In the Stands

A majority of Americans, especially those in the Midwest, refuse to watch the NBA because of its overpaid, whiny athletes who commit crimes and don’t play the game the way James Naismith intended. Many critics avert their eyes from televised NBA games as if it were a live broadcast of a horse being killed right on the track of the Kentucky Derby.

However, there are some selling points that local sports fans should know about before totally dismissing the playoffs. With eight teams remaining, it’s not too late for casual fans to tune in to some of the most exciting NBA games of the 2007-08 season.

Perhaps the NBA’s biggest turnoff to Kansans is the lack of local connections. Athletes in the NFL and MLB are not underpaid by any means, but sports fans in Kansas and Missouri have far less to complain about because there are teams in those leagues who they can rally behind and support.

Before he was traded to Minnesota, Kansas City residents took comfort in knowing that Jared Allen was one of them. He drove up and down I-70 just like the rest of us, and although he sometimes did it under the influence he was still around to sign pre-game autographs in the parking lot, which fans paid a measly $22 to gain access to. When each new season begins and fans find parking prices have again increased to help pay players’ salaries, the 80,000 people that fill Arrowhead are angered to the point that their faces turn as red as their jerseys. However, those complaints are quieted once they see Kansas City’s star-studded lineup of Larry Johnson (OK, just Larry Johnson) take the field to win four games (out of 16).

The NBA doesn’t have that local appeal to the residents of this area. Fans can’t make a quick drive to Kemper or the Sprint Center and watch a Kansas City NBA team take the court.

However, there are ways for Kansans to find interest in a league whose closest team is located in Denver. For example, Jayhawk fans can turn on the playoffs to see former KU forward Paul Pierce lead the Celtics to the league’s best record, or switch to the Spurs-Hornets series to watch Julian Wright sit on the bench against Jacque Vaughn, who also sits on the bench. Kansas State fans can always watch underachievers such as Lamar Odom and Andrei Kirilenko and comment on their likeness to former NBA disappointment Mitch Richmond, who once led KSU to zero national championships, zero Big Eight titles and pretty much nothing other than an answer to the trivia question, “What NBA player once played at Kansas State?”

And look on the bright side, the answer to that question will soon double once Michael Beasley joins Dwayne Wade on the Heat or a roster full of no-names that make up the Minnesota Timberwolves. If waiting until the draft is too long, you can always watch the teams that are playing now and dream about how Beasley will be dunking on that team’s power forward a year from now. KU fans can watch those same games and know that Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers will be riding the bench for teams that are about as talented as the team they played for a month ago.

If local fan favorites aren’t enough to spark an interest in pro basketball, take a look at the storylines each series provides. Each of the four quarterfinal matchups have a compelling reason to tune in on a nightly basis.

The most star-powered series at this point is the Celtics-Cavaliers. Boston has dominated throughout the regular season, building a 66-16 record thanks to the play of their “Big Three.” Even the most casual sports fans know what Cleveland’s LeBron James is capable of. If spectators want to watch games filled with big plays from household names, this is the series to keep an eye on. This is also an effective way to pass time while waiting for LeBron to make his first horrible movie, video game or parenting decision.

On the opposite end of the Eastern conference bracket is the series between the Magic and Pistons. As a college student, it’s always fun to watch Orlando center Dwight Howard, who is still in his early 20s, and think about the money he’s making while you sit in your two-bedroom apartment reading the Washburn Review instead of studying for finals. On a less depressing note, his team is in the process of being dominated by Rip Hamilton and the Pistons and he will soon be doing the same thing as every college student in the country this week: packing up his things and going home to mama.

In the Western conference playoffs there is a pair of series that are neck and neck. The Hornets hold a 2-1 lead (game Sunday not done by press time) against the defending champion Spurs in a battle between two teams that are headed in opposite directions. New Orleans is finally finished rebuilding, not from any hurricanes but from the wreckage left from overrated point guard Baron Davis. Chris Paul has his Hornets team on the rise and holding the No. 2 seed in the NBA’s superior conference. Meanwhile, the Spurs are getting old fast and probably don’t know it yet, similar to the Miami Heat circa 2007. Tim Duncan’s frown is getting bigger, Manu Ginobili’s hair is falling out faster and Tony Parker apparently pays more attention to his wife, Eva Longoria, than his jump shot (but who can blame him?).

The Lakers are tied 2-2 against the Jazz in the fourth quarterfinal series. Kobe continues his quest to be the first player ever to win a championship, be accused of raping a girl and then win yet another championship. It’s only fitting that his mission be challenged by Utah, a state full of people who are okay with the whole multiple spouse thing. That same group of people don’t support alcohol consumption, which makes it that much funnier for their best player to be named Carlos Boozer.

Now that you’ve taken the crash course in the most important aspects of the NBA playoffs, you can walk into any bar and sound more knowledgeable than any of your fellow patrons. Whether it be the local fan favorites, or the multitude of epic storylines, there are plenty of reasons to find out why the NBA playoffs are “Where Amazing Happens.” And if none of these reasons persuade you into watching, just remember: your alternative to watching the road to the Finals is actually sitting down and preparing for your finals.