As an existing entity in today’s world, I love basketball. I love all of it. High school, college, professional, summer league, D-league, CYO, pick-up, fundraisers, it does not matter. I love it.
The 2017 NBA Playoffs are ten days old, and I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. It’s been fun watching DeRozan deal with Milwaukee’s length. John Wall’s become somewhat of a Superman, but not if Paul Millsap has something to say about it. Clippers/Jazz, while rife with disappointing injuries and food poisonings, has pitted two coaches wheeling and dealing rotations, searching for the right groove. Oh, and a Joe Johnson renaissance. Cleveland and Golden State swept, and Memphis is punching San Antonio back through every twist and turn. It’s been a treat.
I always have a base-level of fun watching basketball. Rarely, if ever, do I watch a game or a series of games and think “Yikes, this sucked.” Even Gonzaga/North Carolina – as awful and painful as it might have been to watch, I’m still happy I did, in hindsight.
Basketball and I have a standard relationship. I consistently love it, but sometimes particular moments and stretches are unearthed that make me realize “oh, yeah, this is exactly why I love it.” It’s like when you have a girlfriend and things are generally pretty great. Sure, you have fights and shit every once in a while. There are some bad NBA and NCAA games. But, even at the lowest of your lows, you do still love them. Existing more often than these “lows” (at least in healthy relationships) are little snippets of “Wow, that’s why I absolutely love you, holy shit.” They’re small moments that remind you why you’re with that person. It’s not that you necessarily need that reminder – but little moments stick out, always, and remind you just why you’re with that particular person.
With me and basketball, there have been many of those moments over the years. We’ve been on countless dates and I honestly can’t imagine my life without her. She’s always there. October-June, there’s the NBA. June-October, there’s free agency, the NBA Draft, Summer League action, and a few exhibitions. She’s a massive part of my life, and I couldn’t exist in her absence.
That being said, she does something every once in a while that just makes me giddy. She reminds me exactly why I’m with her and will always be with her. Here are the stretches where she reminded me “oh, babe, that’s why I love you so much.”
The 2008 Kansas Jayhawks
Brandon Rush. Sherron Collins. Cole Aldrich. Mario Chalmers. Darrell Arthur. Sasha Kaun. Brady Morningstar. Chase Buford.
Growing up, I fell in love with the team with the big bird from Lawrence, Kansas. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it was – but the 2008 Jayhawks were my pride and joy. In the Championship Game against John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers, Chalmers and Collins led one of the most remarkable (and, quite frankly, forgotten) final minute comebacks in NCAA history. A clutch steal and three from Collins followed by a few missed free throws from Memphis (including the last by NBA First Team all-injury, Derrick Rose) put Mario Chalmers at the top of key with a chance to tie the game in the final seconds.
Not only did Chalmers bury it, send the game to overtime, and slay the Tigers in the extra session, he ignited a fire and passion inside a fifth grade kid in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
This was the first of my “moments” with basketball. At this stage, we were still a bit touch and go. I was really into the Phillies and growing up with the early 2000’s Eagles was exciting, despite the consistent playoff shortcomings. Basketball and I were not yet exclusive, but this was probably the first moment where I thought “Oh, basketball. You dog. Alright, I’m ready for the label.”
Basketball and I were officially dating.
2011 Jimmer Fredette
In 2011, basketball showed me Jimmer Fredette. Jimmer was the first player to say, “Hey, fellow basketballers – I am going to shoot this basketball from a very far distance. In fact, it’s such a far distance that defenders will not even consider covering me at such a distance from the basket. Sure, you might be thinking now that those are inefficient shots, and I’m going to shoot my team out of games. But, fear not. I am remarkable at shooting from spots on the floor with logos, and I really think BYU and basketball fans will benefit from this innovation.”
Surely, per usual, basketball didn’t fail to amaze me. Jimmer took the NCAA (and world, for that matter) by storm and actually revolutionized the game. Not only was he shooting from 35 feet in half-court sets, he was settling from there in transition. At the time, with was seemingly unthinkable, but a quick glance at BYU’s 2011 roster reveals that Jimmer, aside from sex-haver Brandon Davies, was essentially the only competent player on the squad. BYU’s most effective source of offense was Fredette shooting from Mars. And it worked! Jimmer dropped 43 and ripped through a previously undefeated and Kawhi-led San Diego State team on his way to a three seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I know, Brandon Davies then went and engaged in sexual intercourse, which is against BYU team rules (Mormons, ugh). Davies was dismissed from the team and unable to play in the Tournament. Thus, BYU advanced only to the Sweet Sixteen, robbing the basketball public of a potential Jimmer Final Four run.
This wasn’t basketball’s fault, and I didn’t fault her for it. The Mormons are to blame, and basketball was very upfront, telling me that if she had her way, Davies would play, and Jimmer wouldn’t have to put the whole state of Utah on his back against Florida, but rather just most of it.
The Jimmer Revolution (I’m coining that, because that’s exactly what it was) has since been verified by the NBA’s three-point enlightenment, and was the first instance where I was watching a man do something on a basketball court that I previously thought not possible. He was consistently shooting and making from 30-35 feet, in transition, nonetheless. It was another one of those glimpses where I thought, “Oh, basketball, you glorious entity, you.”
