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The NBA has been like a star-crossed lover for me. I am still interested, but I just can't stay with her. I watch the draft, I follow the box scores, I even tune in from time to time, but I can't commit. I've been burned too many times. Like an unfaithful lover, I keep getting hurt. Bad play, bad players and bad people have spoiled the game. I got sick of players getting arrested, getting fined and getting rich.
I got sick of watching a bunch of wannabe rappers ruin a game I love. Even the guys who were old school let me down. Jason Kidd beats his wife. Jayson Williams accidentally kills a man. It goes on and on. Even the announcers wear women's underwear and bite their mistresses.
It became a joke. A joke I wanted no part of. Until now.
I hadn't watched a complete NBA game in years. Not since the Michael Jordan shot to down the Jazz. Sure I watched parts here and there, but the style of play was so bad, so stagnant, that I couldn't watch.
I missed the glory days of CBS' Sunday coverage. I miss Dick Stockton from the Garden. I miss Pat O'Brien from the Spectrum. I miss Brent Mussberger from the Forum. I miss Magic, the Doctor and Larry Legend. Heck, I miss Barkley, Clyde and a mobile Hakeem.
No other sport had driven me away like the NBA. I stayed with baseball despite the strikes, the steroids and the lack of pitching. I've stayed with the NFL despite parity and the salary cap making the product inferior. I've gained interest in the NHL despite watching teams in the Sun Belt battle it out, while Canada, a nation of fanatics lose their sport.
Despite all of this, there I was in a sports bar eagerly awaiting Game Seven of the NBA Western Conference Finals. I haven't been this excited for a game since the Suns and the Bulls squared off in '93. I didn't have a lot of hope for an enjoyable game. After game six the officials were infuriating me. It's one thing to let a player get away with shuffling his feet, it is another the let Kobe Bryant throw a forearm that would do Stone Cold Steve Austin proud.
I was worried, but I shouldn't have been.
Within minutes I was into it. I was cheering, I was booing, I was groaning. I was hooked. The entire bar was nuts. I haven't been this into a game since watching the Cats. It had NCAA Tourney energy. For a few hours all was right in the NBA.
I'm not even a Kings fan. Other than Mike Bibby I don't like many of their players. But here I was cheering them on like they were the Wildcats. I'm not a Chris Webber fan. To me he has the body and skills to be the next Karl Malone, but instead he wants to be a wing. Vlade flops and whines. The European contingent shoot too much and don't go to the glass.
I was not rooting for the Kings, I was rooting for Mike Bibby and against the Lakers.
I hate the Lakers. Always have. Maybe hate is a strong word, but I really can't stand them. They are one of my least favorite franchises in sports. I hated them in the 80's. I hated them in the 90's and I hate them now. I disliked Magic, couldn't stand Worthy and still don't like Pat Riley. I hated the yellow court. I can't stand them because they are good.
Kobe drives me nuts. Not just because he whines. He whined his way out of Charlotte. He whines to the officials. He whines to the media. I hate those Mary J. Blige glasses he feels compelled to wear in every interview. But what I hate the most is that he's great. He may not be the next Jordan, but he's one hell of a first Kobe. I spent the whole game yelling him. Calling him names I won't reprint. I yelled at him because I fear him. I yelled at him because he is gifted.
Shaq is good. He gets away with murder, but he's good. If he's not the best center ever, he's top-three. Someone pointed out that if he wasn't 7-1 and was instead 6-9, he'd be an average big man. Maybe, but he is 7-1 and he is dominant. If he was on any other team I'd like Shaq a lot. He's on the Lakers and therefore he's my enemy.
I don't like Phil Jackson. I think he's a good coach. I think, I'm not sure. He leaves the Bulls where he coached the best player ever and returns to coach the Lakers who have one of the best tandems ever. Where's the challenge? At least Pat Riley went to Miami. M.J. resurrected the Wizards before the knee ended the season. Jerry West went to Memphis. Memphis is a challenge, the Lakers is an easy bet.
I can't stand Robet Horry who only tries in the play-offs. I can't stand Rick Fox because he's married to Vanessa Williams. Mark Madsen is a stiff. Devean George is a thug. It goes on and on. I can't stand the bandwagon fans. I hate L.A.
The game started and I was enthralled. The style of play was exciting. The teams seemed to desire a win not a paycheck. I had flashback to watching the Lakers/Celtics on channel 13 as a kid. It was great.
The room was electric. The Kings bandwagon was in full force. We were unified by our dislike of the Lakers. The five Laker fans were silent, mostly.
I cheered, I screamed, I talked smack. When Doug Christie couldn't hit a shot I pleaded for Bobby Jackson. I wondered how Stojakovic's foot was. I agonized as the Kings forgot how to shoot free throws. I puzzled as Shaq hit free throws with his fingertips.
Vlade fouled out on a terrible call and I got worried. Then Mike Bibby took over. He was magical. At one point I turned to my friend Steve and whispered in hushed tones, "this is Jordan-esque."
Kobe couldn't guard him. Shaq couldn't intimidate him. Phil couldn't scheme against him. The only people who could stop Bibby were his teammates. Other than Webber, no one could help. Jackson tried, but wasn't on the floor. No one wanted the ball and when they got it they couldn't shoot. They couldn't handle. They couldn't play.
Webber showed what he is made of and finally took on Shaq. He was clutch.
This was Bibby's series. It was his coming out party. Bibby now joins Kidd and Gary Payton as the premier point guards. Bibby becomes a star. Unfortunately Bibby won't be a champion. Not this year.
In the end the Lakers won. Actually, the Kings lost. The Lakers made fewer mistakes and will now play the Nets. Bibby will now become the most sought after free agent. My hopes for a Bibby/Richard Jefferson finals' meeting are dashed. Two of Phoenix's best prep players will not get to meet for the title. Not this year.
After the game was over I was spent. I was upset. I was happy, because the NBA may have a place in my life again. As I was filing out of the bar one drunk Laker fan screamed, "27 finals appearances, 14 world titles, the two best players in the NBA…"
I couldn't argue with him. I hated him and his team, but I couldn't argue.
Welcome back old friend. Please don't betray me again.
E-mail Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org