And forget the next MJ or Kobe, they’ll settle for the next Ronny Turiaf or Smush Parker, too. Colleges make contact with kids in sixth grade, handing out scholarship offers before they’ve set foot in high school. Once they’re in the system, everything’s different: they have people, and those people have people. An entourage, equal parts protection and parasitism, begins to take shape. Their YMCA or AAU team travels to play the other next big thing, with the occasional appearance on ESPN2. Plenty has been said, and understandably so, about the effect this has on these kids, but what about the spectators of the basketball world? The rest of us?
As anxiety-riddled as watching a playoff game of our favorite team can be, it pales in comparison to watching even the sloppiest performances by the people we know and care about. Our emotional investment in our daughter’s or brother’s pee wee game can absolutely wreck us.
It’s true to a lesser extent in college basketball, as well. For all the debate comparing the college to the pro game, it isn’t the college style of play that draws most of us in. It’s the passion and the sense of connectedness the fans feel toward their team. That added energy that pulsates through the arena and grabs at our heart strings with each shining moment and narrow defeat flows from a heightened sense of intimacy. For the students, those players may have sat in the same class as them. For alumni, they walked the same halls. They aren’t untouchables, and, in that way, they occupy the same world and the game feels a little more real.
Anyone who has ever picked up a basketball has dreamed of greatness, of a buzzer-beating jumper, a moment frozen in time on the sport’s grandest stages. Very few of us attain it, some of us fall short, and most of us give up before we even start. But when we cross paths with those who are destined for something more – in a meaningful way, before they are a brand being marketed to or protected from us – we can’t help but chart their progress and take pride in their success. Certainly it provides a talking point for fellow basketball fans, but it also humanizes the game. It’s no longer an otherworldly, aerial athletic display, but the end of a more complete basketball spectrum, somewhere along which lies our rec league win streak and our memories of middle school greatness.
And so, when Anthony Davis hears David Stern call his name this June, he’ll have at least a few fans quietly cheering him on wherever he goes. Not just because they respect his game, but because, in some small way, they are a part of it.
How good will Davis be in the NBA next year?
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