NDSU Basketball: Not Just About the Nachos

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So in the past I have made reference to my initial lack of enthusiasm toward NDSU basketball. However, as my love of the sport grew, so did my affection of the Green and Gold’s basketball team. In any event I am particularly excited about this year’s senior laden squad, and their chances to make a run at the NCAA tournament. First thing’s first, I was irrationally excited for last year’s team as well. Marshall Bjorklund was perhaps my favorite player in college basketball coming into the season (admittedly, this was at least 87% due to his amazing name) and I was fully convinced he would make them leap as a Junior to lead the Summit League in rebounding followed by much drinking of mead and vingly-ly celebrations.

ImageMarshall Bjorklund celebrates yet another double-double in traditional fashion

But alas… last year was not to be… Although the Bison finished a solid 24-9 last year, and were ranked #71 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy’s metric, they fell in the Summit Title game to hated rival and adorable animal the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The mighty Bison… noble master of the plains… felled by Nate Wolters, a squirly kid from St. Cloud Minnesota who perpetually looks like he is either in dire need of sleep or has been bludgeoned in the eye (perhaps by a viking warrior of the Bjorklund clan??)

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Why so sleepy nate? Need a helpful visit from the Ambien Walrus?

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Doesn’t look too good buddy… I really think you should get some sleep

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Or perhaps seek medical attention?

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Yeah… yeah you should consult a doctor… theres something wrong with your eyes…

But in any event last season’s NCAA dreams went down like a viking funeral pyre and there was no mead drinking to be had.

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Who am I kidding… there was probably plenty of mead drinking. Marshall Bjorklund would never let me down.

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However, all is not lost! This year I am not alone on the NDSU bandwagon as CBS and the Summit League coaches themselves have picked NDSU to win the league and Dan Hanner and ESPN highlighted star Senior Forward Taylor Braun and the Bison in his college basketball preview, picking the Bison to be the 37th best team in college basketball this season. So with 6 seniors coming back and  all 5 starters from last year returning, along with the departure of Wolters crippling the SDSU program and Oakland leaving the Summit League in the whirlwind of conference realignment, NDSU should be set to take the league title and make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009’s equally senior laden, veteran team. Moreover, while that team ended in a heartbreaking loss after hanging tough with traditional power Kansas all game, this year’s team stands to be even more talented and capable of competing.

It all starts with Braun who has worked his way into being one of the two best players in the Summit. Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright continuing to be a force on the glass. Moreover, the veteran backcourt duo of Lawrence Alexander and Mike Felt will surely make their presence known if the Bison are able to make it to the big dance (where gaurd play is consistently spotlighted and can make your break a potential Cinderella). By all accounts this is a quality, hard working team that will have every opportunity to win their depleted league and maybe make a sweet 16 run if the get a soft bracket spot a la last year’s Davidson team. Now, that team lost in the 1st round by one point, but should have won that game if they hadn’t gone cold right at the end of the game. However, that Davidson team could have easily dispatched Butler in the round of 32, making it to the sweet 16 before ultimately falling to Miami. They got a tough matchup playing against what might have been the best team in their region in the opening round, and played them better than anyone in the tournament until Syracuse knocked Marquette out in the Elite 8.

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(Taylor Braun is really good at basketball. Also, this picture is all over the internet on ESPN, CBS Sports, NDSU’s own site and about a billion other places so I figured I should probably include it… LOOK AT MY BOY BJORKLUND ON THE RIGHT THERE! RUN WITH THE SPEED OF ODIN’S LIGHTNING YOUNG WAR CHIEF!!!)

In any event I see no reason why NDSU couldn’t win the Summit. Grab a 14 seed just like they did in 2009, and then with a little luck to end up in a bracket like last year’s East Regional, maybe make a run at the Sweet 16.

However, there is one large monkey wrench in this plan in the form of Summit League newcomer and Conference Realignment refugee… the Denver Pioneers. Denver is kindof a big unknown coming over this year from the mutilated WAC, but the one thing we do know is Denver has steadily built a solid basketball program, and Chris Udofia is pretty damn good at basketball. I mentioned Braun is probably one of the 2 best players in the Summit, but Udofia is probably the best, and if is athleticism is everything its supposed to be its probably not even close.

A lot of the praise being lifted on NDSU comes from the fact that they are a senior laden team, and at this point the senior contender remaining in the Summit. With SDSU taking a step back and Oakland bailing, the coaches seem to have been left with a de facto choice of NDSU as the league’s best. However, the Summit league still stands to be good this year with NDSU and Denver both landing in the top 10 Mid Major teams ranking. However, NDSU is #7 to Denver’s #9 leading me to believe (or hope) that regardless of Udofia’s superior athletic ability, NDSU’s team will prove superior.

