How to get ready for the NBA without actually watching any basketball

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LatinD returns, ready to discuss the Olympics, Argentinian soccer futbol, minor league hockey, Lance Armstrong, and ... oh, the beginning of the NBA regular season.

My Google Calendar complained today about my lack of commitment. It sent me a clear, rather bare message: "Season starts tomorrow." But we have known each other a long time, so reading between the lines was easy. "Where are your preseason posts, man?" "Why haven't you watched the team during the training camp?" "WHERE IS YOUR PASSION?"

So I sit now in front of my keyboard at 1am, doing some much-needed soul-searching. The Spurs are ready for another season of basketball, I'm sure - but am I?

The Rampage

Once the Olympics finished, I stopped watching basketball. I stopped caring about sports, actually. There is only so much disappointment that a fan can soak in before he begins to question his choice of hobbies and passions. I discovered that science fiction novels and comic books are consistently great at entertaining me without any rip-beating-heart-out-of-chest moments.

Most of my brushes with sports were limited to the occasional American football game on TV, whose rules I half-heartedly try to learn in order to better (unfavorably) compare it to the superior rugby. My Aggie-loving family-in-law appreciates my efforts, let me tell you. On the side, my beloved Independiente continued to suffer through the Argentinian football league, and I held its hand throughout the night in the tiny impersonal ICU room that is the "fall to second division" zone of the rankings.

The Spurs were not on my radar. However, I did visit the AT&T Center recently: my girlfriend and I decided that since Ginobili and Co. were not an option, we would go see the Rampage. The Rampage, for those unfamiliar with the name, are the local minor league hockey team. Now, my experience with ice hockey was limited to watching the Mighty Ducks when I was a kid, so I figured that it would be at the very least educational.

And it was. The AT&T was sadly half-empty, and the top levels were covered in banners and ads. The biggest flag, which covered the zone behind the home basket, had a huge silver spur in its center - just in case anyone forgot for a second who the real owner of the stadium was. We arrived all of six minutes late, and missed a goal by the local team. Promising, right? I was already envisioning a high-scoring affair, but unfortunately that was the only goal in the entire game.

What the game lacked in goals, it more than made up in hard shoves that always seemed to promise impending fisticuffs. Every altercation was met with approving cheers by the fans, and the offender did not look particularly contrite as they waited out their time out in a transparent cubicle on the sidelines. I wonder if this kind of gladiatorial experience is what some fans want to regain in the NBA when they wax poetic about the toughness of them golden years.

The sort of monotonous back and forth was broken from time to time by sleek skiing and the few times when a player suddenly slapped the puck with their off hand. In between periods, I met the lackluster mascot and the imposing Zamboni, apparently a key cultural milestone of the game of hockey. And then, as the second period was winding to an end, I was shaken out of my daze when something happened.

Some background information: player substitutions in hockey are quick and very common. Two players in, three players out - benches are emptied in a wink. If you don't pay attention, you can miss it. In that moment, as the clock ticked down its final second, the coach made a gesture and suddenly the goalie left the court. Six players rushed forward, leaving their goal unguarded behind them, and the game turned into a rush of flailing sticks and frantic activity. My girlfriend informed me that there was a name for this tactic: "pulling the goalie". Wonderful.

Why don't we have this in the NBA? There has to be a way to include a new rule that allows a desperate team to increase their offensive potential by at the same time undermining their defense. What if we allow the coaches to add a player in the final minute of the game, just for one play, but this immediately gives the defending team an extra point? Or maybe we should simply allow coaches to enter the game at any given point for a single play, as some sort of 6th man ninja. I can already see Pop going in just to hack-a-Griffin personally. Iaf anything, it would encourage a generational change in the NBA.

Never mind. It sounds stupid when I write it down.

National Doping Association

So apparently Lance Armstrong was doping throughout his entire amazing career, and all of his Tour de France trophies have been taken away. Deleted. Scratched. They didn't happen, and apparently the authorities might decide that no one won in those years at all, because of the universal doping in cycling throughout the early 2000s.

