As a kid, I was good at a lot of sports. Not great -- not "this kid is a prodigy" -- but good. Passable at everything I did, at worst. One of my college buddies referred to me as a "natural athlete", you know, I could pick up a stick or a ball and just play. I liked that about myself. I came to terms with the fact that I was never going to be great at sports when I was pretty young, but being good -- just good enough -- was a great social achievement and I think a decent way to grow up for any American boy. I was never a "jock", as it were, or one of the rich kids with thousand dollar equipment and personal training sessions. I didn't wear a Letterman jacket and the pretty girls never hung out with me because I was a star this-or-that. But when it came time to play a pick-up game in the park, or for gym class, I could hold my own.
It's funny how that worked out and how that shaped me and, I think, lots of kids as they grow up. I initially fell in love with hockey for two reasons: 1) It is cold all the time in Buffalo, so everyone loves it. 2) Buffalo had a team that was good enough most of the time. Just like me. Football was sort of unique. I grew up around the time that the Buffalo Bills were really good. My very first memory of the Buffalo Bills is my family huddled around the television, most of them on things that weren't actually chairs, as Scott Norwood missed the field goal. I was sitting behind my family on a couch, a few feet back. They had crowded the TV so much that I didn't get to see most of the game and thus don't remember it. But I remember seeing the field goal. It was almost like a sea, parting. I'm sure in my head I've invented much of that now from what I've devised from replays. But there it is.
With Baseball, I was born into a family of Yankee fans who had done all the suffering for me. The first Yankee game I went to was in 1996, and, as you might imagine, I was hooked.*
*(I've lost interest in baseball -- haven't followed it since about 2005, mostly because of how unfair [and unfun] it seems to be to be a Yankee or Red Sox fan lately. We're going to rekindle that fire, similar to how I'm doing this, later this spring by picking a new team.)
Basketball, though, I never got into. As you might have deduced by now, I'm too young for the Buffalo Braves and too apathetic for the Toronto Raptors. It didn't help, either, that of all the sports that I could just "pick up and play", I was the worst at basketball. Not comically bad, or anything -- one summer in college I spent every weekday afternoon going down to the campus outdoor courts and playing pick-up games with guys who were decidely better than me -- but bad enough that I knew I would never be asked to be on any rec league teams or anything. I was (and am) as it goes, your typical white dude baller: a decent jump shot, putrid dribble, no left hand, better without the ball than with it. Mechanics!
The sport eluded me to some extent. I wasn't completely ignorant about it. I watched casually growing up, mostly as a helpless subject in the Kingdom of Air Jordan. I rooted for him passingly, and then Kobe passingly, for most of my youth. I would say, including critical playoff games, I watched about 6 NBA games a season. Just enough to understand the game, but not nearly enough to understand it in a way in which I could really discuss it or care. And I was fine with that. Stubbornness, from me? I can hardly imagine.
I was one of those guys who, for the longest time, decided that it was necessary for me to create a bunch of bogus reasons as to why I didn't like the NBA. Not necessarily that I thought the NHL was better (because, whatever, apples and oranges folks), but just outright reasons not to like the NBA. The truth is as I've discovered now, I just couldn't be bothered. Like an old dog, indifferent as to whether or not to learn new tricks, caring about the NBA meant very little to me.
I've wanted that to change, mostly because I feel terribly bad about being the type of person who might be so caught up in themselves as to shun things without really understanding them.* I don't want to be that guy, in bigger things in life, but also in sports, because they're important to me. Even if I couldn't like the NBA, I wanted to give it a fair chance.
* (This is why I sort of feel creepy about most forms of evangelism, because they tend not just to view that interest, but the whole world through the lens of one thing in incredibly intense ways)
So I decided to give the NBA that chance when their strike-shortened season kicked off this year, and it turned out I liked it. I mean, I really liked it. Part of that, I think, was the Sabres have been probably the worst team in hockey since the start of the NBA season, but another part was that basketball is a beautiful game and fun to watch.