Udofia is ranked # 56 on DraftExpress’s best available senior players (Braun is unranked) but he’s nowhere to be seen on the top 100 overall. So he very well might be the best player in the Summit next year. He very well may bring a whole new class of athleticism to the Summit and rip into it like a Tree Ent tearing down Isengard, but we’ll have to wait and see. I feel that regardless of regular season standing I’m going to be terrified of Udofia and Denver in the Summit tournament so we’ll have to hope that Bjorklund can fall upon him like the hammer of Thor. You can do it Mjölnir! Bring us to the promised land!

In any event, I can’t wait for college basketball to come back. And everyone else can just get the fuck off the road, cuz Bison don’t fuck around.

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Big Blue Madness… Going Home

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While I realize the hyperbole that may be inherent in this statement, Big Blue Madness is like a religious experience for me. I suppose maybe comparing it to fervent nationalism may be more apt, but for whatever it is, Big Blue Madness is unlike anything else in my life.  Its about a codified, united people coming together in spite of all the differences of geography, creed, and ideology that may separate them in one supranational experience.

A lot of this has to do with John Calipari. He’s taken the whole #BBN, Big Blue Nation concept to a whole new level. When Cal declares that “we don’t just play college basketball, we are college basketball” he’s giving Kentucky fans exactly what they want to hear. But that statement is the true, its not just hot air. It starts with the fans. Kentucky fans form a nation. Within Kentucky basketball there is a collective identity that is truly united. But this Big Blue Nation is unique. Its not like UNC or Duke where kid’s from Portland, to Fargo, to Houston and New York City claim to make up a nation-wide fanbase.

Kentucky is widely considered one of the all time powers in college basketball, but they don’t convert kids across the nation the same way these other schools do. You can find adoptive Jayhawks and Tarheels anywhere in the United States who have never seen their team play live and might not in their entire lifetimes. But with Kentucky fans its a conversion experience. Kids are either homegrown and indoctrinated from birth or come to the Mecca of Lexington for school and become converts for life. You hear talk about UK fans in every state, but these people all seem to go out into the world to proselytize and preach the good word that is Kentucky basketball only after first being immersed in ‘The Greatest Tradition in College Basketball’ first hand. There is a nation of Kentucky basketball fans, but it isn’t multi-polar and superficial like other fanbases, its a far flung colonial empire that in spite of distance and separation always remains true to its roots.

In a way these ideals wash down to Cal’s players too, whether consciously or otherwise. Take a look at the intros for all Cal’s players on the 2013/14 team. Yes their fun and probably superficial, and I’m not saying the players sat down together on a Sunday evening to discuss the merits of Nietzsche and Kentucky Basketball Ideology, but there’s an enlightening subtext under even the choices of their songs. Jon Hood, a Kentucky kid, comes out to the Redmond’s special, Sundy Best’s “Home.” Anyone who goes to UK knows the dive that is Redmond’s and the Kentucky native’s Sundy might as well be The Beatles for all Lexington’s college crowd cares. That song sets the tone for what its like to be a college kid in Lexington, what it means to grow up around all of this. For me, anyway, his choice anchors the experience. This is Kentucky and this is our basketball team and this is our culture, our nation.

But the BBN doesn’t need to be a provincial, regionally exclusive thing. You can bring whatever baggage you have and make a home for yourself here. Sam Malone (a personal favorite of mine) comes out fist pumpin’ like a champ, bringin’ a little Jersey Shore to the Bluegrass. House music and Bluegrass couldn’t have less in common, but here those two worlds are, just hangin’ out in the same place and it couldn’t feel more natural.

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Dakari Johnson, hailing from Brooklyn, New York comes out to Biggie’s “Hypnotize” immediately followed by Marcus Lee, a California native, entering to Tupac’s “California Love.” Not just the song choices, but the fact that they chose to juxtapose them as they did brings us back to the East / West Hip Hop rivalry. Sharing a very non-Kentucky culture, but one which has infinite importance to the kids who make college basketball, with the Big Blue Nation.

And let’s not forget that the 3 man core of this team all hail from The Great State of Texas, a people known for their own fervent pride.

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This team covers every corner of the US and they remain a part of where they come from. But history has shown us that once you embrace the Big Blue Nation, you’re in for life.

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The players come from all over, but once they’re here, Cal and the Kentucky faithful make sure they understand that this is a lifelong commitment, and in large part they buy it all up. Everyone brings a bit of themselves down to The Bluegrass State, and those things don’t leave them just because they’ve arrived. But The Bluegrass doesn’t let them stay separate for long. It’ll suck you in without fail no matter who you are.

You may be a pale, nerdy kid with an irrational love of Gimli Son of Gloin from Fargo, North Dakota or you may be a 6’11”, 270 pound Goliath of a human being from Mobile, Alabama before you arrive in Lexington. But it doesn’t matter how different you were before you got there, because once you arrive you’re all a part of the Big Blue Nation. Come in to Lexington bringing whatever baggage you want, once you arrive, you’ve found a new home.

Once basketball season starts, everyone is in it together. Its just like Cal says, its up to us as fans to “help them reach their dreams as they help us reach ours.” Everyone comes to Lexington for their own reasons, but once you get there things find a way to come together. Yeah it sucks that all these guys leave us after a year, but they do their best to make that year mean something, and we do are best to bring them into the fold.

