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A Reader Defends The NBA

Alright, so I know that DBR has never been a huge fan of the NBA during the time that I've been a "loyal" reader of the site (I guess that corresponds exactly to the post-Jordan/Bulls era circa 98-99). I kind of understand that in some ways the NBA has been seen by alot of college basketball fans, and a good portion Duke fans, as the "enemy" since this time. From the Duke point of view, I don't think its coincidental that alot of this resentment has come from the first exodus of underclassmen from Duke in 99 - which is topic for another conversation (so many negative things happened during that time that its hard to keep track of the biggest influence - lockout, dismantling of the Bulls, Jordan retiring etc).

Anyway, I've heard alot of complaints about the quality of play in the NBA being poor, too individualistic, fundamentals not being the same as the "good ole days", guys not playing hard and not caring, blah blah blah. And I think in some ways that may be true... but mediocrity exists in every professional sport - I'll be the first to admit that you honestly could not pay me to watch a Bobcats/Hawks game since the majority of the players/coaches are clueless (notice the high concentration of UNC players on those teams? - ok that was a cheap shot, but hey this is a duke site and you can never have enough UNC bashing). Expansion is probably partly to blame, as is the influx of underclassmen/HS/young European players, etc - but I think that all of this is just part of the evolution of the game. Every sport has its cycles in terms of quality of play and the NBA is definitely on the upswing.

Regardless, the point here is that I think that its time for everyone to let go of the resentment or whatever negative perception of the NBA you might have... sit down, watch and enjoy the NBA playoffs this year. Its certainly a good time to swallow a little pride and give credit where credit is due. The playoffs this year have been amazing - probably one of the most exciting spectacles in sports in awhile. Especially compared to the horrendous quality of play in the NCAA's this year. You've had a little bit of everything this year... every series has been competitive (even the short series have had multiple games that could've gone either way)... the level of play has been outstanding for the most part (we've already had a record 8 OT games and we're only halfway home)... great team play - young teams giving the older/veteran teams a run for their money (Bulls/Heat, Cavs/Pistons, Mavs/Spurs)... great individual play - we're all "witnessing" (pun intended) the birth of the next great superstar LeBron James - he's always been a star, but with his performance in the playoffs this year he's entering some rarified air... AND maybe most importantly for the first time (ever?) a former Duke player has carried a playoff team on his back (with the help of Sam Cassell et al) and has made the most unlikely of teams competitive - arguably even a potential championship contender. Everyone at this point should know that I'm referring to Elton Brand and yes, the Los Angeles CLIPPERS!!!

Personally, I'm a NYer and a lifelong Knicks fan (don't get me started on that debacle), but the Clippers have become my favorite team in the NBA to watch - especially now that I'm living on the West Coast and can watch most of their games. They can play every style of basketball imaginable - beat you with the 3, pick and roll you to death with Brand and Cassell, run and gun to score 130 points or pound the ball inside and grind it out. Elton has become easily one of the top 10 players in the NBA over the last couple of years (he's been even more dominant statistically than Tim Duncan this year) and has really diversified his game - do yourselves a favor and watch him Game 6 vs Phoenix on Thursday and (hopefully) Game 7 on Monday - you'll see exactly what I mean.

Not only do they have Brand and one of the most underrated clutch players in history Sam Cassell, we're seeing the development of former Duke recruit Shaun Livingston into the heir apparent to Cassell. Yes, hes still a young player (only 20) and makes a ton of mistakes, but Mike Dunleavy(Sr) has tasked him to guard the league's MVP Steve Nash on numerous occasions in this series and has done an incredible job so far - probably the best defensive job on Nash all season.

This team also obviously has Corey Maggette (whos power and athleticism at that position are really unparalleled outside of LeBron and a handful of others), sharpshooters Cuttino Mobley & Vlad Radmanovic, a legit skilled center in Chris Kaman who is the perfect compliment to Brand - oh and they also have yet another former Duke player, Daniel Ewing as well. I feel like I'm trying to convert you into Clippers fans here, but thats not my main point. But you cant help but like a team that is always putting out max effort - even with Elton, Cassell will not allow him or anyone else on the team to take a night off - that's what leadership is all about. Most teams don't have that, and you see their quality of play suffer.

Aside from the quality of play, there is no sport that gives you better entertainment value than the NBA. Rasheed Wallace's infamous "Guaran-sheed" that the Pistons would beat the Cavs in 5 games and total disrespect of the Cavs as a team has motivated them to shut him up - I mean who doesnt want to see someone shut up Rasheed Wallace??? Some people might not like this aspect of the game, but even if you don't, it makes for great TV and gives you someone to root for/against. The Lakers/Suns series was drama at its finest on and off the court (reminded me of the NBA rivalries in the 80s where you though a couple players might not survive the series - or were going to meet outside after the game to settle any differences). It would've been great to see a Lakers/Clippers series (Im biased since I live in CA), but the Suns are formidable. They're pretty much the closest thing that the NBA has to Duke basketball minus the defense (entertaining, fun to watch, emphasis on the team not individuals, and giving max effort), so how can you not like them too? I've even heard Coach K himself profess his "love" for the Suns and their organization. There are numerous other examples I can point to, but you'll just have to watch and see for yourselves.

In the end, all I ask is that you try to forget about any reasons that you might have had to not watch the NBA in the past few years and just enjoy the present. I know everyone enjoyed watching the Bird-Magic-Jordan era, but you really have to let it go at some point - in the words of Rick Pitino, "Larry Bird (or insert your fave retired NBA superstar here) ain't walkin through that door!"... you should also enjoy the evolution of the game from what it was back then to the unlimited potential that the game currently has. The future is looking brighter and brighter with every clutch play in every game and every playoff series. It's great to appreciate the history of the game but don't lose sight of the potential that the game is now showing... So, bottom line, just sit back and enjoy the games. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Jamal T' 01