Believe it or not, a lot of my perception of what the NBA was over the last ten years has come from ESPN highlight reels and mouth-breathers on the radio. I think that might be why a lot of people decided to dislike basketball, because ESPN came along and decided they were going to be something we didn't want them to be and they decided that basketball was going to be something it really wasn't, along the way. Yes, there are lots of dunks in the NBA. Yes, basketball players listen to hip-hop music and endorse things that you won't buy and have more in common with the 16-year-old white kid than his dad who is buying the tickets. And yes, ESPN has decided that it was a smart decision to make money off of all those ideas. But inside the game, when it's just you and the game, basketball is still as beautiful and pure as it was in those grainy 1960's clips of tight dribbles and sound jump shots. In fact, it's probably even better.
For me, picking a favorite team was going to be fun. I love going through processes where I can narrow things down, and this was one of them. But, because I don't know too much about the NBA, I wanted to consult the expertise of others as well. That's where the Twitter universe has come in to play over the last three weeks. Over that time, and thanks to your help, I've narrowed it down from 30 NBA teams to my decision, tweeting all the eliminations as I went along. My goal with this was to make it as dramatic as possible because, you know, I really didn't want to get stuck picking an NBA team and then having nothing to talk about.
How The Process Occurred
The first step of the process was easy, and that was eliminating teams that I found to be too obvious or otherwise insufferable. This included teams like the Lakers, Bulls and Celtics who've either had too much success for my taste or are too obnoxious as a rule (*cough*Celtics*cough*).
The Mavericks also went in this round because they're the champs, and despite my proximity to them, I don't think that'd be fair. The Heat are the Heat, they're gone.
After this first phase, I was left with about 20 of the 30 teams, and I wanted to narrow it down based on two things: First, the suggestions of friends, readers and twitter followers. Second, I would watch at least a quarter of all twenty teams and eliminate those that were the most boring. After these extraordinarily scientific processes, I was left with 8 teams.
Now I didn't imagine such fervent campaigning would take place, but the amount of feedback that I got in regards to which team should be my favorite was something akin to a Ron Paul political campaign in high gear: boisterous, bold, and filled with conspiracy theorists with no girlfriends. These final 8 who would be hotly and at times hilariously contested were:
Oklahoma City - Included on this list by recommendation of members of The Deeg, their inclusion was based on the many, many, many protestations as to how darn fun they are to watch.
Portland - Not quite as successful as Oklahoma City, but fun to watch as well.
Minnesota - Per suggestion of one Joe (or is it Jon?) Pinzone. Joe advocated them on the basis of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio and that, "Their GM was a sportswriter, which you should love".
New York Knicks - Of passing interest to me because of the sheer number of fans who are also Buffalo sports fans.
San Antonio - The closest team to where I live in Austin, TX, and their D-League team plays five minutes from my house.
Los Angeles Clippers - Outright fun to watch, with a budding superstar and a certified superstar, though their history of failure and my lack of history with the NBA keeps it from being too "bandwagony".
Atlanta - A flashy, talented upstart team.
Phoenix - Interesting because of their astounding highs and lows, the ultimate roller coaster team.
The first three of these teams to be eliminated from consideration were the Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Atlanta, because I do not like the city and for whatever reason found myself rooting for whoever was playing against them almost every time. Phoenix, because their owner is apparently considered one of the worst in sports and they are much more boring to watch than whatever arbitrary notion I had. Oklahoma City because, while they are fun to watch, they are a budding champion, and seem like they are almost "too good". I want it to be a *bit* of a challenge, after all.
This left five. Of these five, my hope was that the San Antonio Spurs would come out the pound-for-pound favorite. After all, I would have more people here to talk Spurs ball with than any of the other teams left on my list. But it wasn't to be so. It turns out, as I witnessed and was informed, the Spurs are a good team who wins in staggeringly boring ways. I mean, mind-numbingly, coma-inducing blah. And while I do think that basketball is a pristine sport in its purist form, the Spurs have a way of just ruining that by doing absolutely nothing absolutely perfectly. They're the New Jersey Devils in tank tops.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, there was my final four. Please stay seated until this thrill ride comes to a full and complete stop.
