Monday, July 13, 2015

Is Basketball The Perfect Sport?

Hot Fun In The Summer Time
This past week, like many Sixer fans, I’ve been paying too much attention to NBA Summer League basketball. (Why? Because it is the first look that we got at Jahlil Okafor, and to a lesser extent, Jordan McRae and some other possibilities for the laundry. Besides, watching baseball is, well, watching baseball.)

The ball isn’t all that great, because there is no great consequence to winning and losing, and like most games of this ilk, guys are playing more for their own self-interest than trying to make the team win… but that is not the striking thing to me about the exercise.

Rather, this. NBA Summer League games are a couple of weeks, and up to a dozen games, assuming your team plays in multiple leagues. In early October, in which might be the least covered event in a major American league, teams will play pre-season games that will not do much other than determine the deep reserves that should never play. Then, starting around Halloween, 82 regular season games, followed by anywhere from 4 to 28 playoff games if your laundry qualifies. It’s really not outside of the realm of possibility that your favorite player might lace them up 100 times a year, especially if you have a deep playoff run, or a young guy that needs the summer league work to build his way up. And sure, plenty of players take games off now, but most do not.

Compare this to other sports. Baseball players are not jumping into winter leagues unless they have commitments in the Caribbean, or are young position players trying out a rookie league. No pitcher of note is going to add innings of wear and tear. Even though it is a sport that is kind of like golf, in that the swing has to be perfect, and constantly perfected, extra time is not seen as a positive.

Football? As if. No one is doubling up in Arena Ball or the CFL if they can possibly help it. It is a sport where your career can end at any moment, so volunteering for extra snaps is just crazy talk.

Soccer? Well, perhaps it is not that debilitating, but you always hear about how fatigue wipes out teams in the World Cup who play more than twice a week. And with everyone involved running 7 to 10 miles a game, outside of the goalies, it is more than understandable. Hockey has a nearly identical season outside of the summer league exception to hoop, but it’s also got significantly more players (no one, outside of the goalies, is likely to log as much as half of a team’s ice minutes, while top hoopers will be 80% and up)… and more injuries than hoop.

Back to hoop. Considering the number of games here, size of the athletes, and tempo, there is an argument to be made that the number of injuries (not to mention post-career problems) is dramatically better than any other sport. 100 times a year, up to 80% of game time, and you are getting your best guys on the floor, without anyone counting pitches, or feeling like you are courting disaster to let your guy stay in during a blowout…

Well, on some level, it is the best sport for the athlete, and maybe also the fan, in that no one feels dirty for watching it. Which is also why the job of rebuilding an NBA team might be the hardest in American sports…

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