Please hoop me!
April 4, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about becoming a fan or follower of pro basketball?

I am in my mid forties, and have always felt a pretty strong antipathy towards sports fandom. I've cultivated the feeling, as well, and as a result I am completely ignorant of virtually everything sports-related. Recently, however, I've been seized with an urge to start following professional basketball. We do not have cable television or satellite, so my viewing options are limited...but I've figured out ways around that.

What puzzles me is not so much how to watch, but what to watch. Wikipedia informs me that every team in the NBA will play 84 games in the regular season, playing many teams more than once and more than twice. So...suppose that I wanted to become a fan of, say, the Jazz (n.b.: this is just for the sake of argument). Assuming that I don't have time to watch all 84 games, how does a committed fan of a particular team decide which games they'll make a point of watching? And on that topic...given that there is no local franchise where I live, how does one develop an attachment to some specific team?

Oh...and I'm aware already, from reading Wikipedia that the regular season is nearly over. I may attempt to catch the playoffs if I can get over the mental blocks here.
posted by Ipsifendus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd just watch some games. Go to a bar. Don't overthink it. You can't fail at watching hoops. There are no right games to watch.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Watch the draft this year, and pick a kid who appeals to you. Follow his career.
posted by carsonb at 11:33 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Assuming that I don't have time to watch all 84 games, how does a committed fan of a particular team decide which games they'll make a point of watching?

Hi. Committed baseball fan here. Baseball has waaay more games, and I watch/listen to as many as possible. There is no "choosing" except in the sense that if the Giants are playing their uber-rival (Dodgers), I make a particular point to watch. So you can be sure to watch the games with whoever your team's rival(s). Likewise any game against a team in the same conference, or however pro basketball is organized these days (I have not paid attention to pro ball in decades).

As for picking a team when there's no local franchise: I vote for choosing whoever has wicked* good sports writers and bloggers writing about them. A good writer can bring you inside the game and inside the team and help create the personal feeling.

* Yes, I grew up in Boston.
posted by rtha at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Watching games that you have no real interest in can be boring. Pick a single team and follow them -- learn about their players, coaches, schedule, ect. Watch their games whenever you can, and at the very least keep up day to day/week to week highlights.

If you can develop a vested interest in a team, you'll become a basketball fan quickly.
posted by lobbyist at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just pick a team for any half-decent reason: proximity, maybe you know the name of their best player, you like their uniform colors, you like the city itself, your best friend is from there, etc. As you watch more games you'll get a feel for the character and style of each team and develop preferences.
posted by bread-eater at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

So you're in Nebraska? That will probably make a big difference in you really becoming a fan. Relatively close to the Chicago Bulls, which would be my first answer in a team to follow because Da Bulls. And you are close to Denver so you could follow the Nuggets and close to the Twin Cities so you could follower the Timberwolves. But Oklahoma City is a cool new expansion / relocation team that might fit your bill if you are looking to stray off the bandwagon.

As a fan of numerous small market sports teams including a directional state school football team and a perennial losing MLB baseball team, in my opinion save yourself the heartache of following a small or losing team. Winning is enjoyable!
posted by lstanley at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2012

If you don't have a geographic link, try getting attached to the people. During the Olympics, sports broadcasters do an amazing job making the audience care about an athlete very, very quickly. You can watch a three minute profile, and suddenly you'll stand up and scream for some some luger or synchronized swimmer you'd never even heard of minutes before. The secret? It's about the amazing journey that athlete took to get to where they are. All that same stuff is true for the athletes on a basketball team, and for the team itself. Any athlete or team has had momentous greatness and terrible heartbreak along the way. So if you really want to get attached to a team fast, don't start by watching them. First, do some reading/watching to dig into their history. Learn about where they came from, and you'll care a lot more about where they're going.
posted by Ziggurat at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2012

A big part of sports fandom is getting to know the players on a team.
Knowing a team greatly increases the human drama - you begin to know what this means to these people. You begin to care about the players.

I would suggest that you settle upon a favorite team, and get to know the history of the players, the team, the owners, and the team's fans. Then starting primarily watching that team.

This will draw you in much quicker than simple watching the sport in general.
posted by Flood at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2012

Playing fantasy basektball would help you learn a lot about players and stats. Also, you can find all games streamed online for free through peer to peer sites.

You could cheer for the Denver Nuggets since they are kind of close, and pretty good when they are healthy.
posted by unreasonable at 12:02 PM on April 4, 2012

Best answer: Ooh, new hoop fan. Great!

Okay, this season is dispute-shortened, so what you need to know is I think it is 66 games in the regular season. Also the playoff series' will be more compact. Usually in an NBA season, the games are more spread out. This year it feels like there are games every other day almost!

