"It is a pity that we know so much about Christ, and yet enjoy Him so little."

- Charles Spurgeon
Klosterman On Why The NBA Is the Only Game That Matters

I know I said before I wasn't going to post any more excerpts from Chuck Klosterman's essay collection Se[cks], Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs here, but that was about a month ago and none of y'all remember that anyway. From a selection titled "8 33," here is Klosterman on why NBA basketball is the greatest pro sport going.

This is what sets the NBA apart from every other team sport in North America: Everyone who loves pro basketball assumes it's a little fixed. We all think the annual draft lottery is probably rigged, we all accept that the league aggressively wants big market teams to advance deep into the playoffs, and we all concede that certain marquee players are going to get preferential treatment for no valid reason. The outcomes of games aren't predetermined or scripted, but there are definitely dark forces who play with our reality. There are faceless puppet masters who pull strings and manipulate the purity of justice. It's not necessarily a full-on conspiracy, but it's certainly not fair. And that's why the NBA remains the only game that matters: Pro basketball is exactly like life.

To say the 1980s rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers represents American's racial anguish is actually a short-sighted understatement. As I have grown older, it's become clear that the Lakers-Celtics rivalry represents absolutely everything: race, religion, politics, mathematics, the reason I'm still not married, the Challenger explosion, Man vs. Beast, and everything else. There is no relationship that isn't a Celtics-Lakers relationship.

"We had to get over the psychological element of the Celtic mystique," Lakers coach Pat Riley insisted. "After we choked in '84, I had to teach my guys exactly who the Celtics were in a historical sense. I mean, the Celts were a cult who did sinister things in secret places. That's where I took it. I had to teach them who their opponent was originally, because that's exactly who they were playing in 1987. I don't know if the Celtic players knew about Celt history, but that's how those guys played."

This is probably true, although a bit comical (I like to imagine Riley handing out scouting reports that included such insights as, "Dennis Johnson: no range beyond twenty-one feet, initiates contact on drives to the hole, may have aspirations to sack Iberia"). But it proves that Riley understood that sport (or at least transcendent moments of sport) has almost nothing to do with the concept of a game. Scrabble is a game. Popomatic Trouble is a game. Major League Baseball is a game. But any situation where Bird is boxing out Magic for a rebound that matters is not. That is a conflict that dwarfs Dante. That is the crouching tiger and and the hidden dragon.

But just so you don't think Klosterman thinks the NBA is critique-proof, here is his analysis of modern NBA play:
Guys like Allen Iverson and Vince Carter are mechanically awesome, but they don't represent anything beyond themselves. They're nothing more than good basketball players, and that's depressing. Watching modern pro basketball reminds me of watching my roommate play Nintendo in college. In order to remedy this aesthetic decline, the league decided to let teams play zone defense, which has got to be the least logical step ever taken to increase excitement. This is like trying to combat teen pregnancy by lowering the drinking age.

Read my post at Mysterium Tremendum: Klosterman on why soccer is stupid..


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Comments on "Klosterman On Why The NBA Is the Only Game That Matters":
1. Bird - 01/13/2004 7:42 am CST

This dude's the master of hyperbole.

2. Bird - 01/13/2004 7:43 am CST

For example, "There is no relationship that isn't a Celtics-Lakers relationship.";"0

3. Jared - 01/13/2004 8:25 am CST

Yeah, the hyperbole is purposeful of course, meant to enhance Klosterman's idiosyncratic sense of humor.

4. Bird - 01/13/2004 8:37 am CST

Yo comprendo.

5. J.C. - 01/13/2004 8:42 am CST

This is a little too romantic and melodramatic for me. Memories of "it's only a game..." come floating back to me from childhood. My enjoyment of sports follows a simple formula. The more a single score is worth by the end of the game, the more fun I have watching it. This puts soccer and football at the top of the list, baseball somewhere in the middle, and basketball at the very bottom.

One other factor: As far as I'm concerned, single game elimination is the most fun for the fans. Soccer and football are still tops on this list, of course, but college basketball is elevated slightly. I'm sorry, but I just can't get into a pro basketball game.

6. leon - 01/13/2004 8:47 am CST

The NBA is practically meaningless until the playoffs. College basketball is far more engagin, IMO.

7. Bird - 01/13/2004 9:41 am CST

Leon, I agree. I don't really watch the NBA until the playoffs. IMO, the regular season is really a pre-season.

8. Rob T. - 01/13/2004 9:55 am CST

How can a sport whose fans readily admit that the majority of the games played during the season are meaningless seriously be the only game that matters?

9. Jared - 01/13/2004 10:22 am CST

I knew this post would bring out the folks fiercely loyal to their particular sport (or fiercely opposed to a particular sport). I don't plan on fueling either approach by anyone. I printed these excerpts because I thought they were funny and insightful and entertaining and kinda smart, not to get hockey aficionados or anti-NBA people all riled up. (I would file the accusation of "too romantic and too melodramatic" under hyperbole for the sake of tongue-in-cheek humor, btw. The context of the essay I think would soften some of the reactions readers here might be tempted to have.)

Here are my personal feelings regarding sports:
My two favorite sports to play are basketball first and then football. But my favorite sports to watch are football first and then basketball. I don't generally care for the collegiate versions of either, although I would watch a NCAA b-ball game before a college football game.

I like to play baseball, but basically find it worthless as a spectator sport. I find it boring and pretty much think the only important baseball is being played by kids in neighborhood ballparks or vacant lots or alleys.

I like to watch hockey "in person." Televised hockey doesn't really do anything for me, but then again we don't really get any televised hockey in my neck of the woods, which is weird since Nashville has an NHL team (the Predators).

I would love to watch regular season NBA games, but we don't have cable so I only get to see late season games if the networks air them and then the playoffs. Even though I like watching NFL football slightly more than watching NBA basketball, nothing gets my stomach in knots and my blood pressure up like a tight NBA playoff game. Yes, I believe that NBA action is fantastic.

I still say soccer is stupid.

10. Jared - 01/13/2004 10:24 am CST

How can a sport whose fans readily admit that the majority of the games played during the season are meaningless seriously be the only game that matters?

I'd file that statement by Klosterman under "purposeful hyperbole for the sake of humor" also. It's obvious that he doesn't only like basketball, because elsewhere in the book he talks about liking football and really liking baseball (he even coached a Pee-Wee league).

11. J.C. - 01/13/2004 4:30 pm CST

Sometimes the opposite hyperbole is the best way to combat hyperbole. You're right, though. Any sport is more fun to play than watch. I think if all professional sports vanished tomorrow, I wouldn't be too affected.

12. Shrode - 01/14/2004 1:46 am CST

The only time I was every a sports fan was during the celtics v. lakers rivalry in the 80's. I was a big time celtics fan, and still remember fondly the players - Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, M.L. Carr, and if I sit here long enough I could probably name the entire roster. Since those guys left... I could not possibly care even a modicum less about the NBA.

13. Bird - 01/14/2004 1:57 am CST

I also tend to prefer pro sports where more weight is given to a single victory. That's why the NFL's tops in my book, and MLB probably ranks toward the bottom. Of course, all that changes in the playoffs because ALL playoff games are huge.

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