As the final game of the Western Conference championship was winding down Wednesday night and it was growing increasingly apparent the Oklahoma City Thunder was going to dispatch the San Antonio Spurs to move on to the NBA Championship series, my wife turned from her orange chair to me in mine and said, “What are we going to watch when the NBA is over?”
And she wasn’t being facetious or making fun either like the wife – or husband – of a sports junkie who’d be delighted when the season ended. She was serious.
“Well,” I said, “we still have at least one game (then) to decide the Eastern Conference Title and then there’s the seven-game series for the title. That should take it up until about the Fourth of July.”
It occurred to me as this conversation progressed that we’ve actually come to enjoy watching the NBA on ABC, TNT, ESPN … and whoever else might have a game from time to time. And in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d say that.
As far as we were concerned, for years when the national champion was crowned the first weekend in April, basketball was done. Watching a bunch of millionaires lumber up and down the court and jack the thing up just before the 24-second clock expired wasn’t too exciting.
I used to say – told others, too – they don’t play with any passion, verve, intensity. Boy, I’ve changed my mind.
Wednesday night’s Thunder-Spurs game, played to the backdrop of white T-shirt clad fans and the thunderous roar of, “OKC, OKC, OKC,” made a game in Rupp seem like a concert in the most sophisticated of symphony halls.
The players played with passion, emotion, drama. There were high-fives and backslaps for good plays and frustration at the bad ones. As often as I had to remind myself, “These guys make more in a game than I make in a year,” I actually had the feeling they really like what they’re doing, that they still have the passion and intensity of the college game.
Then I remembered LeBron James and Chris Bosh both turning down larger salaries – after all, what is a few million? – to join Dwyane Wade at the Miami Heat because they wanted to win a championship, not just star in a ton of games and hang up their sneakers when the regular season ended.
They were willing to share the starshine.
And what about Kevin Durant hugging members of his family after the game? It reminded me of pivotal March Madness victories. That’s emotion, folks. You don’t fake that. That’s caring about the game and the outcome, not just the paycheck. He was happy, and I don’t think he was whispering in Momma’s ear how much more money this was going to mean.
Hey, I’ve decided I like the NBA – and Susan does, too!
As we watched we tried to remember where it was certain stars played their college ball. Of course that wasn’t hard to do with James since he went straight from high school to the Cleveland Cavaliers. We’d Google for the answer.
Rather than being dispassionate observers, we’ve become fans. We’re not into the “fantasy league” business yet but given how far we’ve come, I won’t go so far as to say that may not happen.
We’ve picked our favorite teams – and we don’t always agree. We both liked the Thunder in that series and we’re both partial to the Celtics, in part because of Rajon Rondo and his Big Blue connections but, too, because of the long and storied history of the franchise.
I’m not sure who we’ll support if the Celtics win their series with the Heat. I’ll likely be leaning toward the Celtics. I won’t speak for Susan here. I do appreciate James and Company coming together to try to win a championship before age catches up with them.
I was telling fellow sports writer Linda Younkin just yesterday that I like whatever team Phil Jackson is coaching – and the Celtics, in that order.
But the thing is here, across the passage of time, I’ve come to really like the whole concept of the NBA. Hey, it’s made up of lots of the same guys we watched in college, there’s really passion and intensity – and it’s doggone good entertainment.
Up next, I guess, I’ll try to learn to enjoy baseball – at least until the Summer Olympics and then football in the fall. So far I’ve never been able to muster much enthusiasm for baseball until the World Series, but now I’m saying, “Never say never!”