The NBA preseason started this past weekend, and excuse me if I don’t get excited. I’m a bit curious maybe even intrigued, but certainly nowhere near excited, overjoyed, or thrilled. Preseason for any sport is like playing the demo of a video game. It’s great for a few moments, but the novelty quickly wears off. In preseason, if the Knicks go undefeated or if they don’t win a single preseason game my attention might be piqued. But anywhere in the middle, and I don’t think it matters what their record is.
Preseason games just don’t matter. When the score doesn’t count, coaches do strange things like play all of their players. Sarcasm aside, I can’t get interested in a game where Dikembe Mutombo is out there for 22 minutes against a Shaq-infused Heat while a healthy Yao Ming sits on the bench. That’s not the Jeff Van Gundy I’m used to seeing, the ex-Knick coach who wouldn’t give minutes to Camby or Sprewell when they first arrived.
There are only two reasons why I’d have any interest in the NBA preseason. First is injuries. Obviously, preseason injuries can carry over to the season, but that’s not what I’m concerned with. More important is how players have recovered from last year’s injuries. If it seems it’s been more than a year since I watched a healthy Allan Houston, it’s because it has been that long. As a Knick fan, I’m interested if H20 has that lift off when he shoots his jumper, and whether he can move laterally on defense. If Houston looks like the limited player we saw last year, then it might be time to invest in a Jamal Crawford jersey.
The second reason I’d pay attention to the preseason is to watch the young guys. I’m not saying that preseason success or failure is the ultimate test of a player’s worth. However it can’t hurt if a player has a good preseason (or a great summer league), and it isn’t a great sign if a player struggles that should be having some modicum of success against second tier players. In the plus column, a good preseason for a young player might earn him the coach’s favor & some extra minutes when the games are for real.
Other than a glancing interest, I’m not going expend time on the NBA preseason when I have what is looking like a great Fall for New York sports. The Jets & Giants are a combined 8-1. Meanwhile the Yankees and Red Sox face off in what could be the biggest professional sports rivalry of the new era. The Celtics/Lakers are a decade old. The Bulls/Knicks are happily trading players. The Cowboys, Pigskins, Packers, Raiders, and Niners are all mediocre. The Dodgers and Yankees no longer segregate a city. The odds that the Cubs and White Sox make the playoffs in the same year is minimal.
The Mets were awful (again) this year, but Met fans can rally around the Red Sox in their battle against the “Evil Empire”*. It feels like there has been a sympathetic shoulder extended from Queens to Boston since 1986. Met fans would have been happy beating any AL team to win a World Series: Detroit, California, or Toronto would have been as good as any non New York team. It just happened that their second miracle run coincided with Boston’s then 68 years of psychological torture (now at 85 years). Like accidentally running over your neighbor’s dog, the Mets inherited part of the guilt that is passed along in Boston from generation to generation.
Want to spot the Met fans during playoff time? Go to any NY bar during one of the AL Series games, and keep track of the patrons. Cross anyone off your list that cheers when the Yankees or Red Sox score. Anyone left will have a secret smile when the Sox are doing well. Met fans in New York don’t dare cheer openly against the Yankees in October, for fear of reprisal.
* POST NOTES: If anything should bear the adjective “evil”, it should be Ben Affleck’s 2003 movies: Paycheck, Daredevil, and Gigli. Who in the movie industry signed off on Elektra, the Daredevil spin off? It had to be Matt Murdock, because it couldn’t be anyone who actually saw Daredevil. While I’m on a movie kick, can someone tell George Lucas that when you redo old movies, you’re suppose to take out the bad scenes, not insert them!