The Thunder and the Blazers have enjoyed a considerable level of buzz ever since Hurricanes Oden and Durant took the Pacific Northwest by storm in 2007. As Portland’s buzz level has crumbled under the weight of its knees, the post-Seattle Thunder’s buzz level has skyrocketed and may never be higher.  The key concept in this equation is optimism. Optimism, the ever-palatable substitute for championship rings.

As the first round of the playoffs approaches its thrilling apex, we are reminded that mid-to-late-April is when buzz teams are born. The Indiana Pacers are the latest feel-good (or at least feel-pretty-decent) team to exit the playoffs with their heads held high. After being bounced tonight by the Bulls in 5, we can see the positive side of a team that will never win an NBA Championship. We can all rest assured that this Granger-Collison-Hibbert nucleus will not contend for a title in its existence, but it will at least provide Pacers fans, and fans like me, with a hopeful alternative narrative to the Cold War that’s about to play out in the NBA for the next several seasons.

As the rest of the league focuses on the weighty task of winning an NBA title, stockpiling assets, and surviving the expectations that come with this territory, a handful of smaller-market buzz teams will fly under the radar, achieving a goal that they have full control over – being “buzzy.” As young and exciting players combine with low but hopeful expectations, teams like the Grizzlies, 76ers, Hornets, and Pacers (see: 7th and 8th seeds) have negotiated win-win scenarios with their fanbases. We win, you love us. We lose, you still love us – because our goal is bigger than accomplishment; it’s promise.

Attachment to promise over performance is a phenomenon unique to the NBA (to some extent, it plays a big part in the MLB as well, but comes as a result of an entirely different set of circumstances). The dynastic nature of the NBA leaves little for its bottom-feeders to subside on. As smaller-market teams are hamstrung by losses in free agency, risky contracts, and very top-heavy draft classes, championships are very hard to come by. As a result, it’s almost a necessity to create a very different kind of capital.

Sometimes, small-marketers will transcend this position, sacrificing buzziness to achieve a “higher” goal. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-2010), we were all witness to how that ended. The Thunder (2007-????) are the next best example of this. The question for me is: In the long run, how would Thunder fans feel if their team stayed where it is, at the pinnacle of promise, remaining forever young, retaining its underdog identity, and being universally liked by everyone outside of the state of Washington? (I’ve never asked, but do people in Seattle like the Thunder? Wait, do people in Vancouver still like the Grizzlies?)

I would wager that if Cleveland fans had to choose, they would go with the mid-to-late-’90s, where expectations matched results (both: low), rather than the relative failure of the mid-to-late ’00s. I suppose that the ecstasy of winning one NBA championship is enough for every team to chase it. But with the odds at 1 in 30, and those odds even lower for a small-market team, are these reasonable odds to chase? (And then when you consider that the Lakers’ and Celtics’ combined 33 championships account for more than half of the 64 NBA championships in history, then really, why do we even try?)

In a refreshingly light but insightful article for GQ, Carles from the blog Hipster Runoff, writes about the concept of buzz as relating to indie bands. He contributes the following paragraph:

I’d say that the Pacers, 76ers and Grizzlies are getting tons of buzz based on their 2011 playoff performances. The buzz team allows post-knowledgeable NBA fans to project visions of greatness for a team of unlikely players who we want to see succeed in the playoffs, not because of a direct emotional commitment to the team, but because buzzing the right team means that you “get” the NBA. You even get to buzz certain players: the ones who are new to the playoffs (Tyler Hansbrough, Marc Gasol, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner) or the “grizzled veterans who are respected but are ultimately failures who have been rebranded as having ‘adapted to new roles” (Shane Battier, Zach Randolph, Andre Iguodala). You can even talk yourself into Aaron Gray and Spencer Hawes for “having size.” Even though the Knicks flopped and are a mainstream mega-NBA brand, they also represent “the social buzz” element of buzz teams, which is a desire to “send good vibes” to a fallen franchise, or a market that has never experienced success. I can’t tell if I would want people from Oklahoma City to feel like champions, but maybe if Durant played in Portland, that would feel “pretty cool to root for.”

As we remember the 2010-2011 Pacers, may we salute them for leaving the playoffs with their heads held high, for quitting while they were ahead.

Fourteen teams left.


Post Basketball Dream Teams: The Politicians

After reading some extremely depressing articles about the downfall of former NBA players, I have been stuck thinking about the reintegration of basketball players into society. The transition from revered athlete to regular member of society can’t be easy on even the more well adjusted. I envision a variation of the final scene of Goodfellas, only with Raymond Felton instead of Ray Liotta.

