Have you ever waited a long time for something? Wait: scratch that. That question presumes that time has some kind of weight or meaning for us, whereas these days it seems like we’re only defined by our impatience for everything. When Mad Men went on hiatus for more than a year, it seemed almost unbearable to fans. As soon as the third season of Game of Thrones ended, I started wondering how long I could hold out before re-watching the entire thing in anticipation of the the fourth season dropping in nine months.
But the NBA is a little different. When you’re a week out from the beginning of a TV season or a new album from a band or the release of a movie, whatever you’re waiting for is already done, complete. It’s the same with birthday presents: when they’re sitting there in front of you, the only unanswered questions are your own.
So the start of the NBA season isn’t precisely like Christmas morning. It’s both better and worse, and I don’t think it has as much to do with how good your team is as it appears. To me, the template for fans of the NBA are those whose teams are on the cusp of making it into the playoffs, or maybe hoping to get into the second round. For these fans, the mix of emotions is probably something like a weird amalgamation of the anticipation that heralds summer vacation and the anxiety that’s a precursor to the start of school. On one hand, you can’t wait to see what’s going to happen and it seems like you’ve got forever to find out, but on the other, you know so much can go wrong so quickly. And then before you know it, it’s over again and you’re looking back — either at the summer or the school year — part of you sad that it’s gone, part of you a little relieved it’s over.
But this feeling isn’t just reserved for fans of teams hovering at the precipice of respectability. Thunder fans saw how quickly a season can turn when Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs last year, and Bobcats fans know a thing or two about being bad enough to get a number one draft pick but always ending up with second or fourth picks. Things — as they are prone to — rarely go as planned in the NBA.
So this feeling — this mishmash of excitement and trepidation — is the hallmark of things that are about to start becoming. We all knew Summer League games didn’t really mean anything because Summer League and we all knew preseason games didn’t mean anything because preseason. Tonight’s games count, but it’s no more clear what they mean. They’re just drops in the bucket, just a few steps on the path.
And frankly, that’s awesome. Because once you’ve ripped the wrapping paper off your birthday presents, they start to fade, almost immediately. The toys get shoved aside as soon as the cake arrives. So take heart in how far off the arrival of that cake is for your team or any team in the league. Instead of a bunch of Matchbox cars or Legos, we get the ever-becoming present of the NBA. Welcome to the season.