Put more Flavor into NBA Haterade

by azaleon

I never watched professional wrestling as a kid growing up in the 90s.

All the quality drama I craved came on NBC during the weekend, when gladiators of the NBA did battle under the iconic narration of Marv Albert and Bob Costas.

This song takes me back to a better time in the NBA -a time when players were personalities, heroes, villains and jesters.  At their core, sports are a form of entertainment.  Games become more watchable when fans can relate and connect to athletes by identifying them as protagonists and antagonists.

I hate the Miami Heat, and yet, I want them to win the NBA Finals.  Specifically, I want the Heat to win it all because I hate them.

Allow me to explain.

In college basketball, fans tend to identify with the team as a whole rather than individual players because student-athletes have a four-year expiration tag attached to their play. Those players come and go, but the school name stays on the jersey and an inherit sense of pride for a university, program’s history and state remains.

But in the pros, it’s the players who make the league what it is. Shaquille O’Neal is a perfect example. In his 19-year pro career, Shaq played for six different teams and never lost national appeal because he was such an endearing figure…albeit a 300-pound one.

In the 90s though, Shaq was just a supporting actor in the grand quest to topple Michael and his Merry Men. There was the dynamic duo of Malone and Stockton, masters of the pick and roll, who fell to the Bulls in the 1997 and ’98 Finals.  It was the first and last times the Jazz won the Western Conference (as a consolation, they had those awesome purple and blue uniforms).

Then there was Sir Charles Barkley, Gary “The Glove” Payton, Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, Reggie Miller (the 30 for Winning Time is one of the best 30 for 30s), the unmistakable centers of Dikembe Mutumbo (born Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo), David “The Admiral” Robinson, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, Alonzo “Zo” Mourning and Patrick Ewing.

The 90s were so ripe with not only talent, but also characters, that they all got together for one of the greatest sports films of all time. Jordan, Ewing, Barkley, Larry Bird, Muggsey Bogues, Vlade Divac and Shawn Bradley teamed up in Space Jam, which somehow lost to Braveheart in the 1996 Academy Awards (although the real crime was The Usual Suspects not even being nominated for Best Picture).

But I look over this year’s All-Star roster and it’s no wonder the NBA and I have been on the brink of divorce for over a decade.

Gone are the nicknames. Gone are the characters and personalities. Gone are the mind games within the game.

LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin.

They are all tremendous talents. But on the court, it mostly seems like their emotion only comes out to debate a call. And off the court, everybody just wants to remain politically correct or run the risk of league fines and social media suicide (see: Dwight Howard’s image).

The Miami Heat can inject storylines into coming seasons. Even the conservative basketball fan can’t be indifferent about them and I would love nothing more than to see LeBron and Co. fail, prove you can’t buy a championship, Cleveland gets its redemption, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But it’s just not as much fun to hate a team that can’t win it all.  There is something intriguing about having the bad guys win the championship and seeing if any of the field can topple them in the sequel.

If the Heat become the world’s best semifinalists…well…then they just become the Wylie Coyote, more pitiful than evil.