I have been a basketball fan all my life. When I was 7 and 8, I used to bring my own basketball to school to play with the older boys, 11 or 12 year old. After my classes had ended, I stayed in the school yard, playing all by myself, while I waited for them to have a break so that we could play ten more minutes. And then I waited another 45 minutes, and then we played ten more minutes.
I couldn’t play, of course. Not only were they bigger and stronger and faster than me, but they could understand the game as well. I remember having the ball and seeing nothing but moving bodies, having no idea who were on my team or where I could dribble the ball. I must have lost the ball quite often.
As I got older, I joined the local basketball club. I was lucky, it was a golden era for basketball in my little hometown, lots of people played and some of them were really good. When I was in 6th grade, both the boys and the girls in my class played in the national championships (since then, they have discontinued the championships, they don’t want kids to compete too much). When I was a bit older, both my team and the team I coached played in the unofficial Scandinavian championships.
Of course, Norwegian basketball isn’t very good. We lost all games by 30-40-50 points.
It didn’t stop me from being a fan, though. I watched NBA games as often as I could. Screensport sent a game a week, but it aired three times: we learned that one night at 2 AM when the same game came on as the one we watched two days before. (I’m quite sure it was Miami Heat vs Orlando Magic.) I watched NBA Action on TVNorge; it became a standard procedure to call their answering machine and complain about how they spelt the names. (Sean Kemp! Shaun Elliott!)
When my parents bought me stuff in a kiosk, I didn’t ask for candy or cartoons. I asked for USA Today. And I didn’t care about the news, about celebrities, about the stock market — all I cared about was the NBA results. I would go over the box scores as if they contained a secret message. Kevin WIllis twelve defensive rebounds, three offensive, but he shot just 2 for 5, hmm… The most prized newspapers were the ones with all the stats for all the NBA players. My Bible was The Complete Hand book of Pro Basketball by Zander Hollander. in 1992-92-94, I learned everything by heart, all the players, all their stats, all their former teams.
I sent around 100 letters to the States, to the NBA headquarters, to poster manufacturers, to teams, to players both active and retired, and asked them all kind of questions. The NBA headquarters were the best, the apparently had a PR division to handle people like me, and they answered all my questions until they too got fed up. Can Muggsy Bogues dunk? Has Michael Jordan ever missed a dunk? Are there any NBA players with asthma? How tall is Manute Bol really? How many NBA players were born in Europe?
From a list of Hall of Fame players, I more or less random picked out some names and wrote them a letter (I think I sent it c/o the hall of fame) asking them for an autograph and asking them about their lifetime stats: how many rebounds, how many points etc. I still have the ones I got: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Dave Cowens.
Dave Cowens was the only one who personalised his signature (“Jostein, keep hustling!”); he and Elgin Baylor were the only ones who wrote their stats. It’s strange to think about how happy that made me.
I kept playing though the years, at various university teams just for fun (Oslo, Uppsala, Köln/Cologne), and I always tried to follow the NBA. It wasn’t the same, of course, when I got internet: the information was always there, no more letters sent across the Atlantic, a bit less magic. Heroes came and went: having read in Zander Hollander that Dennis Rodman lead the league in rebounds per minute, and that he only cared about defence, I made Rodman my hero for some time. Until he started dying his hair and dating random celebrities.
In 2011, my hero was Dirk Nowitzki. That year, I bought NBA League Pass for the first and only time, just to follow the Mavericks in the playoffs. They weren’t the favorites. But they won, in an epic fashion. Literally.
All through these years, my love of NBA stats has been a constant. I have often visited Basketball reference to see how active players climb the all-time lists. How Nowitzki is closing in on 30000 points. How many minutes Jason Kidd has played, how many rebounds does Kevin Garnett have, how many blocks does Tim Duncan have.
It’s been a habit: almost every day throughout the NBA season, I check the box scores, the standings, even the rumours.
But from January 1st, this year, I have stopped.
In many ways, it’s been liberating. I don’t have think about something I can’t control. I can’t even watch the games here, at least no without paying too much money, all I have is the GameCast and the final box score, just numbers on a screen.
(Similar to the text-only Football manager game I played on Commodore 64 — this, probably.))
It’s been two weeks. Basketball is still my favourite sport (not playing any more, but watching.) Two weeks is a long time for a former NBA-addict. There are so many unknowns:
- Is Nowitzki still playing as well as he did at the start of the season?
- How is Kobe Bryant coming along?
- Is Lebron James still shooting 60%?
- Is Steve Nash back to his old self somewhat?
- Has Pau Gasol been traded?
- Are the Knicks and the Nets still terrible?
- Is Nowitzki closing in on Paul Pierce all-time free throws made?
- Antwan Jamison has passed 20000 points, right?
- How is Dwight Howard’s Free throw percentage?
- Who will be the All-star starters?
- Is Nikola Vucevic still among the league leaders in rebounding?
- Is Ricky Rubio shooting better than 40%?
- And does he lead the league in steals?
- How does Kevin Love’s beard look?
- Is Kevin Durant shooting 90-50-40?
- Who leads the league in triple-doubles?
- Is Dallas Mavericks still at eight place in the Western Conference?
- Is the Eastern Conference still miles behind the Western?
- Which stars have been injured?
See? It takes hours to find all this information. And if I don’t, I free up energy to spend somewhere else.
What is better, spend one hour every day following the NBA or spend one hour every day reading Daniel Lieberman? What do you want to know, how many times one person has caught a ball on a basketball court, how many minutes he has spent there, how many times he has put the ball through a hoop from more than ca 7 meters away — or why humans look the way they do, why we get overweight, why running is something we’ve evolved to like, and how does your evolutionary past affect you every day and in every way?
I will always love the game of basketball. I will always be a fan. But being a fan is not in any way connected with wisdom. And so, I will not care about basketball any more, I will not care about the multi million dollar industry called NBA, I will simply ignore it and spend my time doing better things.
At last this year.