Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NBA's Final Four Promises Intriguing Series

Let's get this straight right from the top—I'm not an NBA fan, and I never have been, really. I've lived my entire life in Missouri where the closest professional team is at least two tanks of gasoline away and where the sports seasons are baseball, football and hockey. What I have been, however, is a curious fan of the NBA's star players. I was first enamored by Julius "Dr. J" Erving back in the 1970s and '80s, so I followed the 76ers back then.

After that, I became a Charles Barkley fan because a) he played for Dr. J's old team; b) so many people seemed to dislike him. That always appealed to the nonconformist in me. When Barkley went to the Phoenix Suns, I rooted for Phoenix, especially in the finals when they lost to Michael Jordan's Bulls. Can you believe it—I was cheering against MJ? Of course, after that, I did what all casual NBA fans did; I became a de facto Bulls fan.

I never watch NBA games during the season, and I only tune in sporadically to the playoff games, but once it gets to this point, I tune in more often and for more of the game. These conference finals matchups give us a lot to look forward to, and I'm hoping for a truly memorable final (and one that doesn't include the most boring team ever: the Detroit Pistons).

In the West, we've got Phoenix vs. Dallas. I like Dallas for two reasons—Dirk Nowitski (geeky-looking German guy! Can we get him to do a cover of "Rock Me Amadeus"? Can someone convince him to walk off the court after a win and say "Hasta la vista, baby"?) and Mark Cuban (one of the few rich guys I actually like because he made a billion dollars as an Internet geek and now spends said billions exactly the way you or I would—he buys a professional sports team, does whatever he can to win, and hangs out behind the bench in jeans and a T-shirt. You just know it would about give David Stern a stroke to hand the championship trophy to Cuban. Stern would probably fine him afterward out of force of habit.)

In the East, it's a rematch of last year, Detroit vs. Miami, except this time, Detroit looks very vulnerable, the Heat have Pat Riley behind the bench, and Shaquille O'Neal is in the twilight of his career, so he knows this may be his last chance for a ring. Add in Dwayne Wade vs. the Pistons defense and you have what promises to be a cross between a basketball game and the 1980s classic movie "The Warriors."

I don't think these are perfect matches. It would have been been even better if we had the Clippers instead of Phoenix in the West (perennial doormat makes good after three decades of incompetence and futility) and Cleveland instead of Detroit (LeBron James, the next star for casual non-team-loyal fans like me), but in any case, with the Blues long gone from the hockey scene, at least I'm interested enough to watch some basketball here in the late spring.