Tuesday, January 24, 2006

An NBA Primer for the Disenfranchised Fan

Remember the NBA? That men's professional basketball league that used to be pretty cool before it got boring on the court and its players started running into the stands to hassle fans when they weren't being arraigned on drug or assault or paternity-suit charges? You know, the league that used to have Michael Jordan winning championships and amazing the world with his all-around greatness?

It wasn't that long ago when I used to follow the NBA well enough. But I think Tim Duncan's more recent methodical excellence put me to sleep while he was winning championships for the San Antonio Spurs. The league got a boost the other night when Kobe Bryant poured in 81 points for the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, a lot of people still despise Bryant, ever since he skated on that sleazy rape accusation. Hence, his feat wasn't that celebrated. But mostly otherwise, if you're anything like me, you probably haven't been following the NBA much the past few years. We're now about halfway through the '05-'06 season. So here, for the uninitiated, or the barely initiated, is a little NBA primer. Some of this might jog your memory, but little of it will amaze you. You might chuckle.

1. There are currently 30 teams in the NBA, 15 each in the Eastern and Western conferences, with five teams in each of 6 divisions (Atlantic, Central and Southeast in the Eastern; Northwest, Pacific and Southwest in the Western).

2. The reigning NBA champions are the San Antonio Spurs, who have won two out of the last three titles, and three of the last seven, with Duncan the playoff MVP in each of those Finals series. (Zzzzzzzzz...)

3. The best team in the league as of this writing is the Detroit Pistons, who are 33-5 (.868). This should not surprise since they won the 2004 NBA title. Two teams are tied for the second-best current record at 31-10 (.756), San Antonio and the Dallas Mavericks. The next best teams are the Phoenix Suns (.650) and the Memphis Grizzlies (.615). (There are no grizzly bears in Memphis so far as anyone knows. This team originally was the Vancouver Grizzlies, but they had to move to Memphis when the local bear population of Vancouver stopped coming to the games. NBA all-time-great Jerry West, who played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers, is the Grizzlies' general manager. They used to suck big-time but have been slowly improving under his leadership.)

4. Every other team in the NBA has a mediocre record, and, except for a few scattered stars, is hardly worth talking about.

5. The stars worth talking about are Bryant, Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers), Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets), Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers, pictured left) and Tracy McGrady (Houston Rockets). (There are no rockets in Houston, but NASA's Mission Control was located there during the space race. Remember the space race? No?? It's just as well.) Also, Gilbert Arenas (Washington Wizards) is an almost-star. (Quick, where did Arenas go to college? The answer is Arizona; he was drafted in the second round in 2001 by the Golden State Warriors.) Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat is getting to be pretty good also. (And yes, his name is pronounced "Dwayne" even though it's spelled "Dwy-ane," and parental ignorance of phonetics has never inhibited offspring's athletic success.) Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns was last year's NBA MVP. He's pretty good, too...for a white guy. He's especially good for a South African-born white guy. The odds of him ever winning the MVP again are about a million-to-one.

6. Bryant, Garnett, James and McGrady never went to college, and they seem no worse off for not having spent three or four precious years of their lives taking classes in Phys Ed and basket-weaving while trying to win an NCAA championship for a school that would reap millions of dollars from their doing so and give them none of the money.

7. Shaquille O'Neal is a sorta star, but is getting older and no longer on the Lakers. He's now a member of the Miami Heat, where his coach is Pat Riley. Riley once coached the Lakers to league titles in the '80s. Personally, I like O'Neal best on his TV commercials. He seems like a nice guy, even if he is cross-eyed.

8. New Orleans has a team called the Hornets. There are probably a lot of hornets in New Orleans these days, because they probably flocked there after Hurricane Katrina and joined the water-borne-disease brigade. However, because of Katrina, the Hornets (the team) aren't there any longer because there's no place to play. So now they are, pro tem, the Oklahoma City Hornets. We hope there are plenty of hornets in Oklahoma City. Just for fun. Also, the Utah team is called the Jazz, which is weird because it's doubtful there is much jazz in a state run by Mormons. But it's all gonna come full circle when you realize that the Jazz used to be the New Orleans Jazz, 'cause there is/was plenty of jazz in New Orleans. But apparently not enough musicians came to the games, so the team had to skedaddle to...Utah, where they've been pretty successful, even if no one there knows who Miles Davis is. Isn't franchise roulette fun? (See #9.)

9. Charlotte has a team called the Bobcats. Apparently there are bobcats in the North Carolina woods. At least we hope so. Unless you're out there camping. But apparently there used to be plenty of hornets in North Carolina also. That's because the New Orleans Hornets used to be, originally, the Charlotte Hornets. But they left Charlotte because.... I don't know why they left Charlotte. And I really don't care. Why do I guess it had something to do with money? [bobcat |'bäb,kat| noun, a small North American cat species with a barred and spotted coat and a short tail. • Lynx rufus, family Felidae. Compare with LYNX.]

10. Phil Jackson (left) is still the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, even though he left last year because he was fed up with Bryant and O'Neal bickering. Or something like that. Now he's back. Larry Brown is the coach of the New York Knicks, not the Pistons or the 76ers or any other team he's coached in the past. This is his very first stint with the Knicks, and they suck with a 13-26 record. The Lakers are mediocre (22-19), and even the cross-town Clippers have a better record. (You have to think too hard to remember who the rest of the coaches are around the NBA, so we won't bother.)

Bonus Question: Who are Milt Palacio, Mehmet Okur, Lee Nailon, Leandro Barbosa and Tyronn Lue?

Answer: I don't know, and neither do you. They're rumored to be current members of NBA teams. There are a lot of other guys like this in the NBA, but nobody knows who they are. Even their coaches are baffled.

The 2006 NBA All-Star Game will be held at the Toyota Center in Houston on Sunday, Feb. 19. This will give us all a chance to catch up on the league's stars. Or catch up on our sleep. Whichever comes first.

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