What puzzles me is not so much how to watch, but what to watch.

Watch the pregame shows if you can - they will tell you about what the players have been going through, working on, and what the team is trying to accomplish.

I can give you 6 teams to watch, and what to watch for.

Miami Heat
Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Clippers
Oklahoma City Thunder
Chicago Bulls
San Antonio Spurs

Miami Heat - You've heard of LeBron James. You have heard of Dwyane Wade. They are a duo to watch, and have been making plays this year that rival the "showtime" era of the 1980's (Los Angeles Lakers). Note how those two players play together and try to capitalize off the strength of their teammates. There is immense pressure for them to win a title. People's lives revolve around hating these two, or defending them against hate. This season everyone is watching to see what happens at the end of a Heat game in the playoffs and NBA finals when the Heat need points. Will LeBron be able to deliver if needed?

Los Angeles Lakers - You've heard of Kobe Bryant. Kobe is trying to solidify his place in history, at or above the level of the most famous pro basketball player ever, Michael Jordan. He has 5 championships, Michael has 6. Bryant has seen a lot of his skilled teammates leave his side, and he is down to one injury prone big man (Bynum) and another in Gasol who is skilled but often seen as soft. Can they make it to the finals before Kobe's career ends?

The L.A. Clippers have Chris Paul, who is one of the craftier guards in the league, seeking a championship after slaving away in New Orleans prior to this season. The Clippers also have one Blake Griffin, who is a freak of nature, in that he's as big as Charles Barkley was, but incredibly athletic. The team also has other athletic big men and have renamed themselves "lob city", because they like to throw alley-oops to score. This is their first year together, so don't expect them to make the finals, but Griffin has been making plays that are unseen in this league.

The Oklahoma City Thunder. Did you know this is the franchise that used to be the Seattle Sonics? They have Kevin Durant, who is a superstar and a great guy who was in college for just a single season. He is near the top of the league in scoring, and he is a very skilled player for someone who is 6'10. He is so lanky his nickname upon entering the NBA came to be Durantula. The Thunder are a great team to watch because apart from the recently acquired Derek Fisher, they have a lot of young guys who seem to really be having fun playing together, and their home crowd is like a college crowd. The fans there seem to be appreciative of just having games, unlike established NBA teams that can often seem bored unless something exciting is happening. They are poised to make it to the Western Conference finals, but their success hinges on their point guard Russell Westbrook's ability to limit turnovers and moderate his own shooting against finding open teammates.

The Chicago Bulls are a great team to watch because they have Derrick Rose, a great point guard with an incredible combination of speed and hang time and moves unlike anyone that came before him. They also have Joakim Noah, who is one of the few big men who can lead a fast break, and Carlos Boozer, who is a solid player that used to put up big numbers in Utah. They are trying to figure out how to put their pieces together to get to the finals. Watch them if you want to see a team possibly find an identity that works for them.

The San Antonio Spurs have a great record but are an older team. When watching basketball, the young guys noted on the previous teams tend to make flashy plays but miss out on how much more you can get done with sound, fundamental plays and passing. The Spurs have long been boring, and now they have an aging player base, but the team is great to watch to really understand how basketball is supposed to work.

Other Tips

Go to a basketball court in your neighborhood. See how high the rim is. Stand directly under it. Go to the free throw line and without a ball, try running and jumping and getting anywhere near the basket area. This will help you appreciate when players are flying all over the place dunking.

Watch ESPN's Sportscenter if you can. They will show highlights and give you information you will need to understand what you're watching. Plus they just make jokes and have fun with the highlights.

If I were you, I would latch on to a team whose players do things that make you excited, who react to things the way you like, who exhibit sportsmanship in the way you would imagine, and who are hungry to succeed. Nothing is worse for me than watching an NBA game where they are largely going through the motions on both sides, mostly walking around. Find a player who grew up where you did, or who went to a college you liked, or who battled back from an injury or stigma.

I tend to gravitate toward players who are for the most part unlike anyone that came before them, in the way they move, shoot and perform. Kobe is incredible, but a walking copy of Jordan. Durant is to my eyes, a mostly new type of player, Derrick Rose has a combination of speed and ability that make him unlike anyone that came before him.

Since the playoffs will begin in a few weeks, here is a tip. During the regular season, teams like the Philadelphia 76ers can be fun to watch, because they have a solid team. But in the post-season, these playoff series can be fully scouted by each team, and the game begins to shift more toward superstars like Kobe and LeBron, who will get foul calls in their favor when the game is on the line, because of the intense amount of focus. Big stars who are familiar with their role as scorers or defenders or rebounders will make those plays, where teams who have a different person step up each night seem to lose when nobody is quite sure who is stepping up.

