There is no correct way to ingest sports. As you stand ashore the gushing stream of news and notes originating in the “grown men playing a child’s game” delta, no other bystander has any moral stronghold upon your choice of intake. Whether you take solace in admiring the view from isolated shelter or experience it through every follicle as you defiantly swim upstream, no choice you make is morally or ideologically advantageous unless you feel it to be, a subjective manner of interaction with an assortment of objective events on a timeline.
Since I live 7 time zones away from the US east coast, the amount of time available for honest-to-goodness, old school WATCHING TEH GAMEZ has always been a tricky endeavor, with success mostly limited to weekends and sporadic bouts of self-induced insomnia. As such, my NBA intake was always heavily predicated by reading, listening, and reliving the events of previous nights through the many mediums available for the interested NBA fan. League Pass archives, podcasts and written breakdowns have developed so much over the past few years that one can remain connected to the proceedings with very little live viewing, picking spots to ensure truly historic moments rarely go by without witnessing them live.
Nonetheless, I have recently been feeling more and more like I am incorrectly watching the NBA. As the booming information age continues to exponentially expand, so the amount of content that can be generated by an isolated event continues to grow, with such events becoming much more frequent. Metrics, narratives, and the world in between blend into a cavalcade of input that eventually erodes the receptors used to process it.
That erosion has lately tailspinned into a never-ending game of catchup. As podcasts line up in the queue and articles wait aimlessly in open tabs that slowly lose their relevance, the games themselves have become anesthetized, covered beneath a steaming pile of immaterial debts I suddenly owe to immaterial beings. Am I still allowed to tweet about the Jazz? Can I estimate what Luol Deng might get as a free agent if the Cavs make me too sad to watch him post-Bulls? And hey, Drew Gooden just checked in, what are his numbers, honestly, I haven’t really watched any of him since he signed in Washington, and now that I think of it, what were his stats in 2010-11, and suddenly there’s a TV timeout to stop a 12-2 run that I wasn’t aware was happening because I thought I was watching the Pelicans.
There are too many distractions, too much I don’t know and must learn right now, too much guilt over not knowing what a Jorge Gutirrez is, to experience a simple game at its simplest. Like a crow that sees shine in the mundane, I inhale a 12.9 PER and a 49.2 TS%, forgetting the name of the player I looked up or the event on my screen that reminded me I need to look in the first place.
It’s become yet another lynchpin in the overwhelming sentiment that the playoffs should just start already. The playoffs are important through sheer tautology, and from first tip until the championship ceremony, the chaff is sifted out. Whereas the regular season is very much about separating the curd from the whey – what matters? What doesn’t? What doesn’t matter now but will matter a few years down the road? – the playoffs give you the curd and a spoon and invite you to go to town.
It’s a different process. There is less that is happening, and everything that is happening should be paid attention to. It may lack some of the regular season’s more fun elements – transactions, long-term rotation experimenting, and the generic every day minutiae – but it’s compact and airtight, with a larger payoff in that the lessons you exit with, while fewer in number, ring truer and for longer.
Focus isn’t always a good thing. The NBA has incredible versatility, with a loose structure that allows for subplots and personalities amid a 1230 game grind, and a back-and-forth rhythm that adds spice to what would otherwise be a dull linear progression. But it also requires a certain mentality to fully delve into that madness. Somehow, my grip over that world has loosened, and have me yearning for the better defined crunch time. Bring on the playoffs.