NBA shows its worth with incredible opening round action
After several decades of watching, playing and writing about the world of sports, I have a hard time coming up with a week that quite matches the last one for the National Basketball Association.
Leagues have had great series and wonderful playoff games, but rarely has any league enjoyed the kind of top to bottom respect, excitement and adventure that the NBA demonstrated over the past seven days.
Let's take a look at the magnificent past week and take the opportunity to wave the flag for all those idiots who think Milwaukee would be better off without the Milwaukee Bucks. This also goes to those who think kicking in a few pennies for a new arena is some kind of sin.
One thing you hear a lot of from critics of the Association is that the playoffs don't mean anything since 16 teams make the post-season, some of them seemingly overmatched on paper. The Atlanta Hawks, for instance, came into the playoffs with a losing record, taking on the top seeded Indiana Pacers. If you've been able to watch some of these games, the idea that the first round means nothing is absurd.
There were eight playoff series when the first round began. In all of the unpredictable seven game series, the team with the home court advantage (the regular season is how home court advantage is determined) won the last game, except in the Brooklyn-Toronto series. There were eight overtime games. Five of them went to a full seven games. Another one – the Portland-Houston series – may not have gone to seven, but it was intensely competitive throughout and ended with one of the most exciting games I have ever, ever seen.
In the middle of all this excitement, the league faced a crisis that was possibly only surpassed by labor strife and strikes.
With NBA attention and excitement approaching incredible levels, along came Donald Sterling, a pirated audio tape and horribly racist comments by an owner in a league where an overwhelming majority of the players are black. We don't have to rehash what Sterling did, but the way the NBA responded deserves some attention.
The new commissioner, Adam Silver, has been on the job less than three months. He works for the owners, but he's the commissioner, and the ball was in his court.
To his credit, he did not dilly dally around. He didn't equivocate or try to pass things off to the owners or to a lengthy investigation. He stood up and affirmed that he was responsible for determining what to do about Sterling. And then he handed down a harsh penalty. He left no doubt that there was no room for Sterling – or any similar behavior or attitudes in the future – in the NBA. There were no "if's" in what he said or did.
The acclaim for his tough decision was almost universal. The players loved it. The owners loved it. The media loved it. The politicians loved it, and the public loved it.
There were a few dissenters, including me, who wonder about the ramifications. If something we say in the seemingly secure privacy of our own homes becomes public, we all might be in danger of being fired.
But that dissent was miniscule compared to the tsunami of praise and satisfaction from all parties concerned, with the possible exception of Donald Sterling – and nobody cares about him, a repeat offender whose racist behavior and beliefs were documented long before the past month's audio tapes.
What we ended up with was perhaps the best week in the history of the NBA. There is one thing, however, that I didn't feel that good about: Milwaukee wasn't really a big part of the weeklong celebratory dance. And if citizens in this town don't get their heads out of the sand, we may never get a chance to be part of this kind of raging excitement.
I've heard a lot of people with dim wits say they won't support the Bucks because the team has not been successful recently. They seem to forget that success in professional sports is cyclical and that, unlike almost every other sport, a basketball team's fate can instantly change with a single player. A player, for instance, snagged with a high draft pick, which the Bucks are guaranteed to have next month.
They also forget about how lousy the Brewers were for years before a new stadium and new ownership came along, and even then, it took time.
As my colleague Jim Owczarski wrote last week here, it's time for us to stop doing things the agonizing way. Let's not talk and debate this thing to death. We all know it's going to happen; let's make it a happy thing, not a morose skinflint event.
The NBA is enjoying unprecedented popularity worldwide – and it's only growing. Let's not become a punchline by refusing to stay on board this train of joy and excitement.
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"We all know it's going to happen; let's make it a happy thing, not a morose skinflint event." Sounds like rape, Dave.
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