Despite the fact that Mike Bibby is a washed-up point guard on a below .500 team that will most likely be sitting at home in the next week and a half, I still feel the need to defend myself and explain my relationship with the NBA. We can all argue until the cows come home about what makes a person a true "fan" of the teams they follow, but at the end of the day, I'm going to enjoy watching my teams, and no one can convince me otherwise. You can call me a bandwagoner all you want, but you can't stop me from getting excited about the 2008 Boston Celtics and the NBA.
In the beginning, there was Larry Bird, MJ and Hakeem the Dream...
Don't ask me why, but my earliest NBA memories came as a seven-year-old, from watching Larry Bird's retirement ceremony at Boston Garden on TV, and a 1994 Sports Illustrated video that captured the year in sports. I watched that video countless times, God knows why, and I was mesmerized by Hakeem Olajuwon on the Houston Rockets. He was just sooooooooooo tall. Later on, I began watching SportsCenter and became in awe of MJ. He made the most ridiculous shots and seemed like a superhero. Then I saw SpaceJam, and I admired him even more. He plays basketball AND he hangs out with Bugs Bunny? He's basically the coolest person ever.
Then, football, baseball and the college game took over...
In the late 90s, I blossomed into my football fandom, fell in love with Pedro Martinez (I even wrote a poem about him that he signed), and started going with my dad to BC basketball games at Conte Forum (usually an extra incentive, such as ice cream, was thrown in). I still enjoyed the games, but I was entranced by Baldwin the BC mascot more than anything else. Eventually Troy Bell became my favorite player. The Celtics never did anything super special, and there wasn't a Hakeem to mesmerize me. MJ came back into the league, and continued to be awesome, but the novelty wasn't there anymore. My older brother was a pretty good player, and we'd go to some of his games on Saturday mornings. Up until I was in high school, the NBA was basically just another sport in addition to the NFL.
The college game is incredible, the Patriots and Red Sox are the only teams that matter...
High school started with a bang, as the Pats' Super Bowl victory over the Rams still ranks as one of the happiest moments in my life, and Tom Brady separated himself from the field in the chance to become my future husband. There was no other team for me; the Red Sox remained in the backseat until 2003, when they co-piloted the front seat. In the NBA, the Pistons and Spurs were relatively boring in their greatness. In the college game, 2002 rejuvenated me, as a certain college team led by a future NBA star and a little white guy took them to the national title, and with undeniable force, a monstrous block secured them as the nation's best team. In the NBA, 2002 saw the Celtics get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce were about to grab me, but they faltered, and the NBA again fell back among my favorite leagues. In 2003, the NBA started to grab me again, with the entrance of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. But the dominance of the Patriots (they conveniently sandwiched the 3-out-of-4 Super Bowls in my four years of high school), and the unthinkable awesomeness of the 2004 Red Sox subdued the NBA still.
The college game is even better when you're in college, but there's this guy that plays for Miami...
The NBA begins to turn the corner in 2006. When the Miami Heat acquired Shaq in 2005, the greatness of Dwyane Wade began to show. In the 2006 playoffs, Wade proceeded to go absolutely bananas, beat the Pistons (who by this point had become my least favorite NBA franchise simply due to the presence of Rasheed Wallace), and won the championship, with Wade being named MVP. Wade was stylish, unselfish, and exciting as hell to watch. He was exactly the kind of guy the league needed to grab me. LeBron was great, but he was still a little rough around the edges for my taste. Wade was smooth as silk. While the NBA had started to finally get my attention, college was still better to me. Syracuse's 2005-2006 regular season was disappointing, and left the Orange on the NCAA tourney bubble going into the 2006 Big East Tournament, where they proceeded to cause me to scream and jump with undeniable joy more than any other sporting event ever has. I still believe this four-day roller coaster ride will not be topped for as long as I love sports (it may be tied, but not topped). Of course, after winning the Big East title and getting an automatic bid, they took a swift exit in the NCAAs because they were tired. Maybe the NBA is better, because I'm not so attached. Yet.
