I have been an avid basketball and NBA fan since before I could remember, and I have supported the league and it's players during the good days and the bad ones. You could call me a diehard fan, you could call me a hardcore fan, you could call me a serious fan or you could call me any other word that has a meaning similar to "great fan of the league".
I have loved, respected, hated, worshipped and resented many players throughout the Association. I have loved, respected, hated, worshipped and resented many teams throughout the Association. I have loved, respected, hated, worshipped and resented coaches, executives and GMs throughout the Association. And I have loved doing so no matter what I feel at the time.
The NBA has been a place where I can take out my anger on the opposition, or show the loyalty that I have to my teams by dressing in their colors. Every day I wake up and look at the box scores in the paper, hoping that the teams that I support were victorious if I had not the chance to watch the game on TV.
The NBA has been like a small microcosm of life to me; with trades, competition and personalities affecting every situation within it. Players manipulate others, players push others around, players play dirty. Elements of the real world is collected into this small basketball league, where legends compete as feverishly or as lazily as they want to win the game that is as legendary as their star-studded reputations.
And for the joy in competition and loyalty that I have gotten out of the National Basketball Association, I would like to say thank you.
Thank you for the original New York Knickerbockers, who, in 1946, were recognized as the first NBA team ever. Thank you for the 50's dynasty that was the Boston Celtics, a team led by a dominant center and a distinguished point guard, later dubbed "The Houdini of the Hardwood".
Thank you for the ABA v.s. NBA feud of the 1970's, where an exciting, three-point-shooting, above-the-rim-playing basketball league with a red-white-and-blue basketball tried to keep up with the strategic and Boston-dominated NBA. Thank you for the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 1980's, where two of the most talent-filled teams in the distinguished league seemed to meet annually in the Finals.
Thank you for the Bulls', Lakers' and Spurs' domination of the late 90's and early 2000's; with one of those three teams winning seemingly every year. And, of course, whichever team happened to have Shaquille O'Neal at the time, along with the aforementioned clubs.
Thank you for Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. While these two men ruled their domain which was the basketball court for what seemed like eternity, they stayed humble and won quietly with humility. Thank you for Red Auerbach, the championship-winning, color-barrier breaking legendary coach will forever be in our hearts. Rest in peace, Arnold.
Thank you for George Mikan, the first real big man to be seen in the league, manning the Minneapolis Lakers' frontcourt wearing number 99 for many fruitful years. Thank you for the American Basketball Association, for I believe that a league as quirky and interesting as the ABA would not have existed if not for the truly professional basketball that was the NBA.
Thank you for Julius Erving, a pioneer in his above-the-rim play, the first exciting and crowd-pleasing high flyer. Thank you for Rick Barry and his art of the free throw, for George Gervin and his finger roll, for Pistol Pete Maravich and his jump shot, for Wes Unseld and Artis Gilmore for their 'fro's and for Walt Frazier and his style.
Thank you for the wisest man in the sport, John Wooden. The legendary teacher of the beautiful game has ten National Championships to his credit, Wooden's role undoubtedly a large one in every single one of these college wonders. Here's hoping that Mr. Wooden stays in good health and continues to live his great life to his heart's content.
Thank you for Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a player who was never short on excitement in his 5-championship career. A (for lack of a better term) giant for his position of point guard at 6'9", Magic had the skill to play every position on the basketball court, as he showed in his rookie season of 1980 in the NBA Finals: When teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was down with an injury, Magic stood in his place at center--and throughout the match, he played every position--posting 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. I hope, among many, that Johnson's HIV experience will not further. The leader of the fabled "Showtime" Lakers never failed to astonish with flashy passes, seemingly impossible jumpers or moves quicker than the time it takes you to say "layup".
Thank you for Larry Joe Bird, the greatest shooter to ever put on an NBA uniform. Bird could shoot the lights out from every place on the court, living proof that if you practiced enough, you'd be able to play better than every other man on the floor, even if you couldn't jump higher than them, run faster than them or move quicker than them. As his three championships say for themselves, his Celtics, led by him along with mainstays Robert Parish and Kevin Mchale, were a constant force during the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 80's. But his counterpart (Magic) would be the last to rip Bird, saying, "Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird."
Thank you for Michael Jordan, the greatest player of all time in the National Basketball Association. The hardest working player in the league during the late 80's and 90's dominated early, winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1985 for the struggling Chicago Bulls. His Airness was named aptly; the smooth slam dunks that were delivered in-game and in dunk contests were constant acts of wonder to fans (although 'Nique should've won in '88). The six championships explain Money's legacy, with such a great player as Scottie Pippen to act as sidekick, 'chips rained in like his turnaround J. Committed to sweat-breaking play on both ends of the court, Michael is the greatest ever and there will never be another.