There’s something about this rapid conversion that is really fascinating. Kentucky seems like it should be a really provincial place, hard for people from different backgrounds to find a place to fit in, but that really doesn’t seem to be the case. By the time you get to March Madness its all over. Everyone is in it together, and by the time the draft hits, even though you may be sad to see a guy grow up and leave you, you’re still rooting for him to make it into that 1st round and keep moving forward to make his dreams a reality. Or, by the time you graduate and move to Seattle, you’ll still find yourself sitting alone in your apartment watching Big Blue Madness on your computer while all your friends are out doing normal Friday night things like getting hammered and… y’know… being sociable.

Big Blue Madness means a lot to me, especially now that I’m out of Lexington. I find myself constantly thinking about Kentucky and what its like to be there, and I take great solace in the fact that little things like a basketball practice on steroids can bring me back there, even just for a night.

Kentucky Basketball means a lot of things to a lot of people, but however different these people were and may be, they’re all a part of the Big Blue Nation, and once November 8th rolls around, we’re all irrationally striving for 40-0, Title #9, and Calipari 2016 together. There’s no half way with the Big Blue Nation. Once you’re in, you’re in. And it will always be home.

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My Foray into Basketball Bigamy: Part Three

A New Beginning: A New Hope

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series. For Part One click HERE, Part Two HERE or just scroll down… you know… its whatever…

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This past summer I moved from Lexington, Kentucky (college basketball Rome) to Seattle, Washington. I had been hoping against hope that the Sacramento Kings would be moved to Seattle for the refounding of the Supersonics so that I could be reunited with Boogie Cousins and Patrick Patterson on the same team, hoping this time to follow a more effective blueprint toward becoming a true fan. I was wanted to 1) get swept up in the wave of jubilation sure to follow after Seattle was finally reunited with pro basketball. I knew it would be much easier to become a fan of a team if I could see games in person and feel like they were a part of the same community I was a part of, like what happened for me in Lexington with the Cats. And 2) I hoped to use 2 of my favorite Kentucky Wildcat players to help bridge the gap for me. Boogie Cousins is a misunderstood Saint of a manchild and there is nothing I would have loved more than bringing him home to me in Seattle. But this was not to be…

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Does this look like the face of a lockeroom cancer to you? I thought not.

However, the memory of last year’s playoffs was too good for me to give up on my dreams of adopting a new NBA team for this upcoming season. SO if not the Sacremento/Seattle Kings, then who could I justifiably throw my lot in with? I knew I wanted to have Kentucky connections to a team so I had a few options. I could stick with the Kings if I loved Boogie so much, but that team reminded me too much of my Charlotte days with the ineptitude inherent in the franchise for me to follow through. I could turn toward the rising star that is the Washington Wizards and John Wall, but the presence of Emeka Okafor on that team feels like splitting up with your wife, only to have her become a low end stripper at a disreputable gentlemen’s club, only to patronize said establishment on a weekly basis and try awkwardly to avoid eye contact… so they’re out.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Dallas Mavericks

“Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make… DAMMIT EMEKA!!!!”

Jodie Meeks, a beloved and beleaguered Cat from the Gillispie Era was on the Lakers, but by this point I couldn’t stomach being a Laker fan. And the Hornets seemed too trendy a pick for me to go back to The Brow. (I’m a Lions fan you see. Gotta have me some loveable losers) I certainly wasn’t going to follow MKG back to Charlotte with Michael Jordan now heading the ship. Phoenix seemed promising with Archie Goodwin (one of my favorite Cats and a player who won’t be remembered nearly as fondly as he should be by UK fans because of the atrocious season that was his UK career) and Eric Bledsoe on board, and so did the Sixers with their new league darling GM and the acquisition of Nerlens Noel and a potential 2 lottery picks to add to that next season. But both teams seemed just too distant from me to make any connection with them. I had no reason to root for them other than these Kentucky players. So I gradually came toward the decision that I needed to make perhaps the most egregious flip flop of my sports fan career.

I decided I needed to adopt the Detroit Pistons. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I could unite my Detroit fandom across all 4 major sports, jump on board with my dad and make it a familial endeavor, and bring my attempts to love the NBA back to their 2004 roots, albeit on the opposite side that I started on. The entirety of that 2004 team at been swept away, especially Larry Brown, removing any remaining hostility I may have had, and so the time seemed right. If I couldn’t have a Seattle Boogie Cousins, I would adopt Detroit.

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(Just thought I should include the fact that after his time with the Pistons, Old Man Brown ended up with Charlotte. Yet another reason for me to have jumped ship.)

Moreover, there were a lot of positive reasons to pick Detroit. They were a team that was rebuilding (so I felt I could hop on the bandwagon closer to the ground floor without truly being a bandwagon jumper as they were not on course for a playoff bid) But they were rebuilding around some great young talent (so I could hope for the future and grow with a young team, watch them develop and get excited for their future prospects.) And most importantly, they had my second favorite player from my favorite Kentucky team of all time: Brandon Knight!

