“It’s like the story of the straw-man from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, where if you play with fire, you’re going to get burnt!” – A sporting commentator on national TV.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, basketball was a huge part of my youth, both playing and watching. Now that I’m older I still watch basketball, but I don’t have the interest or enthusiasm for the sport that I once did due to various changes and transformations of the NBA over the years among other reasons, including, but not limited to:
The fact that money has ruined the game. Getting paid is the most important thing now, so the focus is on the individual, as opposed to the team.
- The lack of loyalty among players and fans, just jumping ship as soon as things don’t go their way. It is almost impossible to keep up with who is playing for who! Also, players wanting to join their competition and form “Super Teams”, as opposed to trying to beat them.
- Dumbing down the rules to give the advantage to scorers in order to try to recreate the glory years of the NBA . Also, the lack of player fundamentals, almost all big men wanting to be outside shooters and flopping on defense like in soccer.
- Teams wearing many different uniforms in a season to generate more money through sales (above).
- The over-reliance on ridiculous statistics such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and over-analysis in the media, as well as the constant need to rank everything and everyone, especially on social media.
Maybe I’m just old and jaded or maybe the world of professional sports just isn’t as interesting anymore, but I do get somewhat nostalgic when I watch old games. One thing that will never change, however, is that I was, am and will always be a Chicago Bulls fan.
The Bulls are celebrating their 50th season and 20 years since their record-setting 72-10 season. I have been a fan since 1988, meaning that I have been on their side for more than half of their existence, through the good and the bad. I was still a Bulls fan even when Michael Jordan came back a second time with the Washington Wizards and the Bulls sucked. It has always been about these guys:
I saw Team USA play the Australian Boomers in an exhibition match for the 2000 Olympic games, have seen the Harlem Globetrotters twice and was asked to participate in the And 1 Mixtape Tour when it came to Australia in 2004, but I have never been to an NBA game. Tickets to New York Knicks games are extremely expensive, despite how terrible the team is, but when I saw the Brooklyn Nets opening home game was against the Bulls we just had to get tickets. And we did.
Our day started no differently to any other, except for the fact it was pouring with rain all day. I went to my daily volunteer position at Housing Works for four hours, my working day ending after an elderly man spent 30 minutes continually walking in and out of the fitting room in his underwear to get different pairs of pants to try with the curtain open.
Anna works in Brooklyn on Wednesdays, two stops from Coney Island, and said she would finish around 4:30 and it should take us both the same time to get to the Barclays Center, thus we should get there around the same time, however, that wasn’t to be. Due to the fact that, for the most part, New York’s subways are underground, there is no phone reception. Anna couldn’t contact me for the half hour I was on the train and vice versa. As a result I spent another half-hour waiting under some scaffolding, hiding from the wind and rain, remnants of discarded, destroyed umbrellas strewn all around me, waiting for her to show up (right).
Eventually I heard from Anna. She told me she was about 15 minutes away and would meet me in the shopping mall opposite Barclays Center. What a depressing place! All that was really there was a two-storey Target store, immediately giving me flashbacks of childhood Friday night shopping trips with the family to Mid Valley Shopping Centre in Morwell, Australia. I was half-expecting to sit in that weird round part out the front of Target in Mid Valley and pull old cigarette butts out of the fake fern garden while Dad wasn’t looking, just like I did with my sister, Sheree, when we were kids, but it wasn’t to be. If you ever went to Mid Valley in the eighties or early-nineties, you know exactly what I mean.
After a bit of shopping, we eventually made it over to the Barclays Center to watch the game, but the first item on the agenda was getting something to eat. We had about 40 minutes until tip-off and we had heard that there was decent food there. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it, just hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and nachos. Don’t get me wrong, I like junk food, but I’m trying to lose weight here. Anna lined up to get food, I went to the bar to get us some beers. The woman at the bar came back with two pints of Stella Artois and charged me US$23.00! Add in the tip and those are Singaporean prices! To put it in perspective, that would usually cost US$9.00 – US$10.00 in any bar here, even less during happy hour!
Anna came back with a hot dog each, saying there was a 10-minute wait for burgers, so we scoffed those down, got a brisket-roll and some mac and cheese before going to find our seats. On our walk through the stadium we eventually saw the VIP section through a sheet of glass. That must be where Jay-Z eats.
Our seats were pretty decent for the nosebleeds, we had a great view of the action, but unfortunately we had a row of fat little turds in front of us who continually kept getting up to buy more nachos. Puberty’s a bitch, but I found a little pleasure later in the game in attracting their glares by cheering on the Bulls just that little bit louder.
The game started with a moment’s silence out of respect for former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach, Flip Saunders, who passed away three days prior and New York City police officer Randolph Holder, who was shot and killed in East Harlem during the week. This was followed by an introduction by rapper Jadakiss, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing The Star Spangled Banner and then the action was soon underway.
I had watched Chicago beat Cleveland by two points the previous night, but they had played badly and really only won because Cleveland played worse. They’re not going to get it done this season playing like that, so I was happy to see them play some great team-basketball and leading the entire game. The little turds in front of us left early, maybe it was due to Brooklyn having little chance of winning, maybe just because it was a school night, but I was happy with the Bulls’ 15 point victory. Here’s a recap of the night’s action:
Afterwards, I walked around the arena to have a look at the banners and liked what I saw:
Why did I like what I saw? Because I appreciated the respect paid to the late, great Dražen Petrović, a player I used to love watching, one of the greatest shooters you’ll ever see and a man who died tragically, well before his time. In fact I can still remember where I was when I heard he had passed away and it was because of him that I wanted to check out the Barclays Center banners. “Who?”, I hear you ask. His introduction on Wikipedia puts it thusly:
Dražen Petrović (October 22, 1964 – June 7, 1993) was a Croatian professional basketball player. A shooting guard, he initially achieved success playing professional basketball in Europe in the 1980s before joining the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the U.S.A. in 1989.
A star on multiple stages, Petrović earned two silver medals and one bronze in Olympic summer basketball, a gold and a bronze in the FIBA World Cup, and a gold and a bronze in the FIBA EuroBasket. He represented Yugoslavia and, later, Croatia. He earned four Euroscar Awards, and was named Mr. Europa twice. In 1985, he received the Golden Badge award for best athlete of Yugoslavia.
Seeking a bigger arena after his career start in Europe, Petrović joined the NBA in 1989 as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. After playing mostly off the bench that year, Petrović experienced a breakthrough following a trade to the New Jersey Nets. While starting for the Nets, he became one of the league’s best shooting guards and was in consideration for being the best shooter ever. Petrović’s career and life was cut short after he died in a car accident at the age of 28.
Petrović is considered the crucial part of the vanguard to the present-day mass influx of European players into the NBA. Petrović’s #3 was retired by the Nets in 1993, and in 2002 he was posthumously enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was voted the Best European Basketballer in History by players at the 2013 FIBA EuroBasket. Dražen Petrović is considered by many to be one of the best shooting guards in the history of basketball.
Anyone who scored 112 points (40/60 FG, 10/20 3Pts, 22/22 FT) in a single Yugoslavian League game with those numbers is worth watching and good place to start is the ESPN documentary, Once Brothers, otherwise these clips will have to suffice for now:
It was a great night at the basketball and I hope to catch a few more games while I’m here, both college and NBA. Now we’ve just got to do the right thing and get the Bulls to send Artis Gilmore‘s #53 to the rafters.
R.I.P. Dražen Petrović