Look - Basketball is like an organism. A living, breathing thing, made up of 10 people. Play it or perhaps watch long enough and you see the point guard as a beating heart, delivering passes to the vital organs of the squad. If the camera angles are steady enough, you can start to get a sense of where players will go and when, what angle passes will come at, who will be open, and what will happen next. I have watched and played it for years, and there is an invisible structure to it most times, even though it may seem like people are just running around. This is in the pros, college, or outside at the park down the street. That's the beauty of basketball.

And then for me the fun of watching becomes when you understand how the organism moves and functions, but you see a new player come into the sport, who can somehow change what was once possible. At first it seems as simple as 'this guy has the ball, and this guy is guarding him'. But introduce someone like Derrick Rose, and it becomes clearer that there is no way humanly possible to be at every angle or stop every move. And then you get statements like "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him". Because once a player figures out their own body and abilities, they are almost impossible to stop. Basketball can be like golf in that way. A well rounded player can dribble by you if you are too close, shoot over you if you are too far, fake you out if you are mirroring their moves, or mesmerize multiple players and then pass it to someone wide open.

Another thing to watch that many miss is inside play. It is easy to just stay with the ball, which the point guards have most of the time. But try to watch the inside play of the big men. Watch them jockey for position and move without the ball, making sure to avoid staying in the lane for 3 seconds (rule). And then if you have skilled big men on a team, watch how their movements are almost like the Knight in Chess. They keep their pivot foot. They size up their defender. They turn and spin and work with their back to the basket as the defender tries to guess what their next move is. It can be beautiful.

Last point - watch the instant replays if you can (if you're at a bar or a friend's house). These guys are lightning quick, and sometimes you don't even realize just how incredible a move was until you see it on replay. There's a nationally televised game tonight - Thunder/Heat - highly recommended!
posted by cashman at 12:37 PM on April 4, 2012 [84 favorites]

Theres a reason they call sports the original reality television. Its because sports are just an arbitrary abstract for human drama. Yes, at its core, basketball is nothing more than trying to put a sphere through a hoop, but it can be so, so much more than that if you allow it.

The key is finding a team, coach, or player whose particular brand of basketball suits your taste. I'm more of a college basketball fan (I'm also from Indiana, where you're born a basketball junkie), so I'll give my personal example with my fandom for the Butler Bulldogs.

Butler is an underdog. They're in Division I, but they literally play in a smaller division, with less budget, so they have a harder time attracting and recruiting new talent. Their back-to-back runs in the NCAA tournament proved they weren't a cinderella. Their team was athletically outmatched by every team they played, but they still managed to win. This is because they're smart, unselfish, play to their strengths, and try to make the other team bend to their will. The program even has an official name for this strategy. This is precisely why I'm head-over-heels in love with them.

You need to find this equivalent in the NBA. A team that you can associate with on an emotional level and really TRULY root for, night after night. If there's no emotional attachment, it really just becomes about putting a ball through a hoop.

If you're truly starting from scratch, and have no idea where to start, many basketball pundits seem to agree that the inevitable meeting between the Bulls and the Heat (#1 and #2 in the Eastern Conference nearly all season) in the playoffs should be pretty exciting.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 12:46 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a fan of the Portland Trailblazers, I usually only watch the games that are available locally because I don't have cable. I sometimes listen to the games on the radio. I watched several games early in the season and went to one in January (against the Clippers). Coincidentally, as my team has gone downhill, the availability of broadcast games has decreased. I will still follow the play-by-play on the NBA iPhone app and read the game summaries on the Blazersedge fan site (part of SB Nation).

If I were in your position, I'd probably follow the Thunder because they are a young team that is performing incredibly well and they don't have players who are polarizing, such as Kobe or Lebron.

Whatever team you follow, two sites I'd recommend are NBA Playbook for a great breakdown of plays, strategies, etc. SB Nation is a network of sports bloggers. The quality varies from team to team but you can get a great fan perspective. I think the Thunder site is pretty good.
posted by perhapses at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2012

Best answer: Sports fandom is changing. It used to be you had to live and die by a team and watched everything. It won't be long before you'll be able to dial up any moment in any game, on demand. That's fantastic for time constrained die hards. Lousy for casual fans, as one of the principle reasons to follow sports is for the sense of real time community with other fans of the team or game.

You have two choices: follow the NBA team in your current area, or the NBA team from where you're from. There are no other choices. You can appreciate other teams or players, but don't be the guy that just decided he's an OKC fan. I grew up in Chicago during the Jordan years, so for better or worse, I'm a Bulls fan for life, and pretty spoiled with titles. That means I don't watch them when they suck, and even with D.Rose, I only watch the playoffs and important regular season game - and even then, only when something else in my life fails to take precedence. I read grantland and truehoop, and will occasionally be bothered to watch snippets of games here and there.

