Saturday, April 12, 2008

Love and Basketball

(Preface: It is not without a lot of internal debating that I post this essay. As the blog description shows, I will occasionally steer away from fiction analysis, but this is a major detour. I generally find sportswriting mediocre at best. Despite my passion for baseball and basketball, this is my first attempt.)

A strange feeling came over me last month. The Houston Rockets won twenty-two straight games, and a decent handful of these contests were broadcast on national television. With each win that I watched, I felt as if I were winning along with them. However, I couldn't place where these emotions were coming from. I live outside Seattle, having spent the first twenty-four and a half years of my life in Chicago. I've only been to Texas once, but nowhere near Houston.

The players grew before me, and I made copious mental notes. Tracy McGrady was a revelation, hitting shots from both inside and outside, but most importantly to me, gave great courtside interviews. His obvious glee and enthusiasm belied his half-asleep face. The only adjective I could find to desribe Carl Landry was one that I hated: plucky. However, before he went down with an injury, he was just that. Plucky, hitting three-pointers and making the most of his rare opportunity. Luis Scola did his best to fill in for the injured Yao Ming, despite not playing the same center position. When he was on, he dominated the inside game with timely rebounds and putbacks. I desperately wanted to be on the Rockets' bench to high-five Rafer Alston, who I remember from my high school purchases of SLAM magazine. Despite not having anything close to a photographic memory, I've always carried with me the image of him on the cover with his Fresno State uniform, dribbling the ball between his legs. A few inches away were the words: "The Greatest Point Guard In the World."

So why was someone like me, someone who doesn't even consider himself a Rockets fan, so happy? My enthusiasm was nothing like the near-sexual excitement of watching the Bulls a decade ago. McGrady is no Michael Jordan, and Scola is no Dennis Rodman. On top of that, it wouldn't surprise me if the Rockets were to be eliminated from the first round of the playoffs this year. Even though the national media blew the winning streak out of proportion, there was a prominenty possibility in my mind that the NBA was making a comeback.

One of my favorite writers is Chuck Klosterman. In addition to being able to craft smart essays about everything, he is also a fan of the NBA, despite its shortcomings. I've been an NBA fan myself for over ten years, even when everyone else scoffs and (rightfully so) says that NCAA basketball is much more fluid and centered around teamwork. I can think of several times when I agreed with this, even though the NBA was secretly first on my list. Mr. Klosterman gives me hope. There were other people in the world besides me who hoped that professional basketball would rise again, even after a lull of unmemorable play and seemingly pre-determined (i.e. rigged) playoff games in the early 2000s.

So what made me fall in love with the Rockets for the roughly five games I saw? The quality of play had me focused in a way that I wasn't thinking NBA or NCAA.

I was just watching quality basketball.

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