And best of all, hockey players can't travel, meaning the referees can't ignore obvious violations.
"Oh, come on. Are you kidding me?"
"Give me a break. Seriously?"
"You've got to be joking."
At that point, my wife had had just about enough of my incredulous musings uttered to no one in particular, and she wondered aloud why I even bothered to try and watch any NBA basketball at all.
Because everyone else is, apparently, I told her. All the sports talk shows on TV and radio, it’s like the sporting world is nothing but a giant void...other than the NBA playoffs, which are apparently offering up daily thrills and chills with no end in sight. Given that trend, lately I've made a somewhat concerted effort to see for myself if there truly is something that I'm missing out on, something I'm simply not able to grasp that other sports fans have joyously embraced.
I've been trying to not just watch some of this spring's NBA playoff action, but enjoy it as well. And I've failed. But I must be the oddball, the square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
I simply cannot understand why the TV ratings and overall popularity of NBA basketball is on the rise, and my recent attempts to watch some of these games have only left me increasingly perplexed, relegating me to sitting in the recliner in our living room last Saturday evening during game six of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks, talking in exasperated tones to my TV.
Are people actually fans of the game of basketball itself, or is it more the players themselves and their celebrity personas? Seriously, the primary reason I made a point to watch some of the Raptors' clinching win over the Bucks last weekend had very little to do with basketball, and was mostly because I'd been reading about Canadian hip-hop artist and massive Raptors fan, Drake, straying constantly from his courtside seat and running up and down the sideline, trolling Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Drake even paused once to rub the shoulders of Raptors head coach Nick Nurse as he passed by.
Is this what NBA fans truly enjoy most? The superstar-studded spectacle of it all? Because it can't be the game itself, can it?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denying the athleticism the game of basketball requires of its participants. But the endless isolation plays, with all of the action pared down to one ballhandler and one defender and countless ball fakes and pump fakes and dribble penetration and getting a defender to leap into the air and then the offensive player launching his body into the airborne defender as part of a half-hearted shot attempt, all in the hopes of compelling the referee to blow his whistle, call a foul, and send the offensive player to the foul line? How is that must-see TV? Meanwhile, the other four defenders sort of but not really cover the other four offensive players, who are camped out at the three-point line, just in case their teammate dishes the ball to them so they can heave a clunker from downtown.
If that glorious display showcased on an endless loop every game isn't the attraction, then is it the dunks? Please say it's not the dunks. These are tall, strong men with tremendous leaping ability, slamming a ball through a hoop a mere 10 feet off the ground. Raise it to 12 feet and then you’re talking.
Maybe the main reason I've tried to catch some NBA basketball of late is because I like to torture myself. And torture, for me, is watching NBA referees refuse to call the most obvious, blatant traveling violations, game after game after game. They even invented something known as the "Euro-step" that supposedly, somehow, allows a player driving to the rim to take a third step, but it's all hogwash. It's clear that NBA refs have been instructed with zero ambiguity to look the other way when a star player is driving into the lane if there's a strong likelihood that a roof-raising, thunderous dunk or reverse layup that will have the fans leaping from their seats is about to occur. It's hilarious how, one minute, a ref will call traveling because a ballhandler's pivot foot shifts a couple of millimeters, but, later in the game, when Houston Rockets star James Harden takes five steps to position himself behind the three-point line to launch yet another one from long distance, nary a ref's whistle is heard.
I watch football more than any other sport. I'm obviously digging the white-hot Twins at this point. I'll even watch a minute or two of soccer now and then, convinced by a soccer-worshipping friend to let the artistry of it all to soak in.
But basketball and all of those sports...it’s just guys running around with different types of shoes on their feet. Sure, they're capable of doing amazing things, but they're still just running around on grass and dirt, or on a court.
Give me hockey any day. You have to become so adept at skating on a slippery surface known as ice - and each of your skates is equipped with blades that'll slice your throat or someone else's if given a chance - that you can't even allow yourself to think about the act of skating itself. If you think about what your feet are doing, you won't be able to keep your head up, or handle your stick properly, or do anything with the puck. While other athletes are running around on reliable ground with shoes on, you've laced up a potentially murderous weapon onto each foot, grabbed a big, oddly shaped stick, and ventured out onto a big sheet of frozen water.
And, best of all, they can’t travel.