LeBron is LeBest, CP3, and the Suns are fun to watch...
Ironically, the season where I officially decided I liked the NBA was the worst season in Celtics history. But the rest of the league was too good to ignore because my hometown team wasn't doing well. I loved Chris Paul in college. Loved him. Little guy, huge game, huge heart. But when he won the Rookie of the Year, I realized I hadn't paid attention to him so much in his first season, for one reason or another. One of those reasons was the Phoenix Suns. There was a game against the Dallas Mavericks that went into 2OTs, I think, and Steve Nash hit a three to tie it at the end of regulation, and I remained glued to the TV. I knew I loved Amare Stoudemire, just because he could do stuff no one else could, and his body didn't seem real. They were fast, scored a ton of points, and had a guy with the funnest name in the league, Leandro Barbosa.
But I can point to one game in the 2007 Playoffs when I officially fell in love. I'm sure many of you know what I'm talking about. Pistons-Cavs, Eastern Conference Finals. I think I can just call it "The LeBron Game." In case you forgot (and that's impossible if you watched the whole game), LeBron dropped 48 points (including the last 25 points for the Cavs) in the double-OT victory. Normally I hate selfish basketball, and the selfishness of guys like Kobe were what turned me off to the league for a long time. But this time, LeBron had to be, and could be, selfish. He was unstoppable. It got to a point where the Pistons didn't even try to go after him (remember the uncontested dunk to tie the game in the 1st OT?). To add to the amazingness of it all, Marv Albert was at his finest, calling the game for TNT. It was incredible television.
So THAT'S what it likes to have your NBA team be really good...
I didn't like the trade for Ray Allen; I thought he was washed up and not worth a first-round pick. But I kinda came around; you could always use another veteran on a team of young guys, right?
But then, on a rainy Monday morning in June, I came around full circle. I woke up for work to WEEI radio in Boston, and I shot up in bed like a rocket. A trade was in the works to send Kevin Garnett to the Celtics. As crazy as this sounds, I wasn't sure about the trade...I always hate giving away young guys for older veterans who may or may not be on the downside of their careers. All day at work, I checked ESPN.com for updates, and by Tuesday afternoon, I was speeding home from work to see the press conference with Ray, Paul Pierce and KG. As soon as KG threw out the first pitch at the Red Sox game and gave a giant bear hug to David Ortiz, I was hooked. I would love this team, no matter how well they did.
Enter the regular season until December. The Celtics have the best record in the league, Dwight Howard is an MVP candidate and getting compared to Moses Malone, and the Lakers are flying high with Kobe and Co. All is right in the NBA.
Of course, as soon as I leave the country for 3 and a 1/2 months, the league goes to another level. Howard astounds at the dunk contest. Shaq gets traded. My boy Chris Paul has the best season a point guard has ever had, leads the Hornets to the playoffs and makes a mockery of opposing defenses with his other-worldly passing. Rajon Rondo and the rest of the young Celts are playing better than anyone thought. The Rockets go on a 22-game win streak. All of this happened with me across the ocean, so the NBA has basically been a gigantic tease since January.
The future: a championship? an MVP? Who cares? I love this game!
I'm coming home to Jacksonville from London in a week. In addition to seeing my family, taking in my mom's new house, hitting the beach and meeting new people, I'm excited for playoff basketball. I wanna see KG go bananas. I wanna see Chris Paul smile his infectious smile, and possibly be the league's most lovable Most Valuable Player since MJ. I wanna see Kobe dominate. I wanna see the 76ers fight to the death against the Pistons. I wanna see how awesomely boring the Spurs are. I wanna buy a Rajon Rondo jersey and wear it proudly.
I used to think the league slogan was garbage. But now I know it can be true, just like in any other sport in any given moment. The NBA, I now realize, is pretty facking amazing.