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350 words on the value of players doing the exhibition thing

Sep 25, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT

NBA basketball player Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City Thunder is greeted by fans as he arrives at a commercial event in Guangzhou Reuters

There’s so much talk about the exhibition games. Some people love them because you’re seeing monstrous performances and huge dunks; it hearkens back to the game’s streetball roots. It’s more in tune with the basketball culture many players grew up in than the hyper-formatted NBA. A lot of people hate them because they’re about as organized as a group of meth-laden hamsters trying to escape the cube from “Cube.” There’s the same kind of divide over the exodus overseas. Some people think it’s great that the players are finding new places to play, exploring other cultures, continuing to work. Others think it’s ridiculous and they should just be hanging out, working on what their teams need or resting.

But lost in all this is something pivotal. The players are backing up their talk that they “just want to play.” That’s huge, for the public’s perception. That has nothing to do with the lockout itself, or its resolution. People thinking it’s great that the players are really dedicated to playing basketball, thereby liking them more, isn’t going to make the owners move. They don’t care what the media or the fans think, nor do the players.

But we’re in an environment that’s hyper-delicate regarding the health of the league. This lockout could have devastating impacts on how the fans consider both sides, and the game. It’s very easy to simply turn off the NBA, possibly forever. There’s an inherent idiocy in billionaires and millionaires squabbling over money, particularly with the antics. maybe everything will be fine and the game will bounce back. But the players showing that they do love what they do, that they do love to play can help soften that. It’s not the game we love, with coaches moments and huge performances and chemistry and everything that makes the league great. But it’s something to tether people to what the NBA is about, even beyond the almighty dollar (which is everything else it’s about).

It’s about sport, it’s about basketball, and at least the players seem to genuinely love doing it. In a lockout as bleak as this, at least that’s something to be hopeful about.

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