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(The Pistons may have permanently screwed him up flipping him between 2 guard and the point, but Brandon Knight is as clutch as it gets, forcing Kentucky into the final four through sheer testicular fortitude. PS That shot goes in if you were wondering. DOWN GOES THE BALROG)

I was choosing a franchise with real NBA history (much like my UK Wildcats) a team which had requisite UK ties (in Knight) and a core of potential future all stars in Knight, Greg Monroe, and most importantly Andre Drummond. They wouldn’t be a playoff team right away so I could grow with them and feel like I had invested before the big pay off of a playoff push. Everything seemed right. SO I started reading the great guys over at Piston Powered every day and began my new life as a Pistons fan.

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And then, very quickly, everything began to change. For one thing, the Pistons shockingly signed Josh Smith, a questionable move but one which is assuredly exciting and can’t really be argued with if the Pistons become a playoff team. They brought in Luigi Datome which really excited me. Who doesn’t want a Luigi on their team? ( I can see it now… “More of the European guy! Give me the European guy! Yeahhh jack up a 3 Luigi!”) But more distressingly for my purposes,.. my Kentucky connection was jettisoned.

Now, this move arguably improved the Pistons in the present (even if that meant mortgaging a small portion of their future) and as I was already beginning to identify with my new team I was OK with this but I was definitely sad to lose my UK connection on the team. And then… the Basketball gods once again delivered mana from Heaven for me, this time in the form of Josh “Jorts” Harrellson!!!!!

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Slayer of Balrogs and bringer of justice! Josh Harrellson is possibly my favorite Kentucky Wildcat of all time.

Be happy Pistons fans. This is what success looks like.

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I mentioned Knight was my 2nd favorite player on that 2010 UK team (my favorite team in any sport of all time). Well the only player I liked better than him on that team was Jorts! I was ecstatic! Moreover, while it doesn’t sound like Pistons wise guys think he’ll pay I think he has a place on this team! This Pistons team desperately needs shooting because of the abundance of talent inside after the Smith signing and that Jorts can do in flying colors!!! (just as the Louisville Cardinals). With Drummond, Monroe, and Smith clogging up the floor, having someone like Jorts who can mix up the lineup as a possible stretch-3 who can knock down shots would be infinitely helpful and I for one think (hope) Jorts will be able to outperform Singler, Datome, and Jerebko (although I do love me some Swedes) in that role. I couldn’t be more excited for Jorts’ future in Detroit! I just pray it lasts more than one year… or at least one year… please don’t cut Jorts Joe Dumars… I’ll be devastated!!!

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Watch out you Basshunter-lookin studmuffin… Jorts is here for your minutes

SO while its been a rollercoster summer with my newly adopted Pistons, I’m already falling in love with them and can’t wait to head into my first season with the team. I love all the Jalen Rose hommerism coming from Grantland.com. I love Jorts. I love the fact that noone knows if this team will be good or terrible next year. I love the looming Greg Monroe trade options and the looming potential Rondo acquisition talk. I can’t wait to see if Tony Mitchell can be the stellar pro he looked like he’d be during his first year in college. (and subsequently whether he can be another massive upswing product like Drummond in Detroit) I ABSOLUTELY love Andre Drummond (now that he’s not at UConn) and the Jennette McCurdy love story that has been going on this summer. Whether they’re really any good or not remains to be seen, but the Pistons will certainly be exciting this year on and off the court. These guys are young, exciting, endearing, and as far as I’m concerned this is the group I need to make my NBA fandom stick, and I can’t wait to get started.

My Foray into Basketball Bigamy: Part Two

Pretenders to the Throne: My First Failed Choices of Fandom

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This is Part 2 of a 3 part series. For Part One click HERE or just scroll down… you know… its whatever…

Yes, Charlotte was getting an expansion team. This seemed an absolutely perfect fit for me. I was a new NBA fan without a team but with a burgeoning love of the league [insert sex joke here… hehe… insert…] and here was a shiny new team for me to grow with and develop a true love of the league and the sport from the grassroots. I knew they wouldn’t be good to start off with (clearly only a mild understatement) but I had faith that I could stick with them through their eventual rise (which has still yet to come… thanks Michael Jordan!). In any event this seemed to me to be simply too splendid of a solution to pass up. I was a Charlotte Bobcats fan and could not have been happier about it.

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(accurate depiction of me choosing the Bobcats, thinking everything will be fine. Oh whats that Brandon? Thought you were gonna toss that pass? Noooo… noooo.)

I absolutely devoured the expansion draft coverage with a voracity not unlike that with which small Japanese men consume hot dogs. I remember being absolutely shocked that we came away with Gerald Wallace. Here was the cornerstone of a franchise, an all star caliber player with inhuman athletic ability and we got him in the expansion draft before even adding the premier young talent we were sure to acquire in the actual draft! And I was especially ecstatic about Jason Kapono, a player I deemed to be a lights out shooter. And I didn’t know anything about Primož Brezec as a basketball player, nor did I know how to pronounce his name or why there was a little loopy thing over that z in his name, but NBA analysts at the time told me he was good so I was overjoyed to have the silly named Serbian on my new team!

