Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If It's Springtime, We're Engrossed
In the Delicious NBA Playoff Drama

We all have our favorite sporting traditions. Millions of folks annually overdose on the near frenzy of March Madness, the college hoops tournament (which I wrote about some time ago in
this book review). And during a recent breakfast conversation, my friend Terry was sharing his visceral love for the NHL hockey playoff season also now underway. He has one of those wonderfully expressive faces that masks little of what he's feeling, and his passion for hockey came through loud and clear. But for me, the sporting sun rises and sets on the NBA playoffs, which have just begun. Ah, nirvana.

I would enjoy it this year as I do every other no matter what, but when your favorite team is considered among the favorites to win it all (certainly the first time for that), it takes the experience from merely wonderful to a state of near rapture. It helps, in an odd way, when your city has a famously tortured history with its major league sports teams, as mine does (I wrote all about that
here three years ago).

The NBA season is way too long, and there's sometimes far too little drama during the regular season, when most of these pampered millionaires seem to be playing on auto pilot. But when the playoffs begin, you quickly find out which individuals and teams are just hanging around for the paychecks--or have one foot in the game and the other in the Bahamas, as one TV commentator so pungently put it tonight--and which ones have deeper sources of inspiration and pride upon which to draw. It's the clash of those giants (whose success is built at least as much upon their character and work ethic as it is on their athletic skills, the latter of which is a given) that makes playoff basketball such a treat. There's so much ballet, brute force and athletic improvisation blended into the final product that it's a joy to watch. So for the next six weeks or so, you'll have to excuse my divided attention.

16 Comments:

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

You must be referring to Sir Charles' comment on how the Pistons had packed their flip flops and were thinking vacation!

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, I think he began that thread, but the others kept returning to it throughout the game. He can be such a terrible boor sometimes, can't he, Miles? Like when he talked about how much of a "sissy" atmosphere the NBA has become, just because they try not to let the players maim each other like in his day (my characterization, naturally, not his). But I guess some people find him refreshing for his honesty. Maybe I used to be one of them, but for me, he's kinda jumped the shark. Seems to have an ever-angrier edge to him (which has some interesting dynamic tension, given that he plays a cuddlier version of his real self on the cell phone ads that run on the same telecasts he's providing commentary for), with each passing year and each passing 10 pounds on the bathroom scale. The poor guy is ballooning before our very eyes.

 
At 7:43 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

Count me among those that still find his honesty refreshing. Or at least, it's a good contrast to the personalities of the other guys. He did get on my nerves a few weeks ago when he kept insisting that Cleveland is a dreary town and was no different than Milwaukee. By about the 6th time he'd said the same thing, even I had had enough.

Seems to me Charles has always had an edge, even going back to his playing days. I suppose that's why people tune in to hear him. He's something like the Simon Cowell of the NBA.

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Now you're on to something, Miles. You have first-rate writerly eyes, and the Simon Cowell of the NBA concept is a resonant idea. I think you've hit the head on the nail about him. That's precisely his role. I won't be able to watch him ever again without remembering your characterization.

His playing days don't stand out that much in my memory, though, or at least not as much as his bad behavior. I do remember his unique nickname, The Round Mound of Rebound, still one of the best ever. And toward the end of his career, he had that crazy incident with the Angolan player in the Olympics, where he mixed thuggishness with Ugly Americanism in a particularly appalling way. I guess that and the incident in which he spat on the young girl fan (accidentally, when he was trying to spit on an adult heckler) are just too much for me to overcome in the memory banks.

 
At 11:09 PM, Anonymous a female quandry said...

So my son had two old friends and his brother in tonight and they played Mario Kart and yelled veiled threats and mild profanities at each other as they laughed and played for hours.

Later I asked my son if he had a good time, and he flashed a smile and said, "You have no idea."

Though men, tonight they were boys.

Is that a part of what sports are to you?

 
At 11:22 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

For most guys, sports are a visceral reconnection with their youth. It's fairly rare to develop a real love for a sport as an adult unless you were exposed to it early, and if you played it yourself in addition to watching others play it, it resonates that much more for you. The boy who's a gym rat (as I was) tends to develop into a man who likes to watch the best in the sport go at it.

In my case, there's a second deep interest. One of my prime subjects as a writer, or at least a recurring theme of interest, tends to be excellence and the quest for perfection in any field. So studying Lebron James in hoops or Tiger Woods in golf is every bit as much of an intellectual exercise as trying to understand world-class brain surgeons or ace fighter pilots. There's a marked similarity between people who are at the top of their fields. They have similar personalities, work habits, and competitive streaks. In the end, they're mostly only competing with themselves, like Tiger Woods, who at the top of his game, already the #1 player in the world (with a giant lead over the second slot), took off basically for a year to retool his game, because he thought it could be better. I do find that endlessly interesting.

 
At 8:21 AM, Anonymous less quandrified said...

Wow! That was VERY interesting, and (of course) well said. Thank you.

 
At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I leave you guys alone for just a minute and look what happens? Sports. :-)

Affectionately,
Neve Black

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Alanna said...

Hi John! I'm a longsuffering Cleveland sports fan, and I hope this year is our year!!!!
I grew up watching Mark Price, Larry Nance, Danny Ferry, and Brad Doughtery, and I'm obsessed with the Cavs and the playoffs, and I know what you mean about divided attention! It's hard to get any writing done when there's a Cavs game on! =) I'm watching the Cavs play the Pistons as I write this!
Take care!
-Alanna Klapp

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Neve, I'm sure you would have expected no less. And Alanna, however much I like the current Cavs, I liked that team in the 90s even more. Such incredible talent they had then. They came so close so many times.

 
At 9:18 PM, Blogger Alanna said...

Ah, that's the thing, so close, so many times!! How painful (but still fun) it is! =)
Tonight's game is a bit of a nail biter.....

 
At 10:56 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

All that pain of near misses would only make it that much sweeter should they be able to win a championship this year. It would be the first for this town since 1964, an awfully long time for such a drought.

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger Alanna said...

I hope this is the year! Cleveland deserves this!!!
I'm excited for today's game! Go Cavs!!

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It would be nice to sweep 'em and get everyone a little rest before the next series.

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger Alanna said...

Yes it would, wouldn't it?

 
At 6:27 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Okay, one series down, and three more to go.

 

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