The NBA is dead.
At least for this season (and according to Ben Gordon, for next season as well). Instead of pouring over Lebron, Kobe, and Nash highlights, praying to the Angel of Stern for a shortened season, or arguing with your friends about who would benefit the most from said shortened season, give hockey a shot! (By the way, obviously the Lakers would benefit the most from a truncated season. They limped into the playoffs, losing 5 of their last 7 regular season games, before totally gassing against Dallas. All this after losing only 1 game in March. ONE GAME! And it was only by six points… to MIAMI, the Eastern Conference champs! They were the hottest team in basketball just weeks before the playoffs
started. Imagine if last year’s Lakers played 20 fewer games. Do you really think that with fresher legs, J.J. Barrea would have been able walk all over them like he was Ashton Kutcher? Of course not. They would have peaked during the playoffs and ran through the Mavs like Marian Hossa runs through, well, everyone. If Pau and Kobe played this year, on a shortened schedule, they would control the NBA. They’d win championship number 17 causing me, my Celtic-loving father, and everyone in Memphis to promptly light ourselves on fire. It would be just like the David Robinson Spurs in 1999, a 50 game season favors the old. )– But instead of obsessing on what’s not going to be, get some buddies, find your hockey team spirit guide, and enjoy what promises to be an epic NHL season.
With transcendent players returning from injury, historic franchises being reclaimed, and a league so competitive, nearly every team has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, you shouldn’t need any persuasion. But if you still do. Here are five reasons why I’ve already fallen in love with the NHL and why you, my fellow NBA Ex-pat, will do the same.
Familiarity– The game feels like the NBA. It’s not plodding like baseball, or jerky like football. Hockey is constant motion. Just like basketball. Imagine the way Steve Nash glides around the hardwood, going forward, circling around, going back the other way. Or Chris Paul, stopping on a dime, showing left, crossing over right… now watch Pavel Datsyuk do the same thing, ONLY SLIDING AROUND ON BLADES. Even some of the terminology is the same: pass, shoot, steal, block, crossover… other than some foreign rules (fucking icing), you will pick it up 1000 times faster than you think.
Camaraderie– Hockey and beer go together like Saturday and sleeping in. Which is necessary, because the TV market for NHL blows hardcore. Get your buddies together and head to a sportsbar. Watching any hockey game feels like watching Monday night football. If you’ve ever been at a bar, with buddies, when your team is on a power play, every second feels like a fast break. And it goes on for minutes! It’s a fan’s dream sport, and you’ve got to watch it with friends. Unlike the NFL or the MLB where excitement comes in slow waves, during a hockey game you’re screaming your head off every five seconds. And what better way to sooth a strained throat than by drinking some beers and moaning with your buddies as the Jets squander a 2-0 lead.
Accessibility– If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that the public isn’t jumping in to side with the players, or the owners during the NBA meltdown. This isn’t because of a PR campaign gone wrong. In fact, before the public realized there are no good guys in this fight, the players started off on the right foot, selling out pick up games in local gyms. This reminded us that, at the end of the day, the reason we like basketball is because it’s so damned accessible. The magic of the NBA isn’t its coliseums, but in the stud athlete dunking on a giant. Or a lanky nerd draining 24 feet jump shots over athletically superior opponents.
This can be done in the Staples Center or a gym at Morgan State University. Carmello, Lebron, Paul and Durant got together in a small gym in D.C. and reminded us that basketball is different than any other sport. The NFL needs it’s citadels, MLB it’s pantheons; the Cowboys would look clownish playing at a high school field in Nebraska, and you know those pinstripes don’t belong in a park with a few wobbly bleachers and a backstop made from plywood. But the NBA, basketball, it can be played with the same intensity on the playgrounds in New York as on the parquet in Boston Garden. The NHL feels that way too. Stadiums hold around 18,000 (a packed college basketball game at best), so the players are close. You become immersed in the game, hypnotically watching the players zip back and forth, the lines changing seamlessly. The experience is not dependent upon hype or pomp. It doesn’t need the fanfare and pyrotechnics to pump up the energy. Hockey, like basketball, is energetic on its own.
NO WHINING, FLOPPING, OR POUTING– Remember this? Of course you do. In today’s NBA, there is no place for the tough guys. Perk is about the only guy who would knock you on your ass, but even he seems tame compared to Barkley, Laimbeer, and Rodman (love him), guys who protected space like Captain Kirk. But then came the hand-check rule, and the NBA almost immediately lost its defense. What replaced it was flopping, accompanied closely by complaining, and finally whining. The good news, however, is that other than a few agitators (Sean Avery, Daniel Carcillo) most hockey players seem like tough dudes who don’t bitch, don’t flop, and don’t give up on the defensive end because they are too busy pouting and arguing a no-call (I’m looking at you Tim Duncan… you giant baby). There are exceptions to every sweeping statement, sure, but I can guarantee if Ginobli were playing hockey, no one would bail his floundering out with a whistle. Watch the NHL for its blue-collar players. There aren’t enough in the NBA, and especially during this lockout, it will be a refreshing change.
Heros and villains– Crosby and Ovechkin, Blackhawks and Flyers. GOOD VS EVIL! Sports are filled with good guys and bad guys. Dallas Cowboys, bad guys. Buffalo Bills- good guys. Yankees- bad guys. Detroit Tigers- good guys.
New fans to the NHL can explore some old rivalries (Penguins and Fliers) or pick up some new ones (we’re betting Jets and Lightning). There are so many good story lines this year (ie. Sabres rise, Crosby’s return, Jets 2nd inaugural season) that getting immersed in the drama will be easier than killing the NBA.