I’m rooting against the NBA and I’m not sure why. When David Stern announced last week that all games have been canceled through Nov. 30, I cheered the announcement.
Perhaps it is because I am hopelessly devoted to baseball and am counting down the days until players report, leaving me with little room to care about the NBA. Perhaps it is because this lockout seems so much more distasteful and motivated by greed than did the NFL lockout. Perhaps it is because I have given into the argument that the college game is better than the professional.
But none of these are the reasons why I am cheering against the NBA. I am cheering against the NBA because I am hurt and tired and angry.
For nine years, I was a dogged supporter of my hometown team, the Washington Wizards. They were my first love. I was inspired and motivated by their tenacity. My fandom survived the likes of Richard Hamilton, Chucky Atkins and Jahidi White. It survived playoff humiliation and teasing Cavaliers fans. It even survived the gun incident. I couldn’t not love my team. I couldn’t not stand behind my team, a team that saw me through some tough times and that made the good times even sweeter.
For nine years, I was a devoted fan of the NBA itself, as well. I admired many teams and many players, because I cannot help but get attached to underdogs or teams and players with amazing back stories.
But last year the only game I watched, other than the one I attended at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C., was Game 6 of the NBA Finals. And I sobbed like a baby watching the Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki finally win it all and come out on top of the Heat. It was a happy, but fleeting moment. Last season, starting with the infamous “Decision,” was about nothing but vitriol and comeuppance and it was uninspired. For the first time in nine years, I didn’t feel connected to professional basketball because it felt like empty entertainment as teams and players tried to stack the deck while the fan and the meaning and purpose of it all got lost. And my team was gone, taken apart piece by piece. The remaining players were just odds and ends going through the motions. For the first time, it was disappointing and exhausting to be a fan. It was no longer fun.
Over the summer, NBA players at parks and in games they hosted themselves, put on brilliant displays of basketball. And one does not have to wonder whether they were having fun. That is what the NBA should be.
The NBA is a business and I believe the players and owners believe their concerns are legitimate. At some point the lockout will end. And I hope the NBA we are given back is one worthy of its legions of fans and more like the one I fell in love with.
When the lockout ends, I hope I find myself rooting for and not against my first love.