Ya know, tonight’s going to be a good night. I can just feel it. It is some variety of holiday, after all, which means there will be lots of cute little kids walking around, all dudded up in their Kevin Federline or Kirstie Alley costumes. And of course, I won’t answer the door for a single one of them because I will choose to spend my time doing much more valuable things, such as watching five straight hours of actual, regular-season NBA games on this, the most hallowed and excellent First Night of the 2006-07 NBA Regular Season.
Lordie, let me tell you, it has been a looooong offseason, as every NBA offseason is a long one. For the most part, the Sports Gods That Be have created a really ingenious annual sports schedule. As we’ve already discussed, the NBA regular season is finally starting tonight. And after the NFL season ends in February, the larger sportsnation focuses entirely on the NBA—which is of course glorious and amazing, and how it should be year-round. But then in the spring, MLB starts back up again, which is all fine and good, and that carries us through the end of the NBA season and through the rest of the summer until the fall, when the NFL season resumes again. Pretty seamless, eh? Well, with the Minnesota Twins’ unexpected and amazingly tragic flameout in the first round of the playoffs, this has officially been the longest and most difficult sports month of the year. I mean, ESPN Classic just doesn’t play enough NBA games, and when they do, they seem to CONSISTENLY SKIP OVER THE TIMBERWOLVES’ 2004 PLAYOFFS RUN. Sorry, as you can see, it’s been a very long October.
With that in mind, there are going to be a couple of things that set this NBA season apart from any other. The NBA usually enacts some sort of small rule changes every season, but this year there’s really some provocative stuff going down. (I should clarify: these alterations allegedly aren’t so much a result of new “rules” as they are of new “emphases” of rules already in existence.) Nevertheless, these new emphases (heheh, feces) could have as much impact on the visual product of the game as last year’s drastic rule changes, the Age Cap and the Dress Code:
1. Zero tolerance on post-whistle foul complaining. Does this picture look familiar to you?
How about this one?
Or this one?
Well you’ll never see anything like them again. In a move that some peoples’ favorite NBA star has compared to a Fidel Castro, dictactor-like move, the NBA is no longer allowing excessive copmlaining from players after being whistled for a foul. David Stern justifies such an emphasis because he thinks this phenomenon is slowing the game down “by engaging in an enterprise that is not productive.” Thankfully, mercifully he adds: “at least in the perception of the fans.” FYI, Mr. Commissioner, googling for those Rasheed Wallace pics is the most productive thing I’ve done all day. I appreciate the altruistic notion, but such an emphasis in the rules seems to directly contrast the inherent appeal of the NBA game.
In case you haven’t noticed, athletes in other sports are often physically obscured by their equipment and elaborate padding or helmets. The NBA on the other hand leaves less to the imagination than any other sport. It is no coincidence then that fans can get closer to players at an NBA game than in any other pro sport. I’ve always thought the NBA’s ability to showcase a player’s individual personality while on the court was a distinct strength, and if putting up with some extra bitching and moaning is the price, so be it. Stern has targeted post-whistle complaining for years, coming up with new and unique ways to punish players for such complaining, which in the past included an elaborate points system and the threat of game suspensions. Now, if a player complains excessively after being whistled, they will be quickly hit with a technical or even a fine. The new ‘Sheed Wallace Rule (name given by Rasheed Wallace) will undoubtedly have a large impact on the immediate visual product of the NBA game.
2. Traveling crackdown. In the NBA, there’s this rule, maybe you’ve heard of it, called traveling. It stipulates that a “player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may use a two-count rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.” In the past, the official enforcement of traveling has been rather lax because allowing a player like, oh say, LeBron James an extra step or two can result in some pretty amazing shit. This new emphasis doesn’t necessarily stand opposed to the inherent strengths of the game of basketball like the ‘Sheed Wallace Rule, but if actually enforced it does oppose some tried and true concepts that the NBA has been following for years. Essentially it goes like this: some NBA players are very athletic, and capable of doing very athletic things. When NBA players do athletic things, people want to see it. To see these acts of athleticism, people have to watch the NBA. When people watch the NBA, the popularity of the NBA grows. My personal prediction: even if NBA refs actually start cracking down on traveling this season, in five years or so, once David Stern has deemed that the NBA has watered down its thug image enough, we’ll pretend like we never even knew of such an emphasis. The people just love them some dunking too much.