Your way of enjoying the sport will be different - that's kinda the point. Reading your question more closely, I'd open up your affections to your social circle: ask them to justify why you should pay attention to the teams they love. If I could separate myself from the Bulls, I'd personally be following smart small market teams like the Spurs, Indiana, Houston, and OKC more closely, as their coaches and GMs have shown themselves to be pretty good at finding/developing players - but that's me. You might be more of a superstar/bandwagon type, in which case you should just cheer for El Heat.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:20 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, NoRelationToLea...I'm going to adopt a slightly challenging stance here, because there's something in what you're saying that interests me, but more that just flat out confuses me. I think you're exactly the kind of sports fan who might be able to offer me some insights here.

First off, as someone who only has a limited amount of time to give over to what is (after all) a pretty out-of-the-sky-blue impulse, it seems to me that the change in sports fandom that you're describing would be better for the casual fans than die-hards; I mean, the die-hards are going to watch all of the games anyway, right? Whereas someone less committed will be likely to settle for highlights? I don't have, or especially want, an extensive social network, so the "sense of real time community" isn't a big incentive to me.

You have two choices: follow the NBA team in your current area, or the NBA team from where you're from. There are no other choices.

There'd better be other choices, otherwise I just won't follow through on this. Like I said, there is no local franchise where I'm at, and where I'm at is where I'm from. If there aren't other options, I'm doomed to just remain disinterested

don't be the guy that just decided he's an OKC fan.

Why not? What's the perceived problem, from your perspective, with "that guy"? Up above, cashman has given me a half-dozen narrative hooks about an assortment of teams, reasons to be interested. If based on those hooks I decide to be a fan of the Thunder, what aspect of the experience am I getting wrong?

That means I don't watch them when they suck, and even with D.Rose, I only watch the playoffs and important regular season game - and even then, only when something else in my life fails to take precedence.

Ok, again, speaking from an admitted position of ignorance here...that doesn't sound like the words of a hardcore fan to me. That sounds like someone with a more fair-weather attitude than anything else. I take it as a given that I'm failing to understand some critical detail here, so please don't take offense. I just don't get how you're a fan. I mean, I'm a fan of several writers. That means I make a point of following their work, actually reading it, not that I'll try to catch the occasional excerpts or online reviews when I've got nothing better to do.

Also...that phrase, "important regular season game". If I had to boil my question down to a single bullet point, it would be: how do you know what's an important regular season game?
posted by Ipsifendus at 3:07 PM on April 4, 2012

Important and/or interesting regular season games are:
-Ones with playoff implications; this becomes clearer near the end of the season
-Against a traditional rival
-Against the current division leader
-Rematches of previous playoff series
-Against potential opponents in this year's playoffs
-Against an elite team or team with an elite player
posted by expialidocious at 3:43 PM on April 4, 2012

Near the end of the Bulls' title run, I was often not even watching playoff games. There comes a point where if you've watched enough sports, you need a pretty special event to make you want to watch more. For example: how many Super Bowls were actually good games?

I'd spin my fair-weather-ness another way: due to time constraints, I won't watch just anything, any more. Who cares if the Bulls blow out some hapless team at the bottom of the standings. Let's look at the schedule - when are they playing Miami? On that day - is everyone at full strength? Or are some starters missing? If I had season tickets for a baseball team, I certainly wouldn't be attending every home game, and almost definitely wouldn't be attending if it's a battle between the teams' worst starting pitchers.

While it's true the NBA is basically a league of stars, team sports are really about cheering for laundry. So which laundry deserves your attention? OKC is a great team with a great GM, but they've got little if any tradition, and what tradition they do have is stolen from Seattle.

Sports are like anything: you'll get people who believe they're bigger fans than you, or are fans in a way that is more right than you. Hence my point about enjoying the sports in your own way. You could be after tradition, or technique, or current form, or commercial appeal - whatever. You get to decide.

What's an important regular season game? I think you mean what's really important in sports? The answer is: what are you looking for from sports? There's lots of answers to that. Yours will be different from mine.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:50 PM on April 4, 2012

I would say you should watch some games to really get a feel for which teams/players grab you, and then focus on them. A lot of why I care about sports, and a lot of what can draw in new/uncommitted fans, is the narrative arc.

