Why I Love NBA Basketball (…And Why You Don’t If You Don’t) » VSB


Why I Love NBA Basketball (…And Why You Don’t If You Don’t)

***Although originally posted a year ago, everything said here still rings true. So I’m saying it again (with some minor edits)*** 

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. 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 2014-2015 NBA season started yesterday. 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 in 2012. I think they used their football stadium for monster truck rallies and Civil War reenactments every Sunday. But they had one of the NFL’s best teams in 2013. They did not win the Super Bowl. But, their fans legitimately believed they have a chance. This is great. For the NFL.

The NBA does not have the same type of parity. The season has just begun, but those who follow the sport already know there are maybe 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 implies that people who love football love it because there’s less of it. Which sub-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

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • *digs out And 1 mixtapes volume 1-3*

  • Epsilonicus

    I loved that Kobe called Dwight Howard soft. And told him to bring it. Dwight aint bout bout it


    • you really think kobe is about that life. while watching this all i could think of was chris childs.

      • Epsilonicus

        I got Kobe being more likely than Dwight. And Kobe actually fought Childs back. Its not like he let him hit and stood there.

        • Did Kobe fight or did Child’s just hand him a two piece?

          • Kobe just caught some hands from what I remember. Not exactly in the top 20 nba players I’m asking to back me in a bar fight.

            • That’s a very short list of NBA cats I’d pick to have my back in a bar fight. Haslem, McDaniel, Oakley,Greg Popavich, and Ben Wallace.

              • BlueWave1

                I’d add Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. Allen is certified crazy. OJ Mayo found out the hard way. And Z-Bo is a gritty as they come.

              • always right

                How isn’t Kermit Washington at the top of your list? I think I would take him and him alone.

              • +Anthony Mason & Latrell Sprewell. Ron Artest. Not Metta World Peace.

        • he ate the first one clean. took most of the second punch then made a halfhearted attempt to fight back. pitiful.

      • Damon Young

        Yeah. Kobe is tough. There’s no doubt about that. But sometimes tough people are stupid.

      • I always assumed people like Dwight or Shaq were so big that never had to learn who to fight.

        • oh i’m positive dwight’s not about it but if they were to square up i’m picking dwight. he has the weight and height advantage. plus i just think kobe’s the bigger b*tch of the two.

  • I always laugh when people say that NCAA basketball is “better”. The whole “they play the right way” crap. The only thing better is the pagentry. The amount the players care and all that other stuff that doesnt matter. If you enjoy Basketball played at its highest level, its not even remotely close how much better NBA basketball is.

    • “I always laugh when people say that NCAA basketball is “better”. The whole “they play the right way” crap. ”

      That’s coded language for “there are more white boys playing and the coaches have more power.” Ever notice that football fans deal with the differences between college and pro football but “college” basketball fans don’t?

  • i really love the nba. well basketball in general (it hurts my heart i can’t play for 2 months). so many great stories this season. i’m most interested in lebron and the cavs, d rose’s comeback, my wizards, how westbrook will handle not having KD, the lakers mediocrity and the blazers.

    • Damon Young

      you broke a finger, right? (i saw that dunk. btw. impressive)

      • yep broke the rim too. i’m actually getting my weight up. anyway the break is bad enough that it won’t heal on its own. surgery friday to get plates put in.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    The NBA is only interesting when January rolls around. The games before then are like an extended pre-season.

    • I follow Lebron and the Spurs from afar until the playoffs start.

  • BlueWave1

    There is nothing like NBA basketball. I know the NFL is king in America, but it does nothing for me. For those that really love the game you have to get League Pass. It is the best $200 I’ve ever spent.

    I think Miami will be better than some are expecting. I also think this season is put up or shut for OKC and the Clippers. The Thunder are running out of time. They have this season and next season before KD becomes a free agent. And the Chris Paul gets a ton of praise for a guy who’s never been past the second round. The Clippers are loaded with talent. This may be the best shot he and Blake will have together.

    • Damon Young

      the league pass conversation was a fun one with my wife

      “so, you’re spending an extra 200 bucks so you can watch every basketball game?”


      “when are we supposed to spend any evening time together?”


      • BlueWave1

        My wife already knows in advance that this week I’m pretty much off limits after 7:00 PM. I make sure the kids have done their homework, eaten dinner and taken showers before 7:00 PM. Once that time comes its time to leave daddy alone. And being that I’m on the West Coast some of the best games are starting at 5:30 PM my time. So really I’m already cheating an hour and a half early.

        Seriously League Pass is like being a 10 year old kid in a candy store with your mother’s credit card.

      • Commercials.
        …Wayment. Don’t say that.

  • Neptunes presents The Clones

    Golden State and that back court better get to the conference finals

    • BlueWave1

      Only if Bogut and Lee can stay healthy.

  • Paradigm

    “The unique nature of basketball means that a dominant player will have more opportunity to provide an impact on the outcome of the game.”

    Good point in the NFL vs. NBA debate… I’ll officially tune in to the NBA on Christmas Day as always while digesting my holiday plate

  • Rawtid

    Basketball used to be my fav sport. Like I REALLY loved it. But over the years I dislike the NBA more and more and watch it less and less. I do think the season is entirely too long. For a combination of reasons. I wouldn’t care about 82 games if the players gave it their best efforts each game. Or even most games. (which obviously means higher risks of injury etc) But the fact that it doesn’t get “serious” until there is real conversation about which teams will or won’t make the playoffs is quite frankly a waste of my time. So before than point in the season I just catch highlights on SC bc truly why do I need to watch entire games of half assed playing? Meh. Not to mention outcomes seem so much more contrived/staged in recent years.

  • Couldn’t agree more. NBA hoops is basketball in its purest form, Which is why I find myself rooting for the Spurs, caring about 3-and-D players (hello Stephen Jackson!), and working on shooting off imaginary screens at work everyday.

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