In sports, everyone is winner—some people just win better than others. Like people who actually care about NBA free agency. You did it. You've arrived. Go ahead and start annoying everyone with your "official" guesses.
Ok, confession time. It's my last day, so what can it hurt? Back in 1998, when the lockout was looming and Michael Jordan was completing his dismantling of the sport, I made one of those ridiculous claims that you make when you're young and angry and prone to promises you don't plan to keep. I vowed that if the billionaire owners and the millionaire players ruined an entire season over money, I would never watch another NBA game again. They did. Amazingly, I haven't.
I suppose that's not entirely true. Because I've had more than one job that required me to at least be aware of the league's existence, I read the news and I watched the highlight shows. And when the playoffs are on, I'll monitor the big games and usually turn on the fourth quarter if it's close. But I have not deliberately sat and watched an entire NBA game from start to finish in at least 12 years. It wasn't that hard, either.
Michael Jordan had already made the game maddeningly frustrating to watch. I hated those Bulls teams and no matter how desperately I wished someone would knock them off, it never happened. Now that they're gone, I recognize that no team or player will ever be that good again. Somehow, that's even more frustrating to me.
The biggest news of the last two years has been an extended, league-wide contract negotiation. The salary cap turns any discussion of team building into an economics seminar. And what good has it done? Nearly half the franchises are rumored to be losing money and the last 12 NBA titles have been won by five teams. Six of those went to the trophy-rich Lakers and Celtics, but I guess the fact that there were only three repeat champions was actually an improvement over the previous decade.
Even worse, the NBA has ruined my old love: college basketball. It doesn't bother me that uber-talents like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett never went to school. It bothers me that guys like B.J. Mullens can spend one year wasting space—on the bench—at Ohio State, then get drafted in the first round so they can go on to average 14 points ... a season. Or that coaches like John Calipari and Rick Barnes openly confess to caring more about sending kids to the pros than they do about winning games. Maybe that's not the pros' fault, but the dreams of their riches have ruined many a college program over the years. (And nearly ruined my favorite.) They may have the better athletes, but they still haven't convinced me they have the better game.
I realize that the NBA is more vital now than it has been at any time since Jordan's first retirement. This last Finals had some of the best fourth quarters I've seen in years! I have never liked any of my "hometown" teams, but the idea of living two subway stops from a squad run by these two clowns has definitely piqued my interest. The league has a growing universe of likable stars still in their prime and the prospect of three of the best uniting in the pursuit of greatness is certainly intriguing. But I don't believe for a second that it will happen. I don't have to watch games to know the way the world works.
Maybe I'll be wrong. Those who think I know nothing about basketball will certainly feel validated by this admission. But my having watched basketball probably wouldn't have changed your opinion of my opinions. The truth is that I never pretended to know more than I could see on SportsCenter and right now, on day one of the NBA's free agency hoedown, I know as much as anyone. In other words: Nothing.