In some ways you're in a pretty good position here because we're close to the playoffs. If you have any leaning about which team(s) you like, focus a bit on them, but I would try to get a feel for the teams likely to go pretty deep in the postseason (Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, San Antonio. If you want more, both LA teams, Orlando, and Boston are all good enough that they might go past the first or second round if things go their way.) Don't worry about which team will be "your team", if you develop a preference go with it, but mostly concentrate on learning what you can about the teams, their style of play, and their strengths/weaknesses, or just what you like and dislike about them.

That way you can enjoy the playoffs, which is far and away the most exciting part of the season. Every game matters, and every team is good. The regular NBA season is too long, and the gap between the best and worst teams too great, for every game to matter. Come playoff time, that stops being true. The weak teams are gone, and the games really get electric. Just concentrate on getting a feel for the playoff teams before the playoffs, and then enjoy watching them unfold. That should be great fun in and of itself, but it will also give you a good foundation to start from next season in terms of what to root for and watch.
posted by lhputtgrass at 4:08 PM on April 4, 2012

Minor quibble: normal seasons are 82 games long not 84. Whatever.

Speaking of Olympics, the Olympics for basketball is THIS summer! You'll get to see all the best players and they'll probably have their personal lives profiled too. Dwyane Wade has an interesting history as do many of the players, given the socioeconomic backgrounds of the places so many players come from.

Unfortunately Rajon Rondo aint on Olympic team and he is most entertaining player to watch in NBA (full disclosure I am a Rondo freak and some may disagree with me on this.) Rondo plays for the Boston Celtics and any time he has ball on a fast break, there's a chance you will see something breathtakingly beautiful.

Some god podcasts could help too. Former player Jalen Rose has a podcast on NBA and this guy knows his shit, has a way with words, and gives insight into stuff regular people wouldn't normally know about.

Have fun. NBA is great.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 4:09 PM on April 4, 2012

Also, Bill Simmons isn't my favorite sportswriter, but he is passionate and informed about the NBA. His recent article handicapping the MVP race might be useful. I don't agree with all of his conclusions, but it should give you a good feel for who the best players are this season.
posted by lhputtgrass at 4:11 PM on April 4, 2012

For example: how many Super Bowls were actually good games?

Most of the Super Bowls in the last 10 or so years have been good games, and a couple of them have been great.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:28 PM on April 4, 2012

You could also decide to become a fan of a perennially bad team for the dual reasons of 1) promise and hope, and 2) fraternity of being heart-broken year after year.

I'm a Raptors fan. Okay, so I do live in Toronto, but they do just enough every year to give me hope that this year (or the next) will be the one they turn it around. Quick background: they haven't made the playoffs in about four years and lost their marquee player (Chris Bosh) two summers ago to the Miami Heat. Since then they've struggled but this year have a new coach that's got the team working harder. They'd probably be doing a little bit better if their top player (Bargnani) didn't miss half the season with injury...but he seems to have turned the corner with finally playing defense this year. Their starting point guard (Calderon) is a classic pass-first guy which is rare in the league. They've got some great young energy guys. A couple young prospects with potential, a highly regarded rookie coming over from Europe next season, significant money available to spend on free agents this summer and a GM who loves to deal. See, lots of promise and hope.

Now you don't need to like the Raptors, you can another team to like. But here's a reason to like them: fun daily blog from the reporter at one of the daily papers. He talks Raptors stuff but also general NBA and basketball stuff too. In addition, he runs a live "in game" blog. It isn't play by play, but he does talk strategy or what just happened. If you're watching the broadcast, you can send a question. Sometimes if I miss the game, I'll read through the in game blog before finding the recap. There's one going on right now.
posted by dismitree at 5:48 PM on April 4, 2012

I did something like what you are trying to do, but with college basketball, where it's easier to pick a team or conference to follow*. If you really do live in Omaha, Creighton just had a relatively good year (North Carolina fans might disagree, but fuck those guys) but they are pretty low profile. Nebraska has been traditionally awful but they just hired a new coach and are trying to improve their lot—in a very difficult conference. How will they do? (They will still suck, but following them would be a start.) Finding a team you like that's good and other people say nice things about will help a lot.

I like numbers so I got into college basketball statistics which helped with a learning side of things, but also provided other storylines and things to watch for besides just the star-crazed crap you will get from the major outlets. I like the site Basketball Prospectus which does pro and college material.

Finding a good set of people to follow on Twitter has been very useful. Journalists are more candid on Twitter and , and many of the team-specific SBNation boards are good, as people have said.

I guess look on being a fan as a long-term DIY project. A big part of it is discovering what's important to you and what your goals are. Don't be afraid to step off the path of OMG SICK DUNKZ.

