I was reading Andrew Sharp’s piece about Kevin Durant’s media-driven throne of righteousness, and I completely disagreed with one of Sharp’s points. Oddly enough, considering it was a piece about Durant, the actual point I disagreed with had little to do with the spindly, 6’9″ scorer. Sharp wrote this: (SB Nation)
Jerry Seinfeld once said sports fans are basically “cheering laundry,” and in a literal sense, he’s right. But in a literal sense, sports are a complete and utter waste of time. That’s Seinfeld’s point. Only by taking things to the deeper level, adopting certain guys as heroes and others as villains… Only then does it become something worth going crazy over.
We create this dynamic—LeBron as villain, Durant as hero—because otherwise, they’re just two oversized gentleman that run up and down a wooden court 100 nights a year, wearing different laundry. Projecting character onto these guys may be naive, but it’s also what makes sports fun. And that’s the essential truth missed by both Craggs and all the writers lavishing Durant with praise.
If NBA players could all be more like Kevin Durant… Basketball would be incredibly boring.
I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t watch basketball, I don’t follow basketball, and I don’t love basketball because the players have character. I don’t care about the NBA because Lebron James is a villain and Kevin Durant is a hero. If that was why I cared about sports, I wouldn’t care about sports at all. I’d merely watch soap operas all day, preferably All My Children.
In fact, I hardly care about what NBA superstars are like off the floor. I don’t watch Lebron James play basketball because he’s a villain, or because he used to be seen as “the unselfish superstar,” just as I don’t watch Kevin Durant play basketball because he seems like a fun guy to play Madden against. I watch Lebron because he is the biggest, strongest, fastest package of athleticism ever created by the hand of God, and I watch Durant because I’ve never seen someone his height with that mind-blowing package of skills. Watching them, regardless of how the media portrays them or how I feel about them as individuals, not only brings me awe that a human being could be THAT good at basketball, but that he could push the limits of human accomplishments so far.
Greatness, no matter who does it or what avenue of life it appears in, is special. It’s why I watched the Olympics and became attached to Michael Phelps. I didn’t know the first thing about Phelps and I didn’t know the first thing about executing a proper flip turn, but I understood that what he was doing was extremely special, and that was good enough for me. I returned to my television every time Phelps had a race, because I knew there was always the potential for greatness. I didn’t care whether Phelps was a bank robber or Mother Theresa; he was doing something better than it had ever been done before, and that was enough for me.
But watching basketball is different than watching the Olympics, different than watching Phelps. Not only do I watch for the potential greatness each game brings, but I watch because I appreciate the intricacies of the game. I watch because a simple bounce pass can leave me breathless. I watch for the sound of a swish, the thwap of a dribble, and because the squeaking of sneakers sounds like heaven. I watch for the perfectly executed screen-and-roll, the beautiful no-look pass, and because “damn, did you just see that guy fly?” I watch because you never know when you’ll see a close game, a great comeback, or an astounding play. I watch because I don’t ever want to miss something special, and I watch because I see greatness even in the smallest, most normal plays.
So no, Andrew Sharp, I don’t watch basketball because Lebron James is a villain and Kevin Durant is a hero. In fact, if they were “just two oversized gentleman that run up and down a wooden court 100 nights-a-year, wearing different laundry” that’d be A-okay with me. As long as they still played the game I love and played it better than just about anyone else on earth. As long as they still showed me what greatness looks like, as long as they still tested the boundaries of human accomplishment.
Even my unabashed love for certain players has no basis in personality. Paul Pierce isn’t my favorite player because he’s a great guy, or because he’s known as The Truth, or because he smiles from time to time in postgame press conferences; he’s my favorite player because he’s been a Celtic the longest, because his on-court skills have helped my favorite team win games for years. The same thing goes for my favorite non-Celtic, Steve Nash. I don’t give a damn that Nash makes funny videos or seems really down to earth, or that some people view him as the underdog because he’s small and white. Those things are all cool by me, but I try to watch Nash as often as I can because he makes at least three or four passes per game that make me wish I was a soccer-loving Canadian originally from South Africa.
I watch sports in general for the potential of seeing something prodigious, but I watch basketball more often than I watch any other sport because I appreciate every intricate detail roundball has to offer. I certainly “root for laundry” when I cheer on the Celtics, but I’ve got a confession: even if Lebron, Durant and every other player in the NBA were nothing more than bland, boring, over-sized gentlemen who run up and down a wooden court 100 nights a year, I’d still love this game.
What can I say? I’m an addict.