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“Hey guys, are you sure you want me to come to Charlotte? Cuz I’m cool staying here in.. oh.. oh… no no ok I’ll back my bags” ='[

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Hey Gerald don’t look so sad! Things will pick up I promise!

And as for the rest of the expansion draft, I didn’t care so much about the rest of the guys because Charlotte made about a billion moves to acquire picks in upcoming NBA Drafts, allowing me to defer my excitement where I was sure we would build on this CLEARLY solid 3 player foundation of Kapono, Brezec, and Wallace. (again… have I mentioned that I was new to the sport of basketball at the time? I hope I have.)

Once the NBA draft rolled around I couldn’t have been more excited. Perhaps shaped by Bill Simmons I could not have been more enthralled by Emeka Okafor, the national title winning beast of a Forward out of UConn projected as the first pick in the 2004 draft. Unfortunately the first pick belonged to the Orlando Magic that year and my new love the Bobcats had to settle for the #2 pick which would most likely be Dwight Howard and I couldn’t have been more saddened by this. I knew enough about the NBA to know that there were far fewer Kevin Garnett’s than there were Kwame Brown’s when it came to prep to pro players and I was convinced the stick figure Dwight Howard would be just another bust. (Clearly 14 year old Rick was both prophetic and savant like when it came to his vast background of basketball knowledge)

BUT ANYWAY when the Orlando Magic made the imbecilic decision to take Howard over Okafor I was overjoyed. Not only were we adding an uber-talented young guy via the draft, we were grabbing a college senior with championship experience! It was like grabbing a veteran superstar with all the potential in the world! Clearly this would be the conerstone of the franchise. I was so ecstatic that I even asked my dad for an Emeka Okafor Jersey for my 15th birthday, which I still have today. Ohhh if only I knew…

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“Hey guys… I don’t think this team is actually any good…”

In any event I watched the first season of Bobcats basketball and, in spite of lacking results, was not dismayed. I knew they wouldn’t be good right away, but felt they had a legitimate core to build from with guys like Okafor and Wallace, along with a continuing irrational love of guys like Kapono, Matt Carrol, Keith Bogans, and Brevin Knight. (known in some circles as the cathartic quadroped) More than anything, however, I was excited for the next draft. I just KNEW with a little injection of youthful talent Charlotte would be on the rise! They had the #5 and #13 picks in the draft and good things would be forthcoming!

Moreover, my hopes were realized once again on draft day. I remember excitedly rushing into my dad’s office the night of the draft to explain my utter euphoria at the Bobcats having landed not only Raymond Felton, but Sean May as well! Two more veteran young guys off of another national championship winning team in UNC! (in retrospect I can practically see his eyes glazing over just by recalling it (I also had him take me to Minneapolis so I could watch Bobcats preseason basketball against the T-Wolves… I’m not entirely sure why he put up with this…)  I thought this team could flirt with an 8 seed in the dreadful Eastern conference and couldn’t wait for the season!….

… so then came the 2006 draft… #3 overall pick and Adam Morrison. I remember hearing people say big things were expected of him but honestly my faith in the Bobcats had already been shaken when I discovered that Dwight Howard was in fact much better than Okafor and that Sean May was in fact a fatty fat fat.

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Whoaaaa Sean… Buddy… keep the jersey on…

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Hey! Sean! Have you lost weight?!

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Oh… oh no nevermind… still a fatass…

I was barely hanging on when the 2006-7 season began, having gotten what I now believe is an adequate taste of the terrible management that is such a large part of the NBA and was probably out on the team before Morrison even lost his starting spot…

Thanks for the memories guys

However, though down I wasn’t out yet. The 2007 season reinvigorated me, watching Kevin Durant light it up as a rookie and that epic Boston LA finals was enough to reinvigorate me in a mercenary sense. I had dropped the Bobcats but I still liked watching the league as a whole. However, I had started to have a passing fancy in the Rockets after their 22 game winning streak that season led by Tracy McGrady. I really liked watching McGrady, and, much like Karl Malone before him, I wanted to root for this underdog reclamation project. Also, again because of Bill Simmons I had decided that Daryl Morrey was one of the coolest nerds around, and after my experience with atrocious management in Charlotte I thought watching a competent GM would be a welcome change. Plus, I had always really liked Yao Ming, and once the Rockets brought in Ron Artest (my personal favorite crazy man in sports) the temptation to root for Houston was just too strong to pass up. I didn’t really dive into the Rockets in an “uncalled for but obligatory use of the 1st person singular” kind of way but I really wanted to watch Yao, Artest, and T-Mac win a title. So when the playoffs rolled around in the 2008/9 season I was all in on them.

