Basketball, You Saucy Temptress You

I told myself when I started this website a couple years ago that I would write at least one blog a week, whether I had the time or inclination to do so, no matter if my own personal writing muse just wanted to nap underneath an elm tree.

Well, this is one of those weeks. Blogging is about the last thing I want to do. I don’t have the time for it right now, and I lack the will and inclination. My own personal writing muse is yawning in the corner and flipping me the bird.

But I am nothing if not loyal to the promises I make to myself. So I will grind out a blog tonight, right now, on the spot, quickly, before I decide I’d rather just blow it off. I am going to write it in one draft, and not go back and edit it.

So, basketball.

I used to love the sport. Loved playing it. Loved watching it. Back in the day, our weeks were filled with basketball. We’d spend hours on Saturdays and Sundays playing pickup games. We’d play after school, after work. When I still lived at home I’d spend hours shooting by myself on the goal in our driveway.

There was talent among our crew, too. High school studs. College players. And then there were guys like me, who had just enough skill to light it up every now and then, but were always a level down from the real ballers, the dudes who towered over the rest of us in talent and height.

I used to consume basketball the way a meth addict consumes meth, only without the physical and emotional damage. I grew up in ACC territory – “ACC” being the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was a college basketball hotbed located in the mid-Atlantic region – so I’d watch all the ACC games. But I loved college basketball in general, so if a game was played in Florida or California or Massachusetts or Oklahoma, I’d watch that, too.

I loved the NBA as well. This was the Doctor J era, the Moses and Kareem era, the Bill “Mountain Man” Walton era, the Magic and Bird era.

It was also the Cheryl Miller era, and I’d watch her light it up, because she had serious skills, and she and the McGee sisters dominated women’s college hoops at USC.

I bought all the magazines, all the season previews. I caught every game I could. I played constantly.

When an NBA team finally landed in my hometown, I got caught up in the fever and attended as many games as I could. When I worked for the local alt weekly newspaper, I got a press pass in the photographer section just so I could watch the games courtside, even though I was no photographer. I clicked my little 50mm Canon alongside the real photographers with their pimped-out, zoom-lens camera gear.

Man, I loved it.

Until I didn’t.

At some point I stopped playing. I think the last competitive game I played was around 2002, in Los Angeles. Venice Beach, where the ballers go. By then I was getting too old, anyway. I became one of those older guys the younger players looked at funny, as if they wondered WTF I was doing there, with my Jurassic-era game.

I stopped watching regularly around the same time, the dawn of the LeBron/Kobe era. I don’t even know why. I just began to lose interest. I went to a few LA Clippers games because tickets were easy to get (Lakers tickets, not so much). I caught a game at Pauley Pavilion to see UCLA play, because of course I did. It’s Pauley Pavilion! It’s UCLA!

I still followed my favorite teams – the Hornets, some of the ACC teams. I tuned into Duke when they racked up NCAA titles. I tuned into Davidson when Steph Curry brought them to within an inch of the Final Four. I always watched March Madness, and the NBA Finals.

But other than that, I tuned it out. I probably became one of those guys who grumbled about the quality of play versus the old days. I just couldn’t get into it anymore. I wondered where the Barkleys and Fraziers and World B. Frees were.

Cut to this year. I had not watched a single basketball game before a couple of weeks ago. I would have watched the Charlotte Hornets on TV, but they never show the Hornets on TV over here in London. Only the Lakers, Warriors, Knicks, those teams.

I could not name a single college basketball player this year. Not one. I don’t think that’s happened since I was 6 years old.

I doubt I can name more than 20 NBA players.

But then something happened.

I started watching the NCAA tournament a couple weeks ago. They show it here, so I tuned it in, because what the hell else am I going to do? We are still in COVID lockdown, so you can’t go out. They don’t show any tennis on TV in this Godforsaken, soccer- and darts-obsessed TV sports wasteland. It’s not baseball season yet. So I watched the NCAA tournament. March Madness.

I figured I’d hate it. I tuned it in grudgingly.

But then…

I got caught up in it! I watched my alma mater, the Appalachian State University Mountaineers, in a First Four game. I expected them to lose, because App is a football school, and this was only our third NCAA tournament appearance ever. Of course I thought we’d lose. And we did. And it sucked, but I got hooked on watching hoops again.

I started watching the other games. The quality of play was better than I expected. I figured, college basketball in 2021? The good schools have players for a year or two and then they bolt to the pros. They don’t have enough time to form cohesive units.

I was wrong. These young lads can ball! They are sharp, they are in sync, they pass and move and construct offensive sets that end up with baskets.

They have weird-ass hair – just like when I was young, when half the players sported afros, and half had long stringy hippie-ass hair.

The entire tournament this year is taking place in one city, Indianapolis, because of COVID precautions. A good idea. But still: How weird is that?

Gonzaga looks unbeatable (no spoilers – I recorded the games, and am just now starting on the Elite Eight).

The Pac-12, of all conferences, is the pick of the litter, with USC, UCLA and Oregon State all advancing to the Elite Eight.

Michigan looks unbeatable (no spoilers!).

The ACC sucks this year.

The University of Houston I have a soft spot for. They are coached by NC homey and Native American Kelvin Sampson. They haven’t gone this far since Phi Slamma Jamma of the 1980s, during the Hakeem Olajuwan years.

I guess the coronavirus has some bright spots. It forced me to watch basketball again. And I rediscovered why I used to love it.

I got Gonzaga winning it all.

Unless they already lost.

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