As I type this, the remnants of a fried egg and bacon sandwich sits on a plate to my left. What was once a towering piece of sandwich art has been reduced to a dozen or so desolate crumbs and two lone strands of grated Parmesan cheese. If you squint, it looks like a map of Rhode Island.
I live within a two mile radius of a supermarket and (at least) 20 different restaurants, and my refrigerator is (surprisingly) stocked. My food options are limitless. (Well, relatively limitless. I’d have to leave the radius for shark steak and, strangely, Frosted Flakes.) I chose to create and devour this sandwich because I had a very specific craving for the very specific combination of ingredients.
I did not eat my fried egg and bacon sandwich and wish it were a Big Mac. Or a pizza. Or leftover roast beef. Or even a fried egg and sausage sandwich. I also did not attempt to make my fried egg and bacon sandwich taste more like a Big Mac, a pizza, leftover roast beef, or a fried egg and sausage sandwich. If I wanted any of those things, I would have eaten them.
But I didn’t. So I didn’t. And now I’m full. And happy.
The 2013-2014 NBA season starts today. I am very happy about this. Basketball isn’t just my favorite sport. It is my favorite non-essential thing on Earth, and I enjoy watching NBA basketball more than I enjoy consuming any other type of media.
I am not unique in my interest in NBA basketball. I am, though, (somewhat) unique in my love for and acceptance of its current form. NBA basketball is my fried egg and bacon sandwich. I do not want it to be a Big Mac.
I realize this food analogy is ridiculous. But to understand the NBA’s strange place in our cultural zeitgeist, ridiculousness seems appropriate. Necessary, even. To wit, by every conceivable metric (TV ratings, star quality, estimated sale price of teams, quality of play, transcendent beards, etc), the National Basketball Association is thriving. Yet, a very large percentage of people interested in the league’s success and/or demise remain convinced there are cavernous, fundamental wrongs at the base of it’s foundation. Basically, the league is fucked up and needs to be fixed.
This in itself isn’t ridiculous, or even unwelcome. If everyone felt the exact same way about the exact same things, we’d all work at Trader Joe’s. What is ridiculous is that its perceived wrongs are only wrongs because it’s being compared to three completely separate and completely ridiculous entities.
1. An idealized version of an NBA past that never actually existed.
2. A decidedly worse version of NBA basketball. (NCAA basketball)
3. Walmart. (And, by “Walmart” I mean “America,” and by “America” I mean “The NFL”)
Basically, for those who believe the NBA has big problems, the NBA’s biggest problems are 1. it’s not something it never has been, 2. it’s not a worse version of itself, and 3. it’s not something it never will be.
And this is why I love it.
Thorough explanations of why the idealized past never actually existed and why college basketball is inferior would venture into basketball wonk territory, and I’ll spare you from that. Today.
Instead, lets focus on Walmart.
The NFL has parity. Well, at least the perception of parity. I’m not even sure if Kansas City fielded a team last season. I think they used their football stadium for monster truck rallies and Civil War reenactments every Sunday. They now have the best record in the NFL. They will not win the Super Bowl. But, their fans legitimately believe they have a chance. This is great. For the NFL.
The NBA does not have the same type of parity. The season hasn’t begun yet, but those who follow the sport already know there are exactly five teams with a realistic shot of winning the NBA championship this year. Naturally, any conversation that brings up the NBA’s place in the sports universe will cite the NFL’s any-given-Sunday-ness as the reason for its popularity, implying that the NBA would be wise to try to emulate them. And, this is wrong.
The unique nature of basketball means that a dominant player will have more opportunity to provide an impact on the outcome of the game. (As good as Peyton Manning is, he doesn’t play defense, so he’s only able to have an effect on half of the game. Lebron, on the other hand, can conceivably play every minute.) This makes it inherently less random, and the length of the NBA’s schedule and the playoffs series format make it even less random. These dynamics combine to make the NBA the sports world’s truest meritocracy—which I love—and asking it to be more random and more like the NFL is asking a fried egg and bacon sandwich to be a Big Mac.
There’s also the argument that there are too many games. And this also is an argument that compares the NBA season to the NFL season. And this is also a ridiculous argument.
While the common point of the argument—less games means that each game matters more—seems to make sense, it also states that people who love football love it because there’s less of it. Which implies that people who love football don’t actually love football. If you love something specifically because there isn’t much of it, you don’t really love it that much. You love waiting for it, looking forward to it, and craving it, but you don’t love it itself. And, because I love watching NBA basketball so much, it doesn’t matter much to me that the season is long and every game doesn’t have the mythical import that a 16 game season might have.
I realize the title is (somewhat) misleading. It outright says that the post will explain my love for NBA basketball, but the bulk of the post is devoted to one of the reasons why people who don’t love it don’t love it. This would seem to be a very insecure expression of love.
But all explanations of love eventually sound insecure. Not because the person in love is trying to convince themselves, but because any attempt to articulate and deconstruct love is going to fall short.
Basically, I love NBA basketball because it’s NBA basketball and not anything else. Which doesn’t say anything. But actually says everything.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)