I understand the disappointment of cycling fans. Was Lance Armstrong historically good because of his immense natural talent that allowed him to excel in his chosen sport despite the extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout the entire league? Or was he simply better at using said drugs? If there is one thing I hate about doping it is that uncertainty that it generates, robbing every athlete of their rightful places. So much of sports is born from the strife to become the best - the lack of a true measuring bar is devastating.

(In my goofiest moments, I wonder if we should break down and set up the Doping Olympics. There is nothing more exciting that seeing an athlete break a world record. Wouldn't it be amazing to see what a juiced-up Usain Bolt can do? The ensuing sonic boom would blow away every shred of guilt we felt, I'm sure. And considering that we allow coaches to influence the outcome of the games with their advise and expertise, why not give the same opportunity to those unsung heroes, the steroid engineers?)

I have long since suspected that something goes on in the NBA. Wiry foreigners like Manu quickly become blocky and develop arms worthy of being called "guns" with a straight face. Even if the San Antonio organization were too straight-laced to indulge in performance enhancers, I would be surprised if the NBA had been the only league in the USA untouched to some extent by the use of semi-legal training regimes. The lack of any major scandals (except for some minor cases like OJ Mayo's or Rashard Lewis') has led to what is probably the weakest testing program of all American leagues. After their rookie year, players are not randomly tested anymore and have only one scheduled test during their training camp. Furthermore, many steroids and other drugs that have been declared illegal by other institutions have yet to be included in the NBA's list of outlawed substances. Even if the weight increase caused by PEDs is counterproductive for the game of basketball, the healing properties could be important for players recovering from an injury. But Stern has never shown any interest in proper testing.

I sometimes wonder whether my memories of seasons past would be sullied if it was discovered that my heroes were as guilty of doping as Armstrong was. Would I be able to appreciate their grace and precision, the skills that no PED can grant? I honestly don't know.

New is too new?

So! How's the new SB Nation working for you? I imagine that the transition period is almost over, since the preseason is behind us. As the change happened, we were all asked to be patient by the SB Nation management. JRW, and I dutifully drank the Kool-Aid. Change is always difficult to accept, especially when it is on such a large scale.

Weeks later, I still don't know how to feel about it. On the one hand, the fonts are very readable and long editorial posts look beautiful. On the other, the auto-adjustable frames do not work properly and result in a narrow text box, and I feel constantly assaulted by a thousand and one images, links and buttons. I honestly wonder if my brain has fossilized past the point where it can adapt to modern layouts.

But while I continue to try to adapt to the new Pounding the Rock, SBNation.com is simply an enigma. The new layout, although somewhat understandable for a team-focused blog, seems to break apart when applied to sports at large, and the interconnection with individual blogs is suspect at best. For instance, "Best of the NBA" gathers Jesus's wonderful articles and two-paragraph marvels about the importance of the C's presence in the All-Star ballot. Around the site, some images have links within links within links, forming an intricate Matryoshka-like labyrinth that would probably make Leonardo DiCaprio throw up.

I don't know. I think deep down I simply resent being sent back to Grantland.

The Season

Howard-Bryant-Nash-Gasol-MWP? S-TOO-PID. Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka-Perkins? RE-DEN-KU-LOUS. Wade-Bosh-Allen-LeBron? UN-FAIR. Harden or no Harden, Princeton offense of no Princeton offense, I don't think I will surprise anyone by saying that the Spurs start the season as the clear underdogs among the top teams.

The unfortunate truth is that nine times out of ten, more talent beats less talent. That is why growing pains or not (who needs Dirk, anyway) the Lakers will be a force to be reckoned with when the playoffs start, and why (if the goal is to win a championship) losing Harden takes the shine out of Oklahoma, to some extent. In the talent arms race, the Spurs have fallen behind, and only the magical mutation of Kawhi into a beautiful basketball All-Star butterfly can tip that scale.

However, I can only shake my head when I read comments by drunk Californians despairing at the Spurs's chances to win this season. It is unbelievable to see how quickly we have forgotten about the basketball master class this team put on in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. Having seen that, how can you think that it is impossible for players of this caliber to regain that magic? You can choose your own attitude, but I'm a believer.

Enough rambling. I'm ready. Bring on those Hornets.

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