Posted Sep 12 2011 9:45AM
Good morning. This is the last guest Morning Tip column for the summer; I'll be back writing next Monday.
As you may recall, I sought input for the last guest Tip column from you, the NBA fan. I wanted to hear how you were coping during the lockout, which side (if any) you held responsible and whether you'd come back once the lockout ends. I heard from a lot of you, from all over the world, and that got me thinking how truly international basketball is. On Sunday, Lithuania, the host country at the European Basketball Championships, beat Germany to advance to the final eight of the tournament. That means NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki won't play in the Olympics in London next summer but the Raptors' first-round pick, Jonas Valanciunas, still could, along with NBA veterans Darius Songalia and Sarunas Jasikevicius.
A few thousand miles away, in Argentina, Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola, two of the greatest players ever in international competition, led their team to yet another Olympics, beating Tiago Splittler's Brazil team Sunday night for the gold medal. Both of those teams, though, have already qualified for London. Al Horford's Dominican Republic won third place over Puerto Rico, but will have to win one of three final spots next summer in a 12-team worldwide competition. Basketball, of all the major sports in the U.S., has the most worldwide appeal as it is played in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia as well as in the States.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that the NBA fan I chose is someone who lives outside of North America.
Meet Andrea Cavalli, a 26-year-old from Due Cararre, Italy. Like a lot of people around the world these days, he's between jobs. But he loves basketball. He keeps stats for his local team, Virtus Padova, which plays in a small Italian league, and volunteers with the local committee of the Italian Basketball Federation. By his count, he attended 40 IBF games this past season. When he can, he drives an hour up to Treviso to watch Benetton, the storied Italian team which plays in the top league. He went to Milan last year to see the Olimipia Milano-Knicks preseason game, and hopes to go to London next year to watch the Nets play the Magic.
He is a former soccer lover. Emphasis on former. "Nah, I don't really follow soccer anymore," he wrote, "mainly because basketball takes up most of my free time so I prefer to focus on just one sport, the one I like the best."
Let Andrea tell you about his love affair with the orange leather. Hope you enjoy it.
"Why should I, of all NBA fans, write this article?"
Look, I know there are many great fans out there, many of whom get overshadowed too much by casual fans who happen to be very vocal and loud when giving their opinions. But even though I still wrote this article, I don't have the pretense of putting myself above other diehard fans. I'll tell you why I love the game and why I keep following the league with such a passion. It's up to you to decide whether my article should be posted or not. I'll be fine either way. I'm just happy to have given voice to my opinion.
It was late fall, 1995, in my grandparents' living room, a back-then irrelevant (to me, at least) basketball game going on nearing its end on TV, all the while awaiting for a soccer game to start. See, soccer was my passion back when I was 10 years old and I used to spend my weekends over at my grandparents' house. Most of the weekend was spent watching soccer games on TV, and several times I found myself whining over the fact that the NBA game that was going on on Italian TV was still not over, thus delaying the start of the soccer game I was eagerly anticipating (I was eagerly anticipating every single possible soccer game, even the most insignificant one).
Now, I'm sure you are wondering what this has to do with the NBA.
In early June, once the soccer leagues' games ended, I still found myself surfing channels to find something to watch -- maybe one of those comic movies I liked -- but instead I ended up on a channel showing Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals between the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets.
I'm sure most NBA fans remember it as the game in which Nick Anderson went 0-for-4 from the charity stripe in the waning seconds.
By watching this game, something happened. I started to become more and more interested to how the game would've ended since it was close and went into overtime. I became engaged, which is something I would've never expected to happen. And by the end of the game I realized that maybe, after all, basketball wasn't that bad.
I followed the rest of the series, which the Rockets won 4-0, but I still wanted to know more about the game. So, I asked my dad if he could look for some Italian basketball-related magazines. And he found what I was looking for. A magazine entirely dedicated to the NBA, American Superbasket, which I devoured. Not to mention the fact my dad likes basketball and had recorded several old NBA games. So I asked him if I could watch them and learn more about the game, to which he obviously agreed.
