I have a confession to make. I don’t know if I love the NBA anymore.
Those who have been long-time readers of this site might know that basketball is my favorite sport, and the overwhelming majority of my content on this site has been about the NBA. I am, indeed, a Cleveland Cavaliers fan first and foremost, but I also have enjoyed watching any NBA action. And I do mean any. I’ve had League Pass in the past and would spend my evenings watching whatever game was on.
I’m sure some people’s knee-jerk reaction to this confession would be to assume that I’m just feeling this way because LeBron James left and the Cavaliers stink again. And sure, I can admit the Cavaliers have not been an especially fun team to watch this year. But that’s not it.
You see, LeBron has left before, and the Cavaliers were terrible without him. Yet I watched at least 95 percent of the Cavs games in those four years while he was gone. I had League Pass in those years and would watch any non-Miami Heat game. I closely followed the league and loved it.
For me, the tipping point of coming to terms and admitting to myself (and now to you all) that I’ve fallen out of love with the NBA was this past weekend. The All-Star weekend. This weekend has long been a celebration of the sport and I’ve generally tried to watch as much of it as I could. This year, I watched none of it. Not a single second. And I didn’t feel bad about it. The larger chore, to me, would have been forcing myself to watch.
So I really have been contemplating this a lot to try to understand why I feel this way. I’m not just watching fewer Cavs games than usual, but I’m watching fewer NBA games overall. Thursdays have long been a staple of NBA for me, watching back-to-back great games on TNT. This year, I mostly skip Thursday viewing. But the All-Star game was especially bitter for me.
I think a lot of it has to do with the state of the league as a whole. You see, the All-Star game really isn’t special. Every Thursday on TNT you can watch a de facto All-Star game. The Golden State Warriors are an All-Star team. Slam dunks and three-pointers? Why do I need to watch a competition to see that? Threes and dunks are basically all the league is.
That last part sounds like a knock on the style of play in the league. It’s actually not meant to be that. I actually appreciate the style of play for the most part. But the bigger point is, why do I need to see a shooting contest or a dunk contest? The threes and dunks in the game itself are more impressive to me anyway.
I’m not happy about any of this. I want to applaud player agency and feel happy for players that they are taking control of their lives and careers. But it’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that when all the best players on pooling on a select few teams, it makes the league as a whole less enjoyable to watch.
The funny thing is, I’ve actually found myself almost paying more attention to baseball the past couple of months. Even though the Indians have had a relatively quiet offseason, I’ve found myself following the rumors. I’ve been trying to engage the Indians channel in our WFNY Slack a lot more, asking questions, diving into the viewpoints of our Indians writers.
Of course, my relationship with baseball is far from healthy, either. This realization was driven home to me yesterday when I saw this tweet from the Indians account:
Your shortstop could never … pic.twitter.com/M3qmDu507X
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) February 18, 2019
I thought it was a good tweet. And then I made the mistake of reading the replies. Seeing fans already emotionally disconnecting from Frankie because we know he’s not going to stay with Cleveland long-term was sort of heartbreaking. Fans arguing about the Dolans being cheap or Frankie being selfish or whatever. A lot of it was pretty gross.
But I’m being hypocritical right now. Because a big part of my falling out with baseball was a result of players leaving Cleveland. Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez. All our heroes leave Cleveland, one way or another.
I sometimes wonder if that’s part of why football has grown so incredibly popular in this country. It’s the one sport where it feels like it’s ok to be a small-market franchise. It’s the one sport where, in general, your best players are less likely to leave. Sure, you still have situations like the Steelers find themselves in with Antonio Brown. But there’s no sense of unease with Browns fans and Baker Mayfield. There’s no countdown on how long we have until he leaves for a bigger market.
Which brings me back to my original thought. I feel like I probably still, at age 39, care too much about the stars on my teams and maybe stars overall. Or maybe I root too much for my teams and not enough for the players. After all, if I just was a LeBron James fan and not a Cavs fan, I wouldn’t care where he played, right? Wait, this stuff is so confusing.
I love sports. Obviously. I’ve spent the last 11 years writing about them. I grew up collecting cards. Playing sports. I’ve begun almost every day of my life watching or listening to some sort of sports program, whether it be SportsCenter or talk radio. I don’t like feeling the growing disconnect that I have over the last few years. I just want to find a way to enjoy them again without caring about the things going on behind the scenes and off the field/court.
I know this While We’re Waiting segment has been a bit rambling and all over the place. It’s a confession about my falling out of love with basketball, but it’s also a bigger conversation about sports in general and how I, as an adult, should feel about being upset with how stars choose where they want to play. And these aren’t easy things for me to really put my finger on. I want to be pro-player, but I also want as many teams as possible to have stars so that every game can be fun and have something to look forward to.
Mostly, I just want to truly love basketball again. Whether I can or not will probably depend on whether or not I change my overall outlook on it. As much as I’d like to see the league make some changes to their structure to at least have a better distribution of talent, I’m just not sure how feasible that really is in a sport where each individual can have such an enormous impact on the overall outcome of the game. I want the NBA to win me back, yet I also wonder if maybe I’m just not their target audience anymore. Or maybe it’s just me that has changed? Whoa. Too many existential sports questions for a Tuesday morning.