(*College-ball-is-better-than-pro-bball rant available on request.)
posted by fleacircus at 5:58 PM on April 4, 2012

I'm a little envious. This sounds fun. Thoughts:

1. There's no requirement that you pick a team and follow that team in order to enjoy the game of basketball. I learned about basketball when I was about 10 and became a fan of the Detroit Pistons, mostly so I could bond with my dad, who was a big Pistons fan. But as I got older, I began to enjoy the sport itself more than "my" particular team (the awesomeness of Michael Jordan, the colors and playing style of Shawn Kemp's Supersonics, Reggie Miller scoring 8 points in 18 seconds, Kobe Bryant taking over games, Steve Nash, and on and on). I'm to the point now where my Pistons being good is a nice treat, but the real joy is solid, dramatic basketball. I'd much rather watch a Lakers/Thunder game than almost any Pistons game this season.

2. All that said, a qualifer: There are good social experiences that can come out of choosing and rooting for a particular team. Some of my best memories with friends are thanks to pro sports; if you have social inclinations, I recommend seeking out other people in your area who you can bond with by watching games or talking about games together. If that's not your cup of tea, the number of forums for fans of particular teams is probably uncountable.

3. I respectfully stand on the opposite side of the fence regarding player narratives. While I know I'm in the minority, I don't care about (for example) Lebron James' background or what Kevin Durant does in his free time. All of these men are a world removed from 99% of the people who pay to see them, so I do not like to use energy or time keeping up with their off-the-court exploits or their histories. To me, they are entertainers, and I want to see them use their gifts and talents on the basketball court; what they do with the rest of their time is their business. My point, ranting aside, is that I find watching and following basketball to be more enjoyable if I view these guys strictly as basketball players.

4. Seconding actually going out a court and playing the game yourself if you don't already. It's frankly amazing what these guys can do, physically.
posted by st starseed at 7:19 PM on April 4, 2012

Mentioned briefly already, but I'd like to repeat the suggestion of trying out an online fantasy basketball league as a way to jump in.

These leagues are free online (yahoo fantasy sports leagues are pretty great). They really familiarize you with aspects of the game that you might otherwise miss while watching the games (player names, positions, and statistics for example)... and also involves you in the games in a more personal way. For example, you care a whole lot more about missed freethtrows if that player happens to be playing for your personal team. You'll also open yourself up to the sport of sport fan trash talking.
posted by jimmereeno at 7:36 PM on April 4, 2012

Basketball is great because it's human. Here's a few reasons why:

- Teams are small. There are only five guys on the court at any time.
- The players are out there, basically like, in their underwear. You see their faces, their frustration and joy, you see them sweating.
- More than any other major American team sport, one guy can totally dominate and change the course of a game, a playoff series or even a season. Cf. Michael Jordan, obviously, but also Lebron James in Cleveland (previously), Derrick Rose in Chicago (currently), Jeremy Lin in New York (very briefly and very arguably). The storylines write themselves. Contrast this to football, where even someone like Tom Brady needs at least a decent offensive line and a couple decent receivers to win games. Contrast it to baseball, where even the very best player will only win an extra 7 or so games for his team over the course of a 162-game season.

So good choice on sport.

Just start watching games. Maybe in a bar, preferably with people you feel comfortable talking to and seeming like a rube. Ask questions. It really will just grow on you naturally with time.

Read when you get a spare moment. I'd say watch SportsCenter but you don't have cable. But will do. Watch the clips associated with the NBA stories, read game recaps. It really is a big narrative that will wash over you if you let it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:43 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

An argument in the The Book of Basketball is that basketball is somewhat unique in that a player's personal selfishness is a factor, which could be either positive or negative. Basketball is fluid and collectively improvisational to a unique degree, and a player's willingness (or not) to contribute to that is crucial. This isn't football, where you're calling plays ahead of time and expecting perfect execution. This isn't baseball, which is essentially a series of independent actions.

If you shoot all the time and miss, you're hurting the team in a way quite unlike any other sport (you're missing, and also denying a teammate's ability to score). On the other hand, as a player you will be called upon to be decisive and aggressive without any direction or cues or even assistance from your teammates. The closest analogs are hockey and soccer, but basketball is played in a much smaller space and the number of true offensive opportunities is significantly more than those sports.

Think about this when watching teams with established stars (e.g. Kobe, LeBron) and how role-players relinquish control (or not) to the stars that are key. Similarly, watch a team without stars behave completely differently.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:20 PM on April 4, 2012

For the record, above it says Blake Griffin is "as big as Charles Barkley was," but that's false. Griffin is 4-6 inches taller than Barkely (who, while listed at 6'6", is widely known to be between 6'4" and 6'5"). Griffin is indeed a freak of nature, though. Just not on defense...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:47 PM on April 4, 2012

I'd also recommend Synergy Sports. It's an online streaming service that allows you to watch every game after the fact. It costs money, but it's incredible.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:53 PM on April 4, 2012

Playoff basketball is actually a great time to start watching the NBA . In case you missed it, there was a post on the blue just two days ago that would serve as a good primer. If you are looking for particular games, I would keep an eye out for series that extend to seven games, as that seventh, deciding game is often pretty entertaining.

