I LOVE THIS GAME (…but must say goodbye) A fan’s opinion and perspective of the NBA over the last 2 decades (I wrote this back on 6-3-05. After finding this today, I wanted to see how it resonates a year later.) I love this game…or at least that what I keep telling myself. But, then I sit there night after night, screaming at my television as if my vocal exercise is somehow going to correct the blatant contempt for my love of the one sport I actually care about. This is NBA basketball – a game where the stars shine and the money flows…and flows…and flows. Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s I was privileged to witness the glory of the Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry in the “golden age” of the NBA. However, being raised in Michigan, I couldn’t have been happier when the Bad Boys finally rose to conquer the NBA and make off with the League’s most coveted asset. Then it happened. Commissioner David Stern’s Darth Vader-like grip began to rear its ugly head and I finally began to see his plan. Much like the Imperial Senate, that would realize much too late that Senator Palpatine was not really the patriot he had fashioned him self to appear as, I saw what was coming and could do nothing but wince as I knew it would not be pretty. Commissioner Stern took over for Larry O’Brien (for whom the NBA title trophy is named) in 1984 and through Stern’s careful planning his vision became quite visible just as the Bad Boy era came to an end in 1991. It started with the Boston Garden “Mystique” in the late 80’s which, we all knew but no one would admit, meant you (as a visiting team) would receive the benefit of NO calls from the officials and that the Celtics would be allowed to openly beat the snot out you until you wilted in submission and Larry Bird was king of the world (man, I hate Titanic). This tendency slowly transferred to Michael Jordan, previously bypassing my beloved Pistons as most outside of the Motor City couldn’t wait until they were knocked off the NBA’s top perch. Then it started, the incessant marketing campaigns, the posters, the shoes…the “YES!” Marketing had indeed infiltrated the game. Never again would NBA diehards have the satisfaction of appreciating the game itself. We would now be subjected to endless marketing campaigns, worldwide promotion, and anything that would increase the revenue flow. Don’t get me wrong, I like money just as much as the next man, but do I really want to watch one player elevated to the status of League god and hence become untouchable during any and all excursions to the rim? Some of us do not live in the “god’s” city. Some of us root for other teams. Some of us like to see our teams actually try to stop the “god” from making posters at our arena. Alas, I believe I am on the out side looking in. I suffered through the 90’s as a fan when you got a foul for even looking in MJ’s direction (Michael Jordan for those just recently arriving from under their rock). I’ve been witness to the hype machine that told us how great Kwame Brown was going to be. I even suffered through Spurs championships that I couldn’t even bring myself to sit and watch. Yet through all of it, every commercial, advertisement, and poster screamed at me: “You only need the star!” I even sat though the teal uniformed seasons of the Pistons (now that’s dedication). Pistons faithful were sold that having their own “star” (Grant Hill for those who are unaware) would bring them the Holy Grail, but only after having passed their pride to Orlando for an unknown with an afro did Pistons fans get back on top. What the NBA has slowly but surely transformed into is a league of over hyped, well paid, but wrongly focused upon star players. Teams in today’s NBA are no longer interesting. Fans continue to call radio shows across the country to claim they hate defense, they hate teams that try to stop teams from having free passes to the lane, and they want 150 pt games. Well, two things: 1) David Stern has obliged with his constant rule changes which as Charles Barkley so eloquently put it, “…make the game easier for bad players…” and his constant marketing focus that relies so heavily on the “star player.” And 2) Count me out. I’ve seen enough of this focus on the star player who receives a foul every time someone looks at him wrong, yet teams without stars can be repeatedly maimed on their way to the basket without so much as a shrug from the official standing about 3 feet away. I have no desire to continue watching teams that have earned nothing benefit from having one guy on their team who is camera ready and can score 30 pts on any given night. I enjoyed the days when a Laker team sported no less than 3 Hall of Fame players. I enjoyed the days when if your best player didn’t score 25, someone else would. I must say goodbye to that NBA and say hello to the NBA which must constantly worry who will replace its most marketable player. I guess it never occurred to the NBA that if you put all your eggs in one basket that you might drop that basket. I enjoyed an NBA which sold the Milwaukee Bucks to the city of Milwaukee instead of forcing its best player on the entire basketball world (shout out to Paul Mokeski). I enjoyed the NBA that allowed any city’s fans to retain hope in its remaining players if their “best player” was traded or left as a free agent, if only because they knew who the other players were. I miss that NBA. Unfortunately, it’s being replaced by the NBA in which the most marketable player will simply have his championship delivered to him on opening day. There must be a hollow feeling in winning something which is not earned, but merely given. However, it appears that as long as that “star” is in your city, you probably don’t care. I was prepared to give the NBA a fond farewell once Commissioner Stern gave the OK for corporate logos to adorn NBA jerseys. However, judging by my increased frustration with the direction of my favorite sport, I may have to beat them to the punch…they obviously didn’t beat Ron Artest.