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Although it didn’t really work out I really liked this rockets team. Then in 2009 I decided to really hop back into the NBA for a second time. I was in the midst of watching John Wall and Demarcus Cousins destroy various bitches at Kentucky  and once that season ended I desperately needed more basketball. So I decided to call myself a Rocket’s fan and throw myself in it again. The real turning point probably came when Rockets drafted Patrick Patterson in the first round of the 2010 draft. Patterson was a favorite of mine and for many Kentucky fans on the 2009/10 team because he, like us, had suffered through the Gillispie years and was redeemed with the coming of Saint Calipari.  So I felt like I could use him as a bridge back into the NBA. I was hoping I could follow P Pat into the world of NBA basketball the same way I had with college basketball. I already liked the Rockets and Patterson was just the icing on the cake.

2009-10 NBA Press Conferences

However, I was still in my formative basketball loving years, and college was my true mistress. I was not yet prepared to enter the world of a basketball bigamist. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around. (You may not know this about me but I am approximately the size of Frodo Baggins, and as such am not easily split between two paths.)

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“Ahhh yes!!! I can’t believe Gandalf didn’t realize I’m too small to ride in the big boy cart! Best. Day. Ever.”

My lackadaisical Rockets “fandom” began to wane with the departure of Yao Ming and was long dead by the time PPatt was moved to Sacramento to rejoin my beloved Demarcus Cousins.

So once again I was teamless in the NBA. I knew I like basketball, but the NBA just hadn’t stuck with me yet. And then, last seasons playoffs happened. The 2013 NBA playoffs were absolutely stupendous. Some of the best, most dramatic competition I can remember. And I have once again been encouraged to attempt to life the weighty mantle of NBA fandom upon my shoulders, except this time I am determined to make it stick.

My Foray into Basketball Bigamy: Part One

I love basketball. I really do. Its a fast paced high intensity sport, filled with some of the most intriguing personalities across all of sports (unlike the menagerie of automatons the NFL tries to throw at us). But this is a relatively new development in my life. Specifically, this change occurred once I moved to Kentucky and started school at UK (The Greatest Tradition in College Basketball). I think going to Kentucky (especially when I did) was a perfect storm for me falling in love with basketball, but specifically college basketball. When I chose to go to UK a huge factor in my decision was picking a school with a real college sports tradition where I could watch big time competition in a major college sport (for my purposes that meant basketball or football).  This (among other factors) led me to Kentucky where I felt like I was hitting on both counts. Kentucky played in the SEC so I could see a cavalcade of national title contenders every year (even if they were the opponent rather than my team) but could also see my team pull an upset or two. But more importantly, in basketball I was going to go watch one of the historic powers in the sport at a time when they were about to begin a period of historic ascendancy.

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“I know Derrick, I love Memphis too, but my true spiritual calling is in Lexington”

As such, it was easy for me to fall in love with the Kentucky Wildcats and their basketball team. I moved to a town where everything… EVERYTHING seems to revolve around the UK basketball team.

In Kentucky they don’t just get tattoos or hold longstanding basketball grudges for the love of their team

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They don’t just rebrand regional icons such as Maker’s Mark Bourbon in worship of the basketball team

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They don’t just camp out in front of Memorial Coliseum for the chance to watch a practice

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No no… they take it further… they get glass eyes to express their fandom… its a big deal there.

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So the love of basketball was always around me. From friends to teachers, to the guy bagging my groceries and the woman printing my license at the DMV. I was watching a team with more history than Chris Brown and Rihanna, and the success to match it. Plus I was in college where I wanted to get caught up and lost in my school’s sports culture.

But on top of that, the sport in which my school excelled, happens to have the greatest, most exciting, nauseating, emotional roller coaster of a postseason format ever created. I don’t think I need to expound on the veritable unicorn ride that is the XXXX (profanities censored by editor) Tournament but I can tell you its all the more exciting when you have a well defined rooting interest who happens to make a magical run through a field of Balrogs and Death Eaters.

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Nope… still not as good as March Madness.

So in any event, I now love basketball. A sport which I had no real attachment to growing up, but which is now probably my favorite. But I love college basketball. I’ve never managed to truly get into NBA basketball outside of postseason play which is a shame because they have an excellent postseason of their own. The game is played at a higher level, and its depressing to think that all these players rolling in and out of the Kentucky doors are simply out of my life once they inevitably turn pro. Moreover, some of my favorite sports commentators (Bill Simmons, Ryen Russillo, Marc Stein) are enormous NBA fans who constantly keep me interested in the sport in spite of the fact that I never watch games.

Now, that isn’t to say I haven’t tried before. In truth, I have tried to become an NBA fan. Two times in particular come to mind where I made a concerted effort to dive in. You see, I’ve always loved paying attention to the league as a whole. Free agency transactions, trades, and playoff basketball are immensely interesting to me, but I never really had a team of my own. I think this is especially important if you truly want to get into a sport. You have to have a rooting interest, and my experience at Kentucky proved this to me. So if I am ever going to succeed as an NBA fan I need a team.