As for picking a team, I wouldn't sweat it too much. There are a lot of 'rules' about who's allowed to follow what teams, and imo they don't make a lot sense. Like you, I've never lived anywhere with a pro team. I don't care to adopt one, but I still enjoy watching good games and following interesting teams, players, and stories.

If you are into numbers, statistics can be an excellent way to develop a frame of reference for the game. Basketball Reference has an ever-expanding archive of historical data, as well as statistical summaries of the current season, up to yesterday's games.

And frankly, Wikipedia is not a bad site for getting acclimated with teams or players.
posted by teekat at 5:41 AM on April 5, 2012

OP you might try reading this delightful history of pro-bball--it's quick, opinionated and thoughtful about the way the game has changed and the social forces that shaped much of the play. FreeDarko-Presents Undisputed-Basketball-History

Meanwhile, I totally disagree that you have to have a single team that you root for, and that they have to be somehow related to your geographical location. The world doesn't work like that any more (thank god!) It's like the 1990s high-school idea that you can only have one band or style of music to like and you have to hate all the others (PUNKS RULE RAVERS SUCK). Real music lovers appreciate talent even among genres that aren't necessarily your taste. So I can recognize the strength of the Mavs and the inexorable dominance of the Heat even while rooting for the underdog team play of the Knicks and the slashing skills of the Thunder, the Bulls, and the Clippers. Except the Lakers. Only brain-damaged perverts like the Lakers. I know what makes me like a team, and it's the players (in conjunction with the history, which is why I like the Bulls more than the Thunder), but if the players all are uninspiring, I don't have to stop watching basketball or something.

Another thing that makes me love the NBA is the current spate of intelligent writing about it, in blogs and on twitter. Following along during and after games with people like Free Darko's (now the Classical's) Bethlehem shoals, the awesome people at Ball Don't Lie, and some random writers like SI's Zach Lowe and @basquiatball , makes even a mediocre game fun.

This season has been wonderful in many way. despite the shortness. Many will disagree with me, but I think Jeremy Lin officially saved the sport from post-lockout fan malaise, and inspired the rest of the league (except the Wizards lol) to put their shoulders to the wheel and really start playing for the love of the game. I suspect these playoffs will be incredible and full of miracles, so I envy your position, just starting to learn about all the fascinating people and dynamics that make the game great.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2012

I strongly disagree with the advice that you have to pick a team based on where you happen to live or have lived. I got into basketball during the Jordan years (because my Dad would pull me into the room and say watch this guy!) by becoming a Bulls fan, and guess what? I'm not even a Bulls fan anymore!

My home team is the Wizards and I root for them but it's been obvious before the season even started that they had no chance of getting anywhere for the last decade or so. So mostly I'm just a fan of the game.

I recommend you start out by watching individual players rather than teams. Watch some Heat games to see what the big fuss is about LeBron. Watch Kobe to see how the best player of his generation is fighting to stay relevant as he ages. Watch Jeremy Lin to see what all the Linsanity is about. Personally, I love watching Steve Nash because he's just so fucking good at what he does.

One other piece of advice: start with 4th quarters. NBA games are very long and the 4th quarters of close games are a great introduction.
posted by callmejay at 4:30 PM on April 5, 2012

Given that you're a "free agent" fan, in that you're choosing a team with no prior influences (where you grew up with, who your parents rooted for, etc), an important factor that people have not mentioned is ownership.

If you think you could be a fan for the long term, you'll want to pick a team with a good owner. Ownership and management, more than anything, determine whether or not your team will compete for championships over the long term. If you're a fan of a team owned by a selfish asshole who cares more about profits than championships, then you'll be doomed to watch for decades as your team struggles and ends up at the bottom year after year. The Clippers prior to this season are an excellent example of this phenomenon, having a horrific owner (Donald Sterling), spent years in the lottery getting really high draft picks year after year, yet only occasionally making the playoffs over 30 some years.

Do you know why the Yankees were and are an awesome team to root for? Because George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, really and truly wanted to win, and put all that money at his disposal from being in the largest market into winning. Yet so many owners would rather give away great talent in order to earn themselves money, money that comes from the fans who cheer and root and PAY because they want desperately to win championships.

