Sunday, February 8, 2009

The NBA Welcomes You to the Land Where Time Stands Still

Imagine you're in that white room with all the televisions at the end of the second Matrix. Imagine that, instead of whatever convoluted nonsense that old dude said in the movie, he drops the following two choices on the table and you must select one:

1. Return to your world through door A to find the National Basketball Association alive and well, but college basketball never existed.

2. Return to your world through door B to find college basketball alive and well, but the NBA never existed.

What would you do?

I can tell you I'd be hoppin' in line for door B and I bet the line would stretch around the block (we're obviously no longer in the Matrix hypothetical).

As far as a general consensus, I'm can't say for sure that there is one—despite my suspicions. And I won't pretend to speak for those of you who would join me in opting for a world where only CBB existed if pressed on the question. However, I'll gladly tell you why my choice wouldn't be a difficult one.

Coincidentally, I even have a perfect example all cued up and ready to go.

The question is easy for me because the NBA just isn't as exciting.

For a variety of reasons—the players don't seem to care as much, the fans don't seem to care as much (with some notable northeastern exceptions), there are too many fouls, there are too many timeouts, there are too many rule tweaks that hamper the flow of a game, the number of games understandably dilutes emotion, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I really do love the NBA.

The sea of NBA fans is locked on all sides by college basketball, college football, the National Football League, and Major League Baseball. Consequently, its size is shrinking and I'd consider myself a member of that diminishing minority. The players are still the best athletes on the planet, they do incredible things with their bodies/the ball, and the level of basketball is simply unrivaled.

If you love basketball, you will not see it played at a higher level anywhere else and that is reason enough for me to love the NBA.

But this is a comparison to college basketball where you can only choose one.

And I'll take the pure, raw excitement of college basketball any day o' the week and twice on Sunday.

For instance, one of the biggest advantages the college game has on the pro version is the final minutes of competition. A close college game finishes in a flurry of emotion and enthusiasm whereas a close pro game finishes in a drudgery of fouls, timeouts, half-court advancements, and a bunch of other nuanced rules that kill the flow of the game when flow is most important.

Take the Boston Celtics' game today against the San Antonio Spurs.

With 1:01 left in the game and Boston winning by three points (93-90), Roger Mason committed a foul and stopped the clock. From there, the game took 17—SEVENTEEN—minutes of real-world time to end in regulation. That's not a mistake; I've gone back and timed it just to make sure my TiVo wasn't on the fritz.

So 61 seconds of game time took 17 minutes of my life (luckily, I've got some spare time). Oh, but it gets better.

That Man Again (Roger Mason) knocked down a three with 20.4 seconds to go in regulation that put the Spurs up by two, 95-93. Those last 20+ ticks on the big hand of the official game clock took 15 minutes.

Seriously, 20.4 seconds equalled 900 seconds in Boston today.

I know that the NBA rules afford the losing team every opportunity to make up a reasonable difference on the scoreboard, even with time dwindling. I understand that they may even create more close games than otherwise since the trailing team can abuse poor free-throw shooters and claw back into it.

At what cost?

Like I said, I won't pretend to speak for anyone else, but the finish in Boston today killed the game for me. That's a shame because it was a great battle up until that point. Furthermore, the finish was pretty good—San Antonio stretched out its lead and the Cs came Hail-Marying back only to ultimately lose.

The problem was that I didn't notice. I was getting too angry about the 15+ minutes of commercials and blather I had to endure just to see the action, which was about 90 percent from the charity stripe anyway.

Nobody on the court even looked to be slightly perspiring at the end. It was ridiculous. Just a bunch of standing around and seeing if Boston could throw in desperation threes.

Wonderful. Scintillating stuff. Well done, David Stern and friends, you've discovered the secret of temporal manipulation and you're proving it on the court.

Even so, I'll take door B and college basketball. Especially if it means I get to fly around through explosions and stuff.

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