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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
For me, and I take it a lot of other people, the NBA season starts right about now. Right after the fever of March Madness cools down. We could argue that a lot of pro sports seasons are too darn long. But baseball feels right. The spring is for warming up, getting the kinks out. The game is slow and seems just right for the long afternoons of summer. And when the chill of fall breezes in and the shadows cast longer out on the plush of the outfield, it's World Series time. But basketball's supposed to be all intensity, all the time. So when preseason games start in just after the World Series, in October, and the championship isn't played until June, we're talking about a long, long eight-month stretch that doesn't lend itself to intensity and just goes against the grain of the game itself.
Especially when you've just come away from the fire of the college season, the NBA players almost seem like they've been waltzing through practice sessions up until now. The college players play every minute of every game as if their lives depend on the outcome. Have you been to NBA games in November, December, January, February? Unless it's a rivalry match-up, it's almost as if both teams got together in the parking lot before tip-off and made a little pact as to who would show some good stuff for a couple of plays here and there, just to throw the fans a bone. It's not that these guys are lazy. I'm not insinuating that. It's that they've got 82 regular season games in front of them. 82! Even the fresh, young legs of the college boys couldn't leap and sprint with great gusto for that kind of stretch.
The playoffs of the National Basketball Association are pretty much an entire season all on their own. That's why I start taking an interest right about now. And now that the playoffs are shaping up, let me throw my two cents in about the Lakers bowing down to Kobe Bryant and showing Shaquille O'Neal the back door. Kobe is without doubt a magnificent talent, and it's true that Shaq is no longer a youngster. But the Lakers' front office disregarded team chemistry and leadership in trading Shaq to Miami and letting Kobe be King all on his own. Now the Lakers are out of the playoff picture for the first time in over a decade and the Miami Heat are loving their chances down the home stretch.
And now that I'm venting over the Lakers' stupidity and the untenable length of the NBA season, let me throw out another aspect about the game of basketball in general that never fails to annoy me. This is the only game I can think of where intentional fouling is part of the strategy. Especially if the game is close, those last couple of minutes become a clownish, uninspired series of flagrant fouls.
Thirty-five seconds left on the clock. It's a tie. One team calls a time out. In the huddle by the bench, you might think the brilliant coach is calling on his many years of experience to craft a clever, unexpected plan that will throw his defense into high gear, help them get one last touch of the ball, eat up the clock and give them the last swoosh. But, no, what's going to happen is that he'll designate one player to obviously throw an elbow or a hip into the guy with the ball, allowing the other team to take their chances with a free throw, rather than get a chance to actually execute a play. It's boring, As I said, it's uninspired. And I'd go so far as to say it's downright unsporting. I personally think intentional fouls should carry a heavy penalty so there would be strong incentive not to make them. Those last few minutes of tight games would then be about grit and concentration and creativity, instead of cheap fouls.
OK, I'm done kvetching now. Now I'm ready for the real NBA season to heat up.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
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