The first time I really decided the NBA was exciting and something that I needed to get in to was the 2004 NBA playoffs. I really had minimal exposure to the league before that. I was 14, a 7th grader, and learning on the fly while I watched this absolutely enthralling LA Lakers team absolutely annihilate people like the motherfucking juggernaut (bitch). [I know, I know, “Fuck you you bandwagon jumpin’ Laker loving deusch!” BUT WAIT!!! Theres more I promise!]

I’ve always been really partial to redemption stories and that Lakers team was full of them. Call me a bandwagon’ jumper for that season by all means because I was one, thats perfectly fine. But I was far from alone. Karl Malone and Gary Payton specifically, had jumped on the Lakers bandwagon and this is what drew me toward them. I had those storylines shoved down my throat by Sportcenter and was perfectly fine with that because I fell in love with these two guys. Karl Malone was one of the few players I knew of at the time (thanks to the Man Show) and I was all ready to root for a winner and watch the Mailman come home with a title. However, that was not to be.

Now here’s were things got tricky. I have always tended to play off my dad when it came to choosing sports teams, and he, for his part, supports the 4 Detroit teams [although he also practices sports polygamy more vigorously than Joseph Smith and Brigham Young combined]. And unfortunately for me, those 2004 Lakers who I fell in love with were dismantled by the Detroit Pistons. I found myself especially bitter about this. While I actually liked a few of the players on that Detroit team (Rasheed I thought was hilarious and incredibly fun to watch, and Chauncey, Ben Wallace, and Prince didn’t do anything to make me dislike them although I had an instant dislike for Rip Hamilton, curious because we share a first name which usually makes me like a guy BUT I DIGRESS) but I HATED Larry Brown. That guy was, is, and always will be an ass. (note: it doesn’t help that the jackass just stole Emmanuel Mudiay right out of Calipari’s pocket) But in 14 year old Rick’s mind this was just a surly, crotchety old man who stole Karl Malone’s championship. This was the antithesis of Bueno. I did not like this Pistons team, I was bitter that they beat the Lakers team I was rooting for, and I was certainly not going to change sides at this particular moment in time.

Further complicating things, was the fact that that 2004 Lakers team which I absolutely fell in love with imploded after the season. Malone mailed it in and retired. Derek Fisher opted out of his contract. The team swapped Phil Jackson for Rudy Tomjonavich (what the hell kind of name is that?). And the Kobe-Shaq split (of which I firmly rooted myself on the Shaq side) erupted which sent O’Neil to Miami. SO the only piece left was Kobe Bryant who I had decided I hated simply because I arbitrarily chose to stay on the Shaq side when that whole rivalry was happening. I needed a new team and it couldn’t be the team that made me want to like the NBA, because they had pulled a Quan Duc and self immolated.

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(accurate depiction of the 2004 Lakers offseason)

It couldn’t be my Dad’s team (as I normal do when jumping into a new pro sport and looking for a rooting interest) because I had just spent the last postseason actively rooting against and convincing myself I hated his team.

***An aside: Further straining my early years of Piston’s relationship would be the Malice at the Palace. I really liked those Ron Artest Pacers teams. They were fun to watch and had some colorful personalities (Stephen “Captain Jack” Jackson and Ron Artest [I’ve especially always liked these crazy instigator types in sports… Sean Avery was my favorite hockey player for those years he was in New York] Both those guys were absolutely crazy which is exactly what I like in my NBA players) and they were just a good exciting team to watch. SO it did not endear the Pistons to me when I felt that they (and mainly their fans) derailed that team and essentially knocked Ron out for the season.

And then, as I was googling around the internet (thats a verb… trust me… autocorrect doesn’t know shit… its normally drunk anyway) I was discovered veritable mana from Heaven falling from the sky directly into my outstretched palms. The NBA would have an expansion draft in the summer of 2004. I had my team.

Shiny New Toys: Same ol’ Lions

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Last week was not so great for the Lions faithful. I, for one, had talked myself into a victory at Lambeau (the first in 20+ years no less) heading into the game. Detroit was coming in with a high powered offense in an early season game before the cold could shut down their passing attack and the Packers were stumbling out of the gates. They had already ended 1 ridiculous streak beating the Redskins on the road for the first time since 1935. And then we found out Calvin Johnson couldn’t play and everything got turned on its head, as Mr. Edwards has been so kind to demonstrate for us.

I really do think this Detroit team is good. The secondary continues to be suspect but as long as Louis Delmas is healthy, he and Chris Houston usually manage to patch together only moderately disastrous pass coverage. The D Line remains a strength and even improved surprisingly enough with the addition of Ziggy Ansah. And the Linebacking corps has looked especially good this year with the anchor of Stephen Tulloch and the pick-6 machine that is DeAndre Levy.