Thank you for Charles Barkley, a man that's legacy will go beyond his interesting play. As a bulky power forward listed at 6'6" but really more like 6'4", Sir Charles could jump out of the gym, shoot the lights out or outsmart his opponent to get into good position for a rebound, becoming one of the best players to not win a championship in the competitive Association. Charles said what was on his mind and didn't care what you thought, leaving you outraged, happy, hysterical or head-shaking when you heard the words come from his mouth. His mouth got him in trouble, but whether rushing on his way to an "acquaintance's" house or running for Governor of Alabama, Barkley's intentions were known throughout America.
Thank you for the John Stockton-Karl Malone tandem of the 90's for the so-close-yet-so-far Utah Jazz who were never short of dazzling. They were living proof that old fashioned pick-and-rolls, give-and-go's and other plays of the sort are as effective as ever, and if pulled off correctly, they are unbeatable. Both were close to the best at their respective positions, and remain near the top of this mark today. They lost to an Eastern Conference power in the NBA Finals each year that they were set to dominate, leaving a "Close, but no cigar," label on the legends' careers.
Thank you for the dominating set of 90's big men, headlined by current or future Hall Of Famers David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and the start of Shaquille O'Neal. These centers dominated games and played the game at their own pace, the rest of the league being forced to go with what they chose. These men blocked bucketloads of wannabe layups, jumpers and floaters, with many smaller and bigger players alike afraid to challenge them in post play.
Thank you for Kobe Bryant, a man who truly has left and is leaving a large mark on the NBA. Number 8-turned-24 does not fail to amaze every time he steps onto a basketball court. The man that they call The Black Mamba has won three championships as yet, all of them while he has taken (willingly or unwillingly) a role of second option in the early 2000's Lakers playing alongside the legendary Shaquille O'Neal; and he has not won a championship without this team-aiding big man on his side. Hate him, as many have, or love him, as perhaps more have, but Kobe Bryant will go down in NBA history as one of the best shooting guards to play the game of basketball.
Thank you for LeBron James, a young wonder who is quickly taking over the league as the most skilled, athletic and valuable player in the Association. LeBron plays with such an old-school passion and fire that feeds off on others; with the ability to take over basketball games and make his teammates better. James has broken countless franchise records playing for the Cavaliers, and there are more to come--this young court wizard is only 24 years old. I look forward to many championships, MVP awards and highlight reels from this young man, and for that I am thankful.
Thank you for Chris Paul and Deron Williams, two young point guards who will undoubtedly go down in history as the best court leaders of their generation. Who is better will always be in question before championships are won, but these two young warriors will never stop their great play.
Thank you for Kevin Garnett, a madman in the sense that everything he does is competitive, and he WILL win. Garnett brings an air to the game that there's somebody who needs a victory on that court, and he will show it--by way of scream, chest-thump or taunt. KG is one of the most prolific trash-talkers since Gary Payton, and it becomes hell for the offense and joy for the defense. He brings all he's got to every game, and this insane enforcer is one of the most fun to watch because of it.
Thank you for Allen Iverson, a man who, whether you like it or not, brought the street basketball culture to the before slightly sheltered Association. This man, a sub-6 footer, had and has the ability to cut through the lane like a hot knife through butter, scoring seemingly at will against every top-tier defender in the league. Iverson brought freezers full of ice to the press conferences, but his game overshadowed the frowned-upon culture that was imminent in this popular establishment.
Thank you for players like Anthony Johnson and Mike James, men who got traded frequently and filled their roles on their respective clubs. Thank you for the big name superstars and their moments; when Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony get the ball down the stretch in the fourth quarter in a close game. Thank you for players like Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson, reject-machines that seem to always be in the way of an open shot.
Thank you for players like Josh Smith and Gerald Wallace, guys who have so much talent they don't know how to control and contain it. Thank you for players like Nate Robinson and Spudd Webb, guys at least five inches shorter than the next who will dunk on (or block) any 7 foot plus big men. Thank you for players like Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace, men who run their mouths without care, leaving us puzzled, laughing or crying. Often all at the same time.
Thank you for players like Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, three point assassins who you can't figure out how to stop once they get hot. Thank you for players like Rodney Stuckey and Leon Powe, scrappy men who give it their all every time they step on the court, earning minutes and respect. Thank you for players like Kwame Brown and Sam Bowie, hyped-up guys who are drafted high and don't live up to the hype. And, especially, thank you for the ones who do.
Thank you for all of the big games and playoffs that you have brought us and will bring us, which bring to the table excitement, suspense and other things similar to it. Thank you for hyped matchups; Kobe v.s. LeBron and Celtics v.s. Lakers will always be games to mark our calendars with. Thank you for all of the teams in the NBA; especially the Baltimore Bullets and Seattle SuperSonics.
Thank you for the players like Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, men who will never fail to make you laugh. Thank you for the players who graduated college, and thank you for the players that came straight out of high school. Thank you for the thoughtful, unthoughtful and funny players alike in the league. Thank you for the young phenoms, washed-up veterans and in-prime all-stars. Thank you for being the National Basketball Association as I've known it.