I really haven’t found much reason to watch the NBA this season — or the last few for that matter.
I was a huge NBA fan in the 1980s, the era of Bird vs. Magic, the Celtics vs. the Lakers and hard-scrabble toughness against the Hollywood beautiful people. At the end it was all about the Bad Boys and the emergence of Michael Jordan to God-like status.
But my interest has waned. I can say, unashamed, that I haven’t watched a game from start to finish this year.
I find the NBA perplexing in that it plays six months just to remove a handful of teams from playoff consideration. How many sports start their playoffs in one month and they’re still going two months later?
The NBA season wraps up tonight and we’ll still be playing into June to determine a winner, which most of us know will come down from a small grouping of about four teams and the real winner will be determined by which team wins the West, defending champion Golden State or the ageless San Antonio Spurs, who hopefully won’t be ready for the old folks home by the time the playoffs are over given how much they are wheezing right now.
But tonight, there’s not one, but two legitimate reasons to tune in, which I still don’t know if I will since Royals baseball is on.
The undercard is Kobe Bryant’s final game as a Laker. To be honest, watching Kobe for the umpteenth time isn’t a cause for excitement, except at the end when he finally steps off the court for the final time. I really don't want my lasting image of Kobe having a 5-of-25 night with five air balls.
Where Kobe ranks in the NBA pantheon has been widely debated even though he's the third-leading scorer in league history. I don’t think he gets quite the due he desires, but he had that sexual assault allegation that he was cleared of many years ago and it forever hung over his head. I think a lot of experts point to how many shots he takes to score his points and the fact that until recently he’s always had a galaxy of stars around him, which only makes him better.
The Lakers, though, are horrible right now, a dysfunctional team that has sullied the franchise’s good name. They’re only the No. 2 draw in town now to the Clippers and Kobe has looked older than old though he still hoists his 20-plus shots a game, but many of them now don’t go in.
“The Mamba” isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan and probably hasn't reached the heights of LeBron James. But he’s been a great, great player. While I probably wouldn’t put him in my Top 5, he’s borderline Top 10. I have a penchant for the older players, the Oscar Robertsons and Jerry Wests, though those guys weren't the athletes that Kobe is.
It certainly will be sad when he says goodbye, but it’s time. It was time last year or even the year before, but he’s hung around to add to his monstrous totals and bank account. Kobe will be missed and the Lakers will now be can’t-see TV after more than a decade of must-see TV.
The other reason to watch tonight is that Golden State will try to break the Chicago Bulls’ 1995-96 NBA record of 72 wins in a season.
I haven’t watched Golden State that much until viewing them in bits and pieces lately. I find it stunning, when looking at its roster, that it has won this many games. Steph Curry is the most entertaining player in the NBA and has supplanted LeBron in popularity. Clay Thompson is a gifted shooter and Draymond Green is tremendously versatile, even if he’s annoying to watch as he’s sports’ biggest whiner.
But the rest of the team is like tossed salad. It goes together well and has an uncanny knack for winning close games.
But this team isn't better than the 1996 Bulls of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper et. al. For one thing, Jordan or Pippen would control Curry and not let him go off. The Bulls also had Dennis Rodman to grab every rebound in sight. Luc Longley, the hulking center, would clog the middle. And don’t forget the skilled Toni Kukoc or sniper Steve Kerr, who is the coach of these Warriors now trying to break the record.
The Bulls would be too physical and too nasty, as they were hardened through the years by their countless games against the Pistons. Golden State winning 72 games tells me the NBA is watered down and the talent level is nowhere near where it used to be. I think so many kids coming out of college after a year or two has a lot to do with it as they arrive in the NBA so devoid of fundamentals.
I may watch one or both of the games tonight. Then again, after 5 minutes of Kobe looking like Methuselah or the Warriors out to a 20-point lead after a quarter, give me Royals baseball.