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Ball Don't Lie

The NBA, A-through-Z: Greed, and sleeved jerseys

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Victor Oladipo puts on a brave face (Getty Images)

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with greed, and sleeved NBA jerseys.

I do not play nearly the same amount of basketball as I did 10 or 15 years ago, and there is very little at stake when I go down to either shoot around or take on a stranger or a friend to 21 (win by two). And yet, despite me not having much to show off in my personal gun show, I usually wear a sleeveless t-shirt, a jersey, or a sleeved v-neck t-shirt that sees me constantly tugging at those sleeves, attempting to pull the damn things up.

Why? Because playing basketball with sleeves on, apologies to the children in the audience, sucks. Or, at the very least, playing basketball in anything more than a jersey or shirt without sleeves is a hard habit to for me to break. Over a quarter of a century of playing the game has driven home some habits, even if my pasty upper body does tend to frighten from a quarter-mile away.

I’m easily annoyed, clearly, but I also don’t matter a lick to the sport of pro basketball. Actual pro basketball players, though, matter quite a bit. You kind of want these guys to feel comfortable, as they work for millions of dollars while competing in a sport that is often decided by a matter of inches. And several NBA players have gone on record in dismissing the sleeved uniforms that the league debuted last year in Golden State, pushed forward during the 2013 NBA Summer League, and has designs on using for a handful of teams in 2013-14.

Why? To sell a few more jerseys that are more or less universally loathed?

I realize that this is shooting fish in a barrel. I understand that complaining about transparent corporate greed, some two years after the NBA put thousands out of work in order to commence a lockout that could have been avoided by sound financial planning in the years leading up to it, is an easy dig. Big, dumb NBA, always out for a few more bucks at the cost of a game that we still think is pure and whole. You can roll your eyes, whenever I get haughty.

It’s not necessary, though, is it? Just because NBA teams sell foam fingers, it hardly means that the point guard should have to call out a play while wearing one. And just because the New York Knicks sell green jerseys, it doesn’t mean they should have to alternate in and out of them every third game. And advertisements on jerseys, though aesthetically unappealing and not something I’d enjoy paying for and giving my kid as a Christmas gift, aren’t comparable. At least those patches don’t actually get in the way of a player’s muscle memory.

Sleeves do. They actually get in the way. It feels different. It’s hard to describe this switch in terms that come much more basic than this.

There are all sorts of variables – injury, travel, attitude, opponent shifts – that go into turning the NBA game from an on-paper product into something that lives and breathes and sometimes confounds and surprises. With that in place, unlike baseball or football, the template is just about evened every time out. Why alter this, if only for a few games from a few different teams? Why put a novelty where familiarity once was? Why tick off your players just for a few more quid.

Gotta stock more shelves, I reckon. I suppose we could respond with our checkbooks, and decline to buy these things, but by the time the returns come in the players will have already worn these things. A little too late.

(And before you bust out the tiny violin, again, and criticize these guys for kvetching about something as silly as sleeves … wait until your team’s designated shooter has to wear something he’s not used to, lining up to hit a game deciding shot from 25 feet away. You’ll understand then.)

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