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(Detroit’s pass defense has made significant improvements since their showing in 2009-2012, depicted here. [Note: artistic liberties may have been taken])

And the offense has been one of the most entertaining, efficient spectacles ever to take the field in Detroit. However, that statement is significantly more suspect than I would like. First off, I personally live with an ever present fear that Matt Stafford will return to his early career, paper mache status at any moment and go down with a season ending knee injury. But now, in addition to this we have learned that the offense does not only fall apart with the loss of our quarterback (as most offenses do) but also with the loss of our shiny new running back. Reggie Bush’s absence from the Arizona game turned Detroit’s offense from Greatest Show on Turf to Oh Lord Carson Palmer is about to Beat Us I Would Rather Watch One of those Depressing Sarah McLaughlan Abused Animals Commercials Than This.

But I digress. Back to last Sunday’s Packers game. The one where Detroit was about to make a statement and take  commanding control of the division with back to back wins vs. Chicago and Green Bay. Didn’t happen. Calvin Johnson did not play, and, as has been the case for his entire career, no Calvin Johnson means nearly no chance of victory in any game ever. The Defense hung with Green Bay for pretty much the entire game save for one beastly play from Randall Cobb (#BBN) and a suspect 4th quarter. But the offense couldn’t do anything. I guess I like Ryan Broyles in spite of the fact that we drafted him in the 2nd round already injured  (*cough* Darius Slay… *cough* why are we making this a habit?? *cough*) and Pat Edwards is a great story working his way up from the practice team. And honestly I think its hilarious in the best way possible and really like the fact that Kris Durham is now a key component to the Detroit offense simply because he roomed with Stafford at Georgia. However, with Nate Burleson possibly out for the year due to pizza related injuries Detroit’s receiver corps is looking slightly sub par.

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“Hey guys… brb… I gotta go take care of something”

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“My bad Nate we still cool? Nate?”

This Detroit team (if healthy) will still make the playoffs. And can probably pull some serious upsets if the offense (pending health) is clicking. But I almost feel worse about this team than I did a couple years ago when we were only worried about Stafford’s health. I suddenly love watching the Lions. Its not just something I do on Sundays because I hate myself. I look forward to it all week because this offense is just so much fun to watch. And its great to watch DeAndre Levy pickoff tipped balls and to see that D Line abuse opposing quarterbacks the way I abuse a dozen Krispee Kreme donuts on any given Wednesday afternoon. But suddenly I have to watch every game fearing that rogue pizza slices will spell the downfall of one of our myriad must have players. Its supposed to be fun finally having something to root for but I live in constant fear that its all going to break down on me the same way those donuts usually do around 5:30PM that same Wednesday.

 

 

So if Calvin is a scratch against Cleveland, or one of Reggie or Matt goes down, and we lose to the only NFL franchise that may be more depressing than the Detroit Lions… well… I can hear it now… “In the aaaaaarms oooooof an Aaaangel…” SING IT SARAH!!!! REPLACE THE PAIN WITH OTHER PAIN!!!!

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I am a harbinger of great success.

I have been given many blessings in this life. Dashing good looks. A lush, rich, full head of hair. And a physique many men only dream of, just to name a few. But I have discovered I have another gift. A power one might even say, over the magical underpinnings of the college sports world. You see… whichever college campus I choose to make my home, success will surely follow. It was only after I arrived on campus at the University of Kentucky that the veritable renaissance that is the Calipari Era began. And upon my departure (read: graduation) the Pagans once again fell upon the City of God (see: Louisville Linebeard Legions and their unholy allegiance with the Rick Pitino [who for all we know has been possessed by demons for the last 10 years… I mean… look at the guy… he looks like the life has literally been sucked from him with a straw) Moreover, when it came time to school a school for me to continue my studies, I had two choices. The University of Washington, where I now attend, and the University of Michigan. The latter, being my second choice, NEVERTHELESS experienced great success only by my mere consideration! (although they ultimately fell short, because they, regretfully, lacked my full support) However, it now appears to me that my magical essence has begun to permeate the University of Washington Campus. (don’t feel violated Husky fans… this can only bring joy and elation!) While the Husky Football team ultimately fell short to conference foe and hated smart kid sanctuary Stanford, they were within a referee’s call from certain victory! (due, of course, to my magical aura) Furthermore, certain fake injury controversies, could easily be resolved if we simply assume it was the weight of my disapproval weighing down the Stanford players who, if they weren’t all approximately the size of silver back gorillas, would easily have been crushed under it.

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(Actual image of incoming 5 star offensive lineman and Stanford recruit. Some question his academic eligibility, but the NCAA assures us he is the one of the brightest students to come out of the Congo this year.)

Therefore, with my magical abilities being nowhere in questions, I feel the need to point out that with College Gameday on Washington’s campus tomorrow and University wide morale never higher (this I feel is an undeniable fact due to my vast experience of 3 months on campus), Husky fans can be assured of certain victory over the ostensibly superior Oregon Ducks tomorrow.

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(Gameday clearly felt the need to experience my corporeal greatness first hand)

So, in short, I am Gandalf. Washington over Oregon. And good day.

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