It feels like a black cloud has enveloped the early days of this NBA season. About two weeks ago, the Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey, managed to incite an international incident via his Twitter account that has unexpectedly forced both the league and it’s fans to reckon with all the sweaty little intricacies that make up this league’s place in the global market. Instead of breathless anticipation for what should be one of the most competitive years in recent history, we find ourselves a bit preoccupied with, well, just about everything else.
The looming specter of both business and politics is one of those things that has always hovered around the background of everything that goes on in the NBA, but it’s also been something that we’ve largely been able to engage with at our own pace. We all want sports to be a safe haven from the real world. You can’t always yell at your boss after a tough day at work, but you can always yell at Marco Belinelli for missing a defensive rotation. I get that, I really do. The basketball is almost always better when it hangs out in a little bubble that we get to go inside and visit to simply get away from it all. The bubble can still be there if you want it to, absolutely it can, but it’s getting harder and harder to ignore that it’s violently bouncing around inside the same raging tempest that seems to be swallowing up everything else these days.
I was struck by this watching the Rockets local broadcast of this game. It was truly bizarre to watch their announcers, Bill Worrell and Craig Ackerman, casually discuss the team’s return trip from Japan as if the entire franchise hadn’t been ground zero of a geopolitical crisis for the last ten days. The Rockets came out in this game looking flat, tired, and relatively disinterested, even by the meager standards of preseason basketball, and the announcers were buoyantly tossing out lines like, “Well Craig, you have to imagine they’re a little jet lagged tonight.” You think?
Look, I honestly don’t blame them. What do I want these guys to do: hash out the franchise’s long history with the Chinese market and how this sudden upheaval in that relationship might affect the team’s financial ability to compete in the future, all while pretending some ill-advised three Russell Westbrook just took was actually a good shot? No. That’s not good and that’s not even what I want. I don’t know what I want. All I know is that these games have felt weird so far. Not bad, just weird. It’s like we’re all hanging out and trying to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner on pins and needles because we aren’t quite sure what cousin Greg might say next.
Maybe once the games start counting things will be different. The news cycle certainly moves at such a blistering pace these days that we might not even remember this story was a thing by the time Christmas rolls around. It’s hard to say. But the NBA has always prided itself on being about more than basketball. It wants to be involved in our lives and our communities. It wants to ingratiate itself with us by having its players dress up like pirates in silly local commercials, and it wants us to be talking about the league with our friends and families and getting into playful arguments about who should make the All-NBA 3rd team defense or whatever.
The NBA doesn’t want to be a bubble. It’s want to be a marketplace of ideas that brings the world together through sport. These past couple of weeks have been a harsh reminder that there is a flip side to that equation. The more the league continues to weave itself into the fabric of our lives, the harder it is to separate it out when things start to get real.
- Intellectually speaking, I know it’s not important that the Spurs picked up a “win” last night, but boy, was I desperate to not have them be 0-4, and it really felt good for some reason to see them come out on top here. Why is that? The victory is purely aesthetic and has zero affect on anything, and yet, when the Rockets managed to cut the lead to 10 in the 3rd quarter, I was quietly pleading with the Spurs not to blow this one. Maybe the preseason is here to get the fans in shape for the season too. If you don’t stretch out before having a sports induced panic attack then you can be in real trouble.
- I think I’m prepared to die on the hill that LaMarcus Aldridge getting hot from the midrange is as exciting as anything else in basketball. Everyone hits threes these days and the whole point of most NBA offenses is to generate wide open shots beyond the arc. They are literally referred to as high percentage opportunities, and what I’m trying to propose here is that hitting a bunch of threes is pretty basic of everyone. A guy going 11-13 from the field and draining a barrage of weird angle mid-range jumpers with hands in your face? Now, that’s cool. That’s impressive. That’s fun. Who’s with me? Anyone?
- The Dejounte Murray hype train continues to roll on unabated, and you absolutely love to see it. He looks like he’s in control of the offense, he’s completely bodying dudes up on defense, and he’s even getting into salty little trash talk squabbles with James Harden from time to time. I didn’t expect to be fully in love with DJM until at least the 3rd week of the season but, as with most things, he is exceeding my expectations.
Draft Dejounte, you guys. pic.twitter.com/T6ZKfrtuxH— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) October 17, 2019
- The most important stat of night is that the Spurs escaped yet another preseason game with zero injuries. It feels like at least once a game an announcer brings up the story of how we lost Dejounte for the entire season this time last year and each time it sort of makes my blood run cold. At one point in the 1st quarter, Russell Westbrook went up and pretty much tackled Lonnie Walker IV on a fast break, and I was essentially ready to file an emergency grievance with the league office to try and get Russ either banned for life or fined 3 million dollars. GET YOUR HANDS OFF OUR BOY, RUSS!
- TIM DUNCAN FIT WATCH: Our new Fashion Overlord/Assistant Coach, Tim Duncan, continued to look great on the bench last night. Sporting a clean looking tan blazer, white shirt, black slacks combo, and he managed to look both dignified and stylish while maintaining the trademark casual vibes he’s been carefully cultivating for his entire career. “Oh, did my collar pop out a little bit? Not sweating it, brother.” We are all still on the lookout for his first necktie of the season (career?), but Duncan has never been a man to do stuff at anything but his own pace.