The 1995-96 season was the first NBA season I followed from the very beginning, watching just about every game I could get my hands on, though the league's coverage back then wasn't even remotely close to what we have today here in Italy. I didn't live far from a U.S. military base (Aviano, roughly 45 minute drive from my home), and I got access to the AFN (American Forces Network) channel, which I was able to see in black-and-white with no sound. Yet, that was still more than enough to catch many NBA games, in particular those Sunday's triple-headers NBC used to show in the U.S. Plus, since those triple-headers were mostly played during the afternoon in the United States, it meant I could still watch most of them without worrying much about school the next day, since it was just early evening in Italy.
By then I was officially in love with the sport. I kept watching soccer, sure, but my interest toward it was starting to wane. In 2000, I dropped soccer for good and decided to focus entirely on what had become my favorite sport: basketball.
So, why do I love this game?
First off, I enjoy every level of basketball, but the NBA will always keep a special place in my heart. Not just because it's the league that made me become a basketball fan to begin with, but also because it's where I can watch the game played at the highest level possible, by the best athletes in the world. I love the quickness, the strategy, the skills of those great athletes. I doubt casual fans even have the slightest idea of how hard those guys need to work to become so good. It takes dedication to reach such a high level.
I love the different styles of play in the game. I equally enjoy a run-and-gun team who plays a free-flowing style as much as I love teams playing hard-nosed defense and turning the game into a defensive struggle. Now, I know there are strong advocates of the run-and-gun style and strong advocates of the "all about defense" style, but I fully believe that, while you're entitled to prefer one style over the other, if you really love the game as a whole you'd appreciate both. So I don't deny it bothers me when I see people claiming to not wanting to watch a certain game because the style of play doesn't suit their likings. True fans watch regardless.
I love watching games on League Pass Broadband, which really is manna from heaven for a lot of diehard fans. I'm one of those international fans who is not foreign to spending entire nights up, especially during the playoffs. It may not be a healthy style of life but when you're passionate about something there's very little, if any, that can stop you from doing what you enjoy most.
One of the main complaints people have about the league is that the regular season is not worth watching. Well, try to explain that to those diehards like myself who watch games on League Pass. What I love is the fact that just about every night you can find good and even great games going on, not to mention anything can happen on any given night. If that wasn't true, why is the NBA generally one of the trending topics (worldwide, not just in the U.S.) of the day on Twitter during game-night ? Because people are led to talk about it by the great performances you see in the league daily.
And let's not even get into the Blake Griffin argument. The guy is insane and deserves an article all for himself. We've been witnesses to so many great plays by him this past season alone and, whenever you watch a game involving him, you're always left wondering what could be next. Is he going to jump with his ENTIRE body over the backboard and throw it down, NBA Jam-like style?
That's just one reason that makes me so passionate about the league and that's why I keep watching.
My love for the league and the game at-large is so big that I admit I had to make a couple of drastic decisions. One is that I have stopped reading the comments section of general, mainstream sports sites whenever there's an NBA article. Why, you ask? Because, as a diehard fan, there's NOTHING more frustrating than wasting your time going through a load of ridiculous, misinformed comments from people who claim to hate the NBA (which is interesting in itself since they spend their time reading and commenting articles about stuff they supposedly "hate").
The flat-out lies I see, the misinformed things said about the league and its players are enough to make me want to throw up. Nothing of what they say is based on facts, but it's rather based on perceptions, stereotypes and preconceived notions. So, why should I keep forcing myself to read this stuff, getting mad and having my day ruined?
The other drastic decision I took is that not having a favorite team (though I mantain a preference toward the Pistons, tsk tsk) would be the best thing to do. Having a favorite team would have been my one-way ticket to hell. Why? Because when you are totally into a team you tend to have a distorted view of reality. You tend to have an inferiority complex, you tend to see conspiracies everywhere as soon as a call (even correct) goes against your team or as soon as there's a ruling against your team. Obviously I'm fully aware you can support a team and at the same time be objective. But the comments from this fraction of people, extremely loud and vocal, tend to be a bit too much for my own liking, so I've taken the decision to support the game and its players first and foremost without focusing my attention on mostly one team. As a matter of fact, on my Facebook profile I've listed all of the 30 teams of the league among my favorite teams. I can already see many fans rolling their eyes, but that's how I feel and I'm certainly not going to change my mind.