If you just want to root for an awesome team and see them win games and do incredible feats, there are lots of options right now. You could pick OKC or the Clippers or Chicago or Miami. But if you want to avoid suffering through season after season where your team makes inexplicably bad personnel decisions, look closer at ownership. Teams with good owners / management include the Lakers, Mavericks, OKC, San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, Boston. Bad owners include Phoenix, Clippers, Toronto, New York, Atlanta. Unknown and new owners include Charlotte, Golden State, Washington, New Jersey, Detoit.
posted by shen1138 at 6:41 PM on April 5, 2012

Response by poster: I just want to pop in here once more to thank everyone for your insights. This has provided me with a lot of mental fuel to work with as I chase this impulse.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:45 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's possible, splurge on tickets as close to the floor as possible to any NBA game. When you see how big, fast, and athletic these players are--not just the superstars, but everyone in the league--your mind will be blown.

I've played and watched basketball my whole life. Been to many games with decent seats. I've seen Jordan, Barkley, Pippen and a few others in person up close off the court and thought, "OK, wow those are big guys." Then I had a friend give me some floor level tickets to an NBA game. Seeing these freakish athletes play right smack in front of me just blew me away. It really brought my appreciation of the game to a new level.

Go to any game and sit in the first four rows. Any further back, and your brain will start "correcting" for what it perceives to be impossible and the athleticism will seem less than what it is. Get right down on the court and you won't believe what you see.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 10:48 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can parrot a lot of what's been already said, but the bit above about selfishness is really, really key. At the NBA level, every single person on the court is phenomenally talented, and there are a few who are elite, untouchable gladiators, essentially. So each team is like a small family, with its own dynamics, and needs to find the best dynamics for themselves (while weakening the dynamics of the opposing team, obviously) in order to win.

Take LeBron in Cleveland, for instance. This was the best player of the current era, and one of the all-time greats (who, by the way, I can't stand myself, but I've never liked Kobe either) surrounded by utility players most people couldn't name. And they (he, really) came damn close to winning it all, almost entirely on the back of one superstar.

And then LeBron moved to Miami at the start of last season (in the most ass way possible) to be on a team with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, two more outstanding players. Again, LeBron almost wins it all, but getting used to the new "family" took some work. Miami had some tough losing streaks in the regular season, which finally ended when Bosh (the least heralded of the three) insisted on getting the ball more often at the post. He was right. And, interestingly, he wasn't a dick about it. A Forward can't really be selfish on the court, so he needed to be selfish off the court to get the strategy changed to get him the ball more often, which he took advantage of to great efficiency.

On the other hand, currently, you have the OKC Thunder (my favorite), often thought of as sort of the anti-Heat, more for reasons of personality and media characterizations than on-court play. Kevin Durant is probably the best scorer in the league, and came into the pros at an extremely young age with a preternatural maturity. If LeBron is "King" James, then Durant is "Saint" Kevin. He leads the team like a college team, with crazy bonds of loyalty and friendship (even the middle managers run wind-sprints with them, for instance.) Center Kendrick Perkins is a teddy bear who becomes a beast on the court (previously.)

The real story of the Thunder, however, has centered around PG Russell Westbrook, who'd be in consideration for best PG in the NBA if not for the existence of Derrick Rose. Now, in reality, Durant and Westbrook work together extraordinarily well, hence the best record in the West, but the media needing a story like they do, Westbrook has been made into the "problematic" aspect on the Thunder. He takes more shots than point guards normally take, meaning that he keeps the ball to himself down drives more than PGs are usually expected to do. Pair this with his being on the same team with a scorer of Durant's caliber, and people will inevitably start calling him selfish. This came to a bit of a head this past week with sportscaster (and avowed Thunder fan) Skip Bayless complaining about Westbrook taking so many shots, and Durant firing back that if one looks at the stats, the team does better when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant. In the end, it's all about family dynamics.

So pick a single team to follow. Come to understand not just how Basketball is played at the highest level, but how the different team families interact, starting with your team. Watch who loses their temper and who keeps their head, and how that affects them. And have fun.

Go Thunder!
posted by Navelgazer at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2012

You're in Nebraska. Your two closest teams are Denver and OKC. I'd pick OKC if I were you, because, as folks are saying, they're so much fun to watch. But whomever it is you choose, be loyal. Don't drop them once they start sucking. Believe it or not, being true to your team through the rough times pays off. Either some other fan will admire your loyalty or one day that team will rise to the top, and then all the years of pain and anguish are worth that one beautiful title.

Good luck.
posted by Edison Carter at 7:08 AM on April 11, 2012

« Older Is there a field guide for antenna spotting?   |   Is it normal for a woman to begin feeling... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.