June 2013 Ray Allen
There was Cardiac Kemba, which will likely go down as a more iconic moment in most relationships with basketball, but not mine. While Kemba was definitely important for basketball and me moving forward, one particular moment sticks out just a bit more.
Imagine a world in which Chris Bosh doesn’t grab the offensive rebound and kick out to Allen, putting him a spot to bang a game-tying corner-three to knot Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals with just a few ticks remaining. LeBron now sits at 2-5 in Finals, isn’t even halfway to Jordan’s six, and the lasting image of the series if LeBron forcing a contested three and brutally bricking it. Even with his outburst last year (we’ll get to that), the national perception of LeBron is heavily altered. (Whether that’s right or wrong or fair or unfair, I don’t know. This is about my relationship with basketball, not how we should reflect on LeBron’s career and consider, in whole, the way we judge NBA players’ careers).
Instead, Ray Allen hits the clutchest shot in NBA history (yes, I am right) and boost the Heat to a decisive Game 7, which they’d win. It’s my single favorite NBA call of all-time.
Mike Breen: “Ray Allen, his three-pointer! BANG!”
Sometimes, when I’m sitting in class on a warm, spring day and get upset that I’m wasting away the day inside, I think about Ray Allen hitting that shot and Mike Breen screaming in my ear. I then think about basketball, and the almighty, all-important bond we share. She gave me that moment. That snippet – it’s ours.
2015-2016 Stephen Curry
Curry’s Davidson outburst was special, and I thank basketball every day for that, but his 2015-2016 unanimous MVP campaign was, simply, peak basketball. Night in and night out, Curry blessed us. He shot 45.4% from three (OH MY GOD) and over 50% from the field. Meanwhile, Curry was taking shots from Fresno. He was shooting shots that not even BYU Fredette would consider. He was doing it in transition, in the half-court, in warm-ups, in crunch-time, all the time!
Beyond Curry’s bomb-dropping, he consistently provided us, the viewers, with spectacular, artistic finishes and passes in the paint – proving that finishing at the rim isn’t all brute strength.
Stephen was so revolutionary and artistic that I provided a 15-minute presentation in a college class that was supposed to answer the question, “what is art?” Literally, I flashed up a brief highlight film, broke down a couple gifs, and pled my case for Steph Curry, artist. When I completed, my professor looked at me and said it was one of the best in the history of the class – but the thing was I didn’t do anything! I just played some videos, used some hoops vernacular, and let Steph do his thing!
Curry was so amazing last season that when I presented his work to a class largely comprised of non-basketball watchers, they sat in dumbfounded awe. Even they – people who had watched all of four basketball games in their lives – knew Steph was doing something special.
The man was must-watch television for 82 straight games. I’ve never felt that way about a player, ever, and don’t think I will ever again. He was special, and basketball gave that to me. She looked in my dark brown eyes and said “Jack, here’s Steph Curry.” Just another one of those moments where I thought, “Sheesh. Basketball, you never cease to amaze me.”
2016 NBA Finals Game 5 and 6 LeBron James
“You thought I couldn’t upstage Curry’s regular season bonanza? Watch me.” Basketball said, as we sat at dinner following the news of Draymond’s Game 5 suspension. I always loved her, but I thought the series was cooked. Golden State would repeat, Steph is amazing, LeBron is “overrated” or whatever, rinse, wash, repeat.
In his must-win Game 5, LeBron dropped a cool 41/16/7 on 4/8 from three and 16/30 from the field. In Game 6, he followed with 41/8/11 on 3/6 from three an 16/27 from the the field.
So, if math is your thing, in the two biggest games of LBJ’s life, he dropped a combined 82 points, 24 rebounds, 19 assists, on 7/14 from beyond and 32/57 from the field. Usually, the “moments” basketball provides me are little, revolutionary seasons or instances or occurrences. There’s something unique and special. Fredette showed me the long ball, then Steph solidified it. Chalmers’ shot unearths an unprecedented wave of basketball nostalgia, while replays Ray Allen’s game-tying three sends goose bumps down my arms.
When LeBron James went on this two-game rampage, I modestly basked in his greatness. He was the king. What he was doing wasn’t flashy or gimmicky or revolutionary – but it was special because it was overly evident that LeBron was just simply better at this basketball thing than anyone to ever touch the rock before him. He got it. He understood the game, and watching him navigate at such a high level was somewhat cathartic and therapeutic.
Basketball gave me that. She said “Jack, Imma show you what I look like at my absolute finest,” and then displayed LeBron’s performances from Games 5 and 6. I can’t thank her enough. We’ve been through so much, but she’s always there for me.
Sure, those are the handful of instances where I had more fun watching basketball than usual. Chalmers, Jimmer, Allen, Curry, and LeBron. Those are the five eras that leap off the page when I think “ok, what’s the most fun I’ve ever had watching this sport?”
That’s not to say that basketball is underwhelming or unenjoyable the other 99% of the time – it’s just there are those moments that stick it in history where you remember, “Damn. that’s why I love you.”