September 17, 2010
For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league. Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee. A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that. Hopefully you are, as well.
"D" is for "defense."
I know there are people out there that feel the same way as me. Logic demands it. There are too many good defenders, great defenders, to assume otherwise. There are too many people who have run too many teams -- from the backcourt to the sidelines to the front office -- to assume otherwise.
I know you sickies are into defense.
I know that the defensive end is something you might reflect upon, as a go-to memory, ahead of everything else. Not hitting that leaning banker to top some high school team, or over the top lob to your mate to beat the best triptych you've ever seen in a game to 11/win by two. Naw, for a lot of you, the memories might come from the other end. Defense. Bending those knees, using that wingspan, moving those feet. It's so much fun.
And as much as we've appreciated the post-SSOL era -- something that hasn't really resulted in 1980s-styled possession counts, but a much-needed break from the tepid post-Jordan era -- defense still runs this league. It's as important as offense, don't ever let ‘em tell you that defense alone wins championships, but the best teams always seem to be better on the defensive end than they are on offense. For whatever reason. June rolls around, and things aren't as fluid offensively. You saw Game 7, last summer. It wasn't pretty.
Defense can be pretty, though. Defense should be pretty. It should be Bill Russell, blocking a right-handed shot with his left hand. It should be Scottie Pippen, with his arms out. It should be Gary Payton, bumping you as you try to bump him off while attempting to work a screen and roll. It should be Dwight Howard(notes), who just pinned that with two hands.
And if you've gotten this far into this column, you're into this. You know you are. My favorite memories as a player have nothing to do with matching uniforms and a coach on the sidelines. It has to do with a playground court that I still drive by every other day, slapping that left-to-right dribble backwards with my left hand. It's not much, but it's what I have. Kelly could never shoot, but at his best ... damn, he could check you.
If you could shoot, and if you couldn't check anyone? If you were the one we tried to chase around? Then you appreciate, and you know. You can either fear, or acknowledge what you don't understand. And while you might pass on admitting as such, there is someone -- however unsuccessful -- that tried to check you, at some point. And you respected the hell out of them. You know you did.
It's a part of the game that you can play without a ball to toss around. You can just move your feet, side to side. Or reach. Or watch someone's stomach, because that's the tell, instead of their eyes. Because the eyes usually lie.
It's defense, and it's so much fun. You know you're into it.