Portland Trailblazers * New York Knicks * Minnesota Timber Wolves * Los Angeles Clippers
I should point out at this point that my interest in Minnesota has been withering for about two rounds, and that they really made it this far out of courtesy to Joe, who is a sensitive guy. I was also hoping to avoid being berated by countless hours of factual information from Joe proving that his suggestion was the ultimate suggestion of all suggestions. This half worked.
Nevertheless, I watched another half of Timber Wolve basketball, and I've got to say, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are very entertaining NBA players. I don't think Rubio is ever going to be a stud, and Love may be having a brief and ultimately unfulfilling renaissance, but in this moment they're fun to watch. But the many warnings of caution I received from everyone-not-named-Joe gave me pause: their management is apparently pretty bad, there is no faith among NBA fans that the front office will retain its players, and they're actually really, really bad still.
I then watched the New York Knicks, and, aside from the Spurs, I was hoping that the Knicks would be my choice, mostly because of social connections. But the Knicks actually do remind me of all those things I *thought* I hated about the NBA: defensive laziness, playing for the highlight reel, prima donnas, overspending and unnecessary glamour. They also aren't as fun to watch as I expected.
This left two.
Portland Trailblazers * Los Angeles Clippers
A lot of people told me that the Clippers couldn't be the right choice because it was dangerously close to being a bandwagon pick (the Clippers after they get Paul, come on) and this is the first time in a while they're pretty relevant and pretty good. I don't think I agree with that, because I'm not coming from another team, and the Clippers aren't a shoe-in choice with a certain history. They also stand a very real chance of losing Paul to unrestricted free agency next off-season, which would put them right back in poopsville.
The Portland Trailblazers seem, in essence, to have everything I want. They're not contenders yet, but sort of on the cusp. They have a great player in LaMarcus Aldridge who is not yet a star, and a decent supporting cast. They've gone through some terrible tragedies including losing their best player to early retirement. They play in a city far, far away from Austin, but kind of like it culturally. But there were questions about the team for me, too, which were basically that I did not know if they were going to be committed to winning enough to continue to improve or if I might be subscribing to a team that was just going fade.
This past Friday, I was all set to make my decision between these two teams after giving them each one more full viewing, when Joe decided that he was not yet done interjecting interjections into my wholesome little game here.
"They're cursed!" he said about the Trailblazers, before listing off a daunting list of 30 years worth of seemingly unconnected but frightening mishaps for the Trailblazers. "Cursed!!!!!"
Joe then went on to his sales pitch about the Timber Wolves again.
"I'm not picking Minnesota, Joe."
Joe stammered, regrouped and came back with another suggestion.
"Don't root for anyone. Just root for individuals"
What a horrible idea. Did I just root for Bruce Willis in Armageddon, for Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, that one guy from LOST!!? No sir and/or madam. No! That is not the American way. We all come home, we never leave one behind, we eat Ballpark Franks and Apple Pies and men are men and field mice are field mice and in our team sports we root for teams! Not individuals! I like cold beer, big boobs, laser zambonis, and by god, I root for TEAMS, DAMNIT!
At this point, I should have ignored Joe completely, banished him to the place where I put telemarketers and people with bumper stickers. But no. Our bond is too strong, Joe and I. We've been through it all, you see. And so I said, in so many words.
"Okay Joe. Suggest another team. We shall try to conquer this mountain together."
With tears in his eyes, and a grateful voice, he whispered. "The Denver Nuggets".
"Consider them," he said. "please. You've overlooked them. They are well managed. They are well coached. They will show you the way."
And with that, Pinzone vanished, back surely to his underground lair to make more factually inaccurate statements about the history of the National Hockey League.
So I relented. A late, surprise entry, sort of like The Giant Gonzalez during the 1993 Royal Rumble, just showing up unannounced and stone cold obliterating dudes, we went into Friday night with three teams possible:
Portland Trailblazers * Los Angeles Clippers * Denver Nuggets
It would take a lot for me to pick Denver. After all, I had invested a lot of time (way more than is reasonable) in studying the Clippers and Trailblazers franchises. There was no way I'd be able to devote as much energy to Denver on short notice. But they did have a pretty appealing team, they were winning games, and, like Portland, were kind of under the radar.
