NBA Fan Voice: For The Love of the Game

Our good friend Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog over at SBNation has done an amazing job organizing the NBA blogs for his yearly NBA Blog Preview. With the lockout now claiming the first two weeks of the regular season and more cancellations threatened, we have heard from the players and the commissioner. Fans have been largely quiet and the frustration among NBA diehards is growing as this drags out.

That is one of the reasons Clark helped organize NBA Fan Voice Day today. This day is designed to discover what it is the fans care about and what the fans want to say about the league and the teams and the sport they love. This is not necessarily a chance to vent frustration (although that certainly would be understandable). The hope is that we can show the NBA — the players and the league — how much the sport means to us. And hopefully the two sides will hear us and help get the sport we love back.

You can join the conversation by tweeting what you want said with the hashtag #NBAFanVoice. Send me what you want to say @omagicdaily and I will retweet as many as I can. And hopefully soon the lockout will end and we can get back to playing.

Here is what I have to say for #NBAFanVoice:

Don’t believe Magic is in my blood? This is one-year-old me and Otis Smith at the team’s first practice.I suck at basketball.

There is no way to get around it. Maybe I have always sucked at basketball. There might have been a time when I was four when watching those early Magic teams rubbed off on me in a way that it had not for other kids. But I probably was not very good then.

I am slow. My jumper has a weird hitch in it. My elbow flies out. I put side spin on the ball when I shoot. I grew up the tallest kid in my class, so I don’t know how to dribble. I stopped growing at 6-foot-1 so I am too short to be a center. Not that I have much muscle mass to push people around in the post. And, oh yeah, because of that I never really learned to dribble or shoot beyond the 3-point line (I hope that explains why I favor centers).

There is literally no reason why I should like this game. I can’t play it. Not even at a remotely good level. In pickup games, I find my value is in setting screens for others — and typically my newfound teammates won’t use them.

But this game is a part of me. And when I go a long time without playing, I cannot shake the basketball jones. I have to get back on the floor. I have to get out there and play. Even if it is just for that one moment of striking clarity when my jumper feels perfect and every shot falls through with ease. Or that one moment when the lane opens up and I can quickly (with what speed I have) get to the basket for a lefty layup.

It means meticulously stretching and taping (or wrapping) my ankle before each session I play, remnants of a foot I broke going up for an offensive rebound. It means knowing I am going to roll my ankle and potentially be in pain just about every time I step on the floor.

What reason could I possibly have for playing this silly game? Why would I devote so much of my time following the Magic, a team that frankly always seems to disappoint save for maybe five seasons in franchise history?

Basketball is just a part of who I am. Simply put: I love this game.

I grew up watching the mid-1990s Magic. But it was the morning basketball game against my dad on my Little Tykes mini basketball hoop before the school bus came that helped me fall in love. It was the weekend games with my dad to 100 where I would pretend to be Penny Hardaway or Nick Anderson or Dennis Scott and just pop shots from the corner of our driveway — we counted it as a three, but it was probably no more than free throw line extended.

It was seeing the passion from my grandfather as I sat next to him at Magic games, sometimes covering my ears when the boos got too loud and I did not understand fully the nuances of the game.

I learned to love basketball long before I learned to play the game.

 

The Magic were a big part of my life. My family took to them the moment they moved in to town. I grew up with the Magic and loved every minute of being a Magic fan. The Magic were a big part of my identity as an Orlando resident. My family were pretty much all multi-generation Orlando residents and this was a big thing for the city.

 

That is me with Nick Anderson 21 years later at the final regular season home game at Amway Arena. Love for the magic and basketball is still very much alive.When I moved out of Orlando for college, the Magic were as much a part of my Orlando identity as anything else. We weren’t the home of Disney and Universal and theme parks. Orlando was the home of the Magic. And it did not matter what the record was, the Magic were Orlando’s team.

I also learned how much I loved the game and loved to write from watching the Magic. I had a Shaquille O’Neal notebook full of the running tallies for random games from 1995 and 1996. Every time we went to a game, I would beg my mom to buy me a Hoop Magazine so I could keep score in it like you would at a baseball game.

In first grade, I learned American geography from this magical map called the NBA Team Tracker. I would follow the Magic — and the other teams — around the nation by removing the magnet from Orlando and placing it wherever the team was for their next game. It was amazing the doors that basketball opened, if you would just look.

Yes, I still played. I rode the bench for two years on my high school’s junior varsity team. I spent a few years keeping stats for my high school’s varsity team too. And I probably learned more about how to play the game in those three years behind the scenes with a high school team than I ever did watching before that.

And from there, I understood more of the nuances and strategy of the game. It made basketball even more enjoyable.

I am sure everyone has their stories of the moment they fell in love with this game. I really cannot find mine. I have always loved this game. It has always been a part of me.

In 1998, I was still pretty young. I did not understand the finer points of basketball related income or collective bargaining agreements. All I knew was basketball was not going to happen. My Magic would not be playing. I was crushed then. I felt my life was over.

I could not help but feel that familiar sense of shock and loss when David Stern announced that the first two weeks of the season were wiped out. It was not the same elementary school feeling of complete loss. But it was there.

I feel robbed of the chance to see the sport and game I love played at its highest level. I will miss the chance to be in awe of Dwight Howard’s defensive prowess. I will miss the chance to be in awe of LeBron James’ unhuman ability to get to the basket and score. I will miss Kobe Bryant squeezing inches of space to shoot and score over a good defender’s outstretched hand. I will miss seeing Ray Allen’s perfect 3-point form and Rashard Lewis’ imperfect but effective form.

There is so much to miss.

I will be back though. The NBA knows that. I love the game too much. But there is so much to love that people do not realize. Potential lifelong fans who are four or five years old captivated by the magic of this game are out there.

To me, no one should be deprived from this opportunity to love this game. And that is very clearly what is at stake.

Business is business. I now understand what is happening to hold up this agreement. I respect both sides wanting to make a deal that will work for them. But nothing is bigger than the game.

The game must go on.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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