hustle and passion that’s necessary to taking them to the next level, a fire that Dirk Nowitzki and his teammates have yet to exhibit in more than sporadic bursts. They know their identity and through four games have played without worrying about the other side of the coin. And now they’re one win away from a place in NBA history.

I don’t care too much where this team ends up anymore. I just want to watch more Warriors games, just like I want to see the Suns reach the pinnacle. Two teams that know their places, know what they’re good at, know where they stand, know how to succeed, no matter the odds. And both are in prime position to take what should be theirs. As a fan beaten down by so much defeat over the past fifteen years, I love watching every moment of triumph for these teams. All playing for the love of the game.

(Image from Yahoo/AP)

Related Articles
    None Found

Comments are closed.