The Road Back to the NBA Goes Through Boston

I’m not the biggest NBA fan. I lost interest at the turn of the century with the worst draft class in the history of the sport. Oh, yes, you know what I’m talking about. That awful, awful class of 2000 that was headlined by Kenyon Martin and produced such busts like Stromile Swift (No. 2), Darius Miles (No. 3), Marcus Fizer (No. 4), DerMarr Johnson (No. 6), and Chris Mihm (No. 7).

I could keep going but that class is a who’s who of players the NBA couldn’t wait to get rid of. The best player from that class? Second round and 43rd overall pick Michael Redd, the only player with an All-NBA team (Third Team in 2004) or Olympic medal (Gold in 2008) to his credit.

You can clearly see why I became quite disenchanted with the NBA. In addition, the decrease in team play and increase in lack of defense was frustrating to watch.

I took a hiatus from the National Boring Association and focused on college basketball. Over the last 10 years, I’ve made some strides in my NBA comeback. I can’t say that I’m 100% back, but I haven’t been this excited for the 2010-11 season in, well, over a decade.

The intriguing storylines (2010 NBA Finals, The Decision, record-breaking free agency, possible lockout) were headline-grabbing and captivating. It helped tremendously that John Wall was the consensus No. 1 pick; for a short while, I was able to dream about Wall playing in my backyard for the New Jersey Nets.

I don’t have an NBA team anymore. The Houston Rockets were my favorite team in the 1990s, back when Hakeem Olajuwon was still dream-shaking. I was supposed to be studying for my upcoming SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) one summer; instead, I started reading Olajuwon’s book, Living the Dream, and couldn’t put it down.

Needless to say, my mother was not pleased.

The Rockets were such an easy team to cheer for. Olajuwon was an extraordinarily gifted basketball player who was also deeply religious and humble. The additions of Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley gave Houston its own Big Three to rival Chicago’s.

Those years were my golden age of basketball. But golden ages are always so fleeting. Mine came and left as the era of selfish play and egotistical infighting arrived. The last decade was dominated by unhappy players squabbling with their teammates and coaches. The “me first” attitude was sickening.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy watching the Detroit Pistons win the 2004 title with their stifling defense or the Boston Celtics win the 2008 title with fantastic team play. But, the 2010 NBA Finals were, for me, the best since the 1990s.

The series went to seven games for only the second time this century. The two teams could not have been more evenly matched with both teams wanting it so bad. The intensity, desire, and heart were palpable, even for someone like Kobe Bryant, who had already won four titles.

I got caught up in it. And, it was great.

Now, I have a team to cheer for once again. I’ve always respected Boston’s ability to mesh as a team despite its future Hall of Fame cast. In addition, the Celtics are one of the few NBA teams who embrace defense. Most of all, they have Rajon Rondo, whom I always liked at Kentucky and whose talent was smothered by Tubby Smith’s system.

I can’t claim the Celtics as my team because, frankly, I have no ties to them outside of the Rondo-Kentucky connection. Bandwagon fans are the worst kind of fans. I can, however, appreciate their team unity and praise Rondo for distributing the ball like a true point guard.

I’ve finally accepted that this is the new age of NBA ball. The freak athleticism in today’s game has reached incredible heights. It’s less about skill and more about physical domination. What makes LeBron James so great is his athleticism and strength, not his shooting touch or footwork.

This is the trend of the NBA. Professional basketball is not going to adjust to me; I have to adjust to it. So, yes, I’m looking forward to Boston winning another title in 2011, to the reality television show that is the Miami Heat, to the freak that is Blake Griffin, to the boy wonder that is John Wall, and to the one-man soap opera that is Carmelo Anthony.

I’m giving in to the NBA. This is going to be a hell of a ride.

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