One thing I'm sure, though, is that many writers can sympathize with this argument. Whenever they objectively analyze a team or player, they get routinely accused by many fans of being either lovers or haters of those teams or players. Some are even accused of being part of some obscure conspiracy, which I'm sure is really frustrating. How many times have writers out there been accused of being, say, Kobe lovers and the next day accused by other fans of being Kobe haters? When you don't really have a favorite team, you tend to notice those things people say.
And that's precisely why I enjoy the game better in this way.
The game comes first and foremost, at least to me. Which is why I would watch a game involving any team. Heck, when you have the NBA Finals not featuring a team like the Lakers, you see and hear lots of complaining about it from media members and casual fans alike. They immediately start talking about TV ratings and how low they probably are going to be. The discussion doesn't center anymore about the game itself, about analyzing the teams playing in the championship series. It's all about ratings.
Hey, I care about TV ratings for my favorite sport, too, but I especially focus on the games first. How about talking about that, since that (and not analyzing TV ratings) is what sportswriters are paid for? Many of those fans and media members "worrying" about TV ratings in a non-Lakers NBA Finals tend to be the exact same ones who complain about the Lakers being in the Finals year in and year out.
How am I spending the "lockout summer"? I have found the time to read several books, and I even re-read some portions of Bill Simmons' "Basketball Book", which always makes for an interesting and fun read, whether you agree with him or not.
But I mostly took the opportunity to watch several games of the 2010-11 season once again -- in particular several playoffs games and The Finals, which was some of the best ever. I've watched old games, too.
I came across a 1969 Celtics/Lakers game, some old-footage of the '77 Blazers (I just finished reading the Blazermania book, which was really well-done), or documentaries I recorded on NBA TV about Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich, Willis Reed and the '70 Knicks, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Drazen Petrovic, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Russell and Shaquille O'Neal. There are several old All-Star Games (even the ABA's one in Denver, back in 1976) and other classics like a 1993 Nets-Rockets game with Drazen Petrovic, the 1988 Game 6 between Celtics and Hawks, a Hawks/Bulls game in 1986 (Wilkins vs. MJ), Game 4 of the '75 Bullets/Warriors Finals, several Rockets playoffs games (such as Game 6 against the Nuggets in 1986) or a Game 7 between Sonics and Bucks in 1980 and the Bad Boys' games of the late '80s.
I have so many VHS tapes and DVDs of NBA stuff, both old and new, it's crazy. I'm scared of it myself.
And I've also found the time to purchase lots of merchandise such as shirts, hats, memorabilia of any kind. My bedroom is basically a smaller version of the NBA Store.
That's how I'm trying not to think about the lockout. It's something I don't like and my hope is to see one of these days some reporter saying something along these lines: "Breaking News: Both sides unexpectedly close to deal that would save 2011-12 season."
I know that right now this sounds more like wishful thinking on my part but I still hope to see both sides finding a deal sooner rather than later. There's too much at stake to lose an entire season -- or part of it. Too many fans would be lost, and many of them would be gone forever. I won't go anywhere because I love basketball and I enjoy watching the NBA. I hope the people who are in charge of signing a deal take a hard look at some of the articles and comments posted around the Internet these days. People are frustrated and many of them aren't exactly saying nice things. Maybe a deal without losing games would quiet them. You still have time.
The clock is ticking and both sides must realize that getting something done instead of postponing meetings and using the same old rhetoric doesn't lead anywhere.
By the way, did I tell you that just a few weeks ago I came across some games from the 1995 playoffs? Needless to say, this reminded me of those days in my grandparents' living-room, back in 1995, late fall, when an irrelevant -- to me, at least -- basketball game was going on on TV, all the while I was awaiting for a soccer game to start.
Life is funny at times, isn't it?
Andrea Cavalli, 26, is an NBA fan from Carrara San Giorgio, Italy.