There in the final hours, the Los Angeles Clippers lost a lot of steam. Chris Paul was hurt for multiple viewing sessions, and I was informed by some folks that he is kind of injury prone. He is one of the main reasons I included them in "fun to watch" in the first place. What's more, the Clippers owner appears to be a crazed penny-pinching bigot who vocally berated Baron Davis from courtside and may or may not find it necessary to pay "young black man" Chris Paul enough to keep him around.
Still, I was drawn to the appeal of being a fan of the ugly step-sister team of the crystal city of basketball in a time in which they may briefly overtake the colussus that is the Lakers. It would be something to behold. Oh, and Blake Griffin, yes?
As for the Nuggets, there is a reason they did not make it to my initial final list to start with. I'll be honest. It was all aesthetic. When I think of the word "nugget", okay... look, I don't think of anything appealing. Certainly not what Denver would want me to think of. And I hate their jersey's similarity to Tarheel blue. I've always hated Tarheel blue. Tarheel blue reminds me of the kids who would listen to Juvenile and have one of those wispy Sidney Crosby mustaches that looked like a sliver of arm hair misplaced in the woods. Their owner, or soon-to-be owner, too, has connections to the Wal Mart fortune and that sort of bothers me because I might as well just root for the Berlin Panzer-Hitlers at that point.
But they are really fun to watch. I mean, really, really fun to watch. I always enjoyed the quality of their broadcast much more than many of the regional broadcasts I saw.
Portland seemed to be a perfect, flawless choice until Joe brought up the curse, and I thought about a few other things. I also witnessed some horrid long range shooting from the team, which to some extent countered their awesome ball movement. For me, I think Portland is the highest risk, highest reward of the three. They are the worst of the three choices, no doubt, but also would probably present the highest reward for sticking with it and seeing through a victory. But again, would I really want to subscribe to another team that can't win... another... *gulp* Bills team? Another close-but-no-cigar Sabres squad? Would I really do that to myself, again?
At once, I knew that my heart was only in it with two of these teams, and so, quietly, late on Friday night so as to avoid attention from the media, I eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers from contention. For me, there were too many questions. Donald Sterling just did not seem like a guy I would want to support in any way, and his team, while pretty fun, was too close to bandwagon territory with the threat of an epic collapse after potentially losing Paul next season. I could probably root for a potentially bad team or a vile racist, but not both at the same time.
And through it all, who was the team I kept coming back to? The team that really seemed to fit every major measure of what I want in a pro sports team?
So Who Did I Choose?
The Denver Nuggets. (a twist!!~)
Dun-dun-dun. And here's why:
Something I didn't consider until the very last moment, until even, I had initially made the decision to go with Portland was the fact that I am way, way, way too tired to stay up and watch their games being an old man as I am. 14 Blazers games in the next two months are at 9:00 Central Time, which means they won't finish until after 11:00 Central Time, which means they are almost unmanageable for an old man like me.
I mean, I want to *watch the games* after all. Very little separated these two teams as it hung in the balance. The time was the deciding factor.
The Nuggets have 13 contests in the next two months, a big majority, that start at 8:00 Central Time or earlier, leaving me at the latest with a 10:30ish finish, which is much more doable.
I was also very impressed with the Nuggets roster and their style of play in watching them, same as the Trailblazers. They're playoff contenders without being sure things, have some decent depth, and while I hate their name and colors I can learn to live with it. I don't like that their ownership is kind of a family of creeps, but at least they're successful creeps, and I'll probably forget about the ownership thing before too long anyway (so don't remind me!)
I must say, this was one of the more entertaining things I've got to do in a while, and if you have a sport which you don't watch much and don't have a rooting interest in, I'd recommend running your own little favorite team gauntlet.
And thanks for reading. Until next time, I'll be looking for some Nuggets gear that does not make me look like Eminem's long lost cousin.
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