While watching the NCAA tourney this weekend, I was struck by how much more I enjoy watching college Basket ball than watching the NBA. If anyone (anyone out there?) has read my previous blog entries then you already know that I am no longer a fan of the NBA for the way my beloved Supersonics were taken from me by greedy businessmen. This killed me because I have always loved the game of basketball. This past weekend, watching these kids play reminded me why I have always loved basketball.
The thing about college players and the NCAA tournament is that the players are playing for 3 simple reasons; they love the game, the love to compete, and they want to win. These kids aren't playing for endorsement deals or 8 figure salaries, they are playing for pride. It is still a game to them, not a business, not yet at least. I venture to guess that if you combined the rosters of every team in the NCAA tourney, about only 15% of them will ever play in the NBA. Another 10% might go and play ball in Europe or in the CBA but I estimate that 3/4 of them will ever play ball on national TV ever again and they are well aware of this fact. So what do they do? They go out on the floor and play their hearts out every minute that they get the opportunity. Top it off with the fact that they know if the don't win, they don't play anymore which drives them to play even harder. It's a beautiful thing to watch and that's why it is the greatest tournament on the planet.
I'm not oblivious to the fact that these athletes are getting rewards for advancing their team further. Nor do I ignore the fact that most the kids have been recruited illegally with some sort of payola involved to entice them to play basketball for a certain program. I am definitely not ignorant of the fact of how many millions of dollars their respective programs and CBS, TNT, and TBS make off of these kid's talent and celebrity. However, once the ball is up in the air and the game clock begins, I truly believe that these young men are out there competing at the highest level they are able because they love to play the game. Once an NBA contract is signed, basketball is no longer a game, it is a career, a job. Any person that begins to get paid to do what they truly love to do, whether is be a musician or an actor or an athlete, that activity becomes diluted. That's what the NBA playoffs are to me, a diluted version of NCAA tournament being played by millionaires who have forgotten how god damned lucky they are to get to play an organized sport at that level, have millions of fans and receive millions of dollars simply for playing the game that they used to get excited to do for free.
So to all the young men competing out there and preparing for your next big game while still preparing for next quarter's classes, I salute you and I enjoy watching what you do, I only wish the professionals at the next level could take a page out of your book and get back to the purity of this game. However, I will not hold my breath!