In the early 90s, as I tuned in to the North American television market also for the first time, the NBA was an efficiently marketed product. The league's administration entered in a partnership with NBC for television broadcasting rights, proving an excellent venture to boost overall popularity of the league in the US and abroad. This help to satisfy my curiosity about this game as we had NBC on channel 9 through our basic cable package provided by MacLean's. However, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's performances during the Bulls games deserve much credit. They not only held that orange ball in their hands, but the power to transform many impartial viewers into avid regular viewers. It did not take long for the Windy City to become the host of the world's most beloved team. NBC further hosted my favourite program at the time on Saturday mornings, known to many in my generation, called NBA Inside Stuff. It was hosted by Ahmad Rashad. This quality show featured some behind the scenes activities in the lives of NBA players, fitness, fundamentals of the game and a brief recap and analysis of the previous week of games throughout the league. I especially found entertaining how Ahmad dubbed each and every guest on the show "My Main Man." I suppose he was trying to appeal to my generation's lingo but the core concept of the show was ideal for a new fan such as myself. I rapidly familiarized with the main teams, players, issues and music and felt connected to the human side of the players versus the celebrity aspect.
|Celtics vs. Lakers: an NBA everlasting rivalry|
On October 1992, I watched my first NBA game from the comfort of our television as the regular season 1992-1993 unfolded in our family room. I cannot recall for the life of me who was playing that monumental first game in my early life, but Brian and I were hooked from the very beginning. The comparison between the beautiful game (soccer) and basketball was night and day. Many of the more learned NBA lifetime fans can agree that, although basketball is a team sport, it is a sport where stars make a difference. This was definitely the case with Erving "Magic" Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics and perhaps most notably Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. I am by no means discrediting the talent of the rest of the players on the rosters. Even the most underplayed benchwarmer could probably run circles around me and 11 of my most athletic friends. Football (soccer again) is a team sport. If you have the smallest hole in the pitch, the other team will exploited it, leading to your unavoidable demise. These special basketball stars were leaders of their generation, motivating their teammates to perform to the next level. The spectators meanwhile were blown away by the acrobatics, the fundamentals, and of course, to use Sir Charles Barkley's vocabulary, dunks with awesome power.
Among the most attractive features of the NBA in the 92-93 season were the epic rivalries. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers no longer were subject to extensive sports coverage as they succumbed into one of the dark ages in the annals of franchise history. The Magic hexed, leaving Hollywood far from the spotlight and Bird migrating out of Beantown toward comfortable retirement. Regardless, watching the Bulls face the Knicks in Madison Square Garden or Chicago Stadium (before moving to the United Center in 1994) always provided games packed with intensity. The crowd and players fed off each other's passionate energy and even those of us at home felt our heart rates rise. Many may remember this specific rivalry involved a very ugly side during in infamous Bulls-Knicks 1994 Playoff Brawl. In the 1990s, the game had also been taken over in a sense by centers. Everyone remembers Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, the Nigerian tower with the moves of a guard, Dikembe Mutombo and his unmatched ability at blocking shots, David Robinson or "The Admiral" of the Spurs and Patrick Ewing's Knicks. This season also introduced for the Orlando Magic, at center, 7' 2", weighing 300 lbs, Shaquille O'Neal. He was a real golem, taking Disneyworld to new competitive heights they had never dreamed of. Those days, if a team did not have a strong center, they were going to have to work much harder offensively and defensively to get a result. This was particularly true of Barkley's Phoenix Suns and their lack of height, let alone centers.
As a Canadian fan, it was hard to pledge an eternal allegiance to a specific team. There were no Canadian teams competing at this level so ultimately, we had to choose among a variety of American ones. I was always that kind of person who cheered for a team based on their talent, sportsmanship, heart and teamwork rather than favouring the winning team just because of that. I admired the Bulls' achievements, but I did not want to be another fan just based on the fact that they were a winning team. Perhaps tomorrow, things would change. The team that encompassed my most important values were the Seattle Supersonics. It is funny how for some reason, Seattle always seems to have some part to play in my life. Shortly after the end of the first NBA season, I followed the Mariners and I began to enjoy Nirvana and Pearl Jam, both pioneers of the Seattle Grunge musical revolution. The Sonics were marshaled by their point guard Gary Payton, The Glove, with amazing court vision, paired up with a high flying Shawn Kemp, The Reignman. Both of them were not only capable of putting on a show, butwere able to light up the scoreboard with their unique flair, sometimes referred to as the Sonic Boom. Their chemistry on the court was unreal and their plays often reflected this, making the cut for many of the weekly highlight reels. They always seemed to know where the other one was. Many of their electrifying performances were a real treat, sometimes appearing like moves coming straight out of a video game or requiring several hours of rehearsal.
|Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp strategizing|
This sport turned into a religion. Following closely a quality North American league, brought out within me a special respect and admiration for African-Americans. These formidable modern age gladiators changed the game forever as individuals and collectively. In my opinion, the game was forever changed for the better. I celebrated their displays of respect for their opponents on the court during high stakes games and even off the court. I particularly enjoyed watching a replay of Magic Johnson's retirement where Larry Bird roasted his long time Western Conference nemesis, joking around yet always remaining a gentleman. I suppose this is a behaviour athletes naturally develop towards each other in such a competitive environment after years of head to head battles. The further I watched special coverage on television, I came to find documentaries about legends who graced the game and making the league more attractive to the outside world. Furthermore, who could ever dispute the talent in the first ever US Dream Team playing in the Barcelona 92 games. The All-Stars came together on the hardwood showing the world why American basketball was light years ahead of the rest of the world. I was expecting, at some point, one of the more high-flying members of the team to dunk from half-court. It was not humanly possible, but it was hard to believe the Dream Team could not pull off something like that.