The nature of NBA basketball and feeling damn old

Does your relative age have anything to do with your enjoyment of NBA basketball? Or is that something that is exclusive to yours truly?

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Jameer Nelson
Image Credit: Ryan Greene, 5280 Sports Network

I will be 39 in a week, and in terms of basketball fandom that fact makes me old. Not in terms of actual lifespan, mind you, but as opposed to the average NBA fan.

In reality, NBA basketball is a young person’s sport. A really young one. I’d wager the average age of the NBA viewer is mid-teens to mid-twenties. In a weird twist, I was in my early 30’s when I BEGAN writing about the Denver Nuggets. Put that in perspective against what is without doubt the sport with the youngest audience of the four majors in the United States. The first presidential election I was able to participate in I voted for Clinton … BILL Clinton, 1996. There are people who are reading this article right now who weren’t even born yet. So…

(weeps softly in a darkened room)

Anyway, this last season was a difficult one for me. As I contemplated making a move to 5280 Sports Network I was also struggling with a feeling that had been creeping on since about 2012 but couldn’t place. Something that came into fruition and manifested itself in a bit of lethargy about the NBA I have NEVER experienced…

I didn’t enjoy the NBA game. For the first time since I can remember (I began watching the Nuggets in earnest when I was 9-10, their 54 win 1987-88 season) I found myself saying “I can’t watch this.” This isn’t necessarily a commentary on the Nuggets, who have had their share of dramatic struggles the last 4 seasons. This was more about how the increasing hegemony in the League and the particular style has been hard for me to adapt to. The preponderance of threes in particular is anathema to the basketball I’ve seen my whole life. It’s weird and very uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel right.

That doesn’t make this particular development wrong mind you. Rules changes since 2005 have basically predicted where the NBA would go in the next decade. Every era has a “thing” and this one is threes and increased perimeter play. It is what it is. Speaking for myself, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear over time that I’ve had trouble adjusting to the new NBA aesthetic. I’m beginning to wonder if it has anything to do with my age and length of time watching the game. Maybe someone can help me appreciate it more? I don’t know.

More than that, it’s weird that it makes me feel OLD and a bit out of touch … at the same time thoughts coming into my head are “Jeff, this is just basketball evolution” to “come on, just use more of the court…it doesn’t have to be all threes and layups!” Those thoughts do not reconcile with each other, and the latter seems to be winning out nowadays. This leaves me in a bit of a crisis because I WILL cover the NBA no matter what.

I think you are inevitably attached to the “era” of basketball where you came of age. Mine, unfortunately, was during the Nuggets worst period of basketball … the 1990’s. I do fondly remember that time in the NBA though. I also remember people who enjoyed 1980’s basketball complaining loudly about how 90’s ball was unwatchable. Seems to be a pattern.

In that way I suppose I’m like recently fired New York Knicks President Phil Jackson. My mentality and the way I view the game is diametrically opposed to the way the game is going. While Gregg Popovich gets credit for adapting to the current NBA style, he himself has said over and over that he is uncomfortable with it. I wonder if I can find that happy medium? In all honesty the playoffs this year was the first time since the Knicks and the Miami Heat were brawling in the late 1990’s that I found the NBA Playoffs to be unwatchable both competitively and stylistically.

People point to the relative competitive imbalance that has crept up in the NBA as a reason they are turned off the sport. This is faulty reasoning. If competitive balance was the reason people tuned into a sport, more people would like the NHL. Where I sympathize is the tedious sameness that has overwhelmed the league. No one at the moment has the balls to do something different. The League, in my view, needs a revolution. Someone who thinks outside the box like Doug Moe’s 1980’s Nuggets or Mike D’Antoni’s mid 2000’s Suns (before every team in the league adopted the same approach).

Maybe the Nuggets with their “point-center” Nikola Jokic are pointing to a different era of NBA basketball? Could be. I hope Jokic introduces something exciting into the NBA, and reintroduces the rebel nature of the Denver Nuggets.

Truth is though, this column is that of a not necessarily old guy who feels damn old and is looking for a place where he can enjoy the NBA again.

Or maybe it’s ok to be old and complain? Ya know.

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