Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All the NBA needed was one night


It's a shame the Houston-Los Angeles Lakers game didn't end until after 1 a.m. Tuesday night on the East Coast. The theater was that great. Even for a first game of an 82-game season.

As I stood in my living room, on my tiptoes, my heart beating fast, watching the Lakers erase a 12-point deficit in the final 1:36 before Houston's Shane Battier hit the game-winning 3-pointer, I forgot about the NBA's awful summer.

I stopped thinking about Tim Donaghy. About the awful Finals ratings from June. About Kobe Bryant's incessent trade demands.

Ironically, Bryant was at the center of Opening Night's action, lighting up the Staples Center with 45 points after he was booed while being introduced. Critics can say all they want about Bryant's constant complaints and selfish play, but no one can argue that he doesn't play his heart out every game when he's on the court.

And, boy, is he fun to watch. Even with the Rockets up by an insurmountable 12 points and the Lakers faithful heading for the exits, Bryant didn't quit on his current (but maybe not for long) team, launching the improbable comeback with a three-point play followed by a 3-pointer.

Rumors have swirled the past couple days about a possible trade involving Bryant becoming a Chicago Bull. If Lakers management wants its team to remain in the conversation when discussing the NBA, it better not deal Bryant. He is the lone reason fans still pack the Staples Center. He is the only reason the otherwise morbid Lakers still receive attention nationwide. Sans Bryant, the Lakers could become (gasp!) the Clippers.

Tuesday night was a long-awaited night for NBA commissioner David Stern. The best franchise in sports, the San Antonio Spurs, received their championship rings before defeating the young Portland Trail Blazers. The Spurs added a win on Wednesday to stay perfect at 2-0.

If Stern is ever accosted by a critic who says, "Your entire league is a scam," Stern can point toward The Alamo as evidence to the contrary. Not only do the Spurs win, but their superstar, Tim Duncan, understands how to increase their chances of adding more NBA titles in the next five years.

Duncan signed a two-year, $40 million extension Tuesday that will keep him in San Antonio through the 2011-12 season. He could have asked — and gotten — $51 million, but he keenly realized that the $11 million he didn't take could be used to re-sign other key players, so he made the sacrifice.

Find me one other superstar who volunteers to accept $11 million less for the sake of his organization. Stern, who was in attendance Tuesday night, should have given Duncan a big bear hug and thanked him for giving the league some positive publicity.

But compared to the burn the NBA sustained during the summer, the league must feel pretty comfortable now that the games have begun. When the biggest issue in the news is whether Bryant will be traded, things are balmy for the NBA.

Sure, there will be Donaghy references throughout the season whenever fans (or Mark Cuban) are upset with a ref's calls, but Stern n' Company undouubtedly are prepared.

As long as the basketball is as entertaining as it was on Opening Night, Stern can smile — or at least sit and relax for a minute.

The NBA's product remains pretty enticing.


J-bo said...

Thank goodness for the Spurs, one of the only teams able to relieve my current cynicism towards the NBA. I agree with you that the Lakers should keep Kobe, but if Kobe simply doesn't want to be there anymore I wonder how hard he would continue to play.

Jake Lloyd said...

Kobe always plays hard. Doesn't matter how unhappy he is, his competitiveness always kicks in.

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