Working in politics, I have seen strong parallels between politicians and athletes. The attention is there, the egos, the combat. Politics is a competitive sport that has been dressed up, complicated, and played for incredibly high stakes.

Basketball is the sport of the moment in DC following the election of our first President with an established jump shot. While never playing organized ball above the high school level, Obama is an aggressive pick up player who has somehow kept his game intact through law school and his political career. Obama’s love of the game has brought basketball to a prominence in the capital that has not been seen since the days of Wes Unseld. While he has certainly brought the most attention to the synthesis of hardwood and marble, Obama is only the most recent in a long line of ballers turned politicians. In a possibly on-going series on life after basketball, I present to you the all politician dream team:

PG – Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento.

Career averages:17.9 points, 9.1 assists, and 1.5 steals per game
The general this team needs at the point, Johnson provides explosiveness and excellent court vision to a team of selfless but largely uninspiring offensive players. As mayor of Sacramento, Johnson has wisely written off the Kings and seems to be focusing on improving the arena and bringing in a team that will win games in the next 5 years.

SG – Dave Bing, Mayor of Detroit

Career averages:20.3 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game
A career 44.1 percent shooter, Bing adds scoring in the backcourt with slicing drives and a competent spot up game. An apparent masochist, Bing is currently serving in what I have to imagine is the least fun political post in the nation. It has gotten so bad that Bing has had to offer police officers $1,000 homes just to get them on the force.

SF – Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

(College) Career averages:16.1 points, 3.9 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game
After serving as co-captain of the Harvard Crimson, Duncan played professionally in Australia briefly before becoming an education superstar and eventually landing the top education position in the country. As Secretary, Duncan has introduced the Race for the Top program which encourages competition and efficiency by forcing states to fight to the death for education funding.

PF – Bill Bradley, (Fmr) U.S. Senator

Career averages:12.4 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game
The most politically successful of the team, Bradley served in the US Senate and nearly became the Democratic presidential nominee. As a forward for the Knicks, Bradley was a master of the unobserved contribution: making smart passes, few turnovers, and selfless, intelligent plays. He was the kind of player who would end up on the Rockets.

C – Tom McMillen, (Fmr) U.S. Congressman

Career averages::8.1 points, 1.1 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game
McMillen doesn’t help this teams severe lack of rebounding. Despite being 6’11” McMillen somehow managed only 4 boards a game. As a congressman, McMillen’s primary role was making photo ops look awkward.

There Is No Crying In Basketball 2: Brandon Roy

In what was one of the more depressing articles about one of the more depressing developments this season, Brandon Roy admits that he was on the verge of tears while sitting on the sidelines of last night’s game. It is one of the tragic truths of basketball, many of the most gifted and brilliant players will never full reach their full potential. Roy’s knees have stopped propelling him to the speeds and heights he had learned to rely on and this has knocked down one of the top emerging players of our generation. He seems destined to join the likes of Bill Walton, Grant Hill, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and Roy’s teammate Greg Oden. Some injuries are flukes, some are built into the freakish bodies that conveyed their genius, but all of them rob us of potential basketball bliss.

Last night all I could think of as I watched the game slipping away from the Blazers was that there is a universe where Brandon Roy’s knees are healthy and this game is going down to the wire. That and I still can’t believe the Blazers had the balls to stare down their demons and bring in a guy nicknamed Crash.

Hoops I Did It Again’s 2011 Playoff Predictions: Part 1

Here at Hoops I Did It Again, we are more than a team of writers – we are a larger community of spirited sports fans searching for the true meaning of the game of basketball. Thus, we bring to you our first annual Hoops I Did It Again playoff matrix – as selected by said group of spirited sports fans and my always-entertaining girlfriend Danielle.

We certainly haven’t revealed any great truths about the game yet. And we may never. But like a beautiful flower or a winning lottery ticket, we must first plant the seeds of truth, then wait for them to bloom. In our case, the seed we have sown is a 11×9 Microsoft Word table interspersed with random NBA team logos and numbers from 4 and 7.

I’m watching the Knicks game right now, but I have plenty more to say. As soon as my heart has been thoroughly shattered again by the smooth hands of Ray Allen, I would love to comment on this further. Until then, enjoy the game! (As I write this, Amar’e and Billups are now both out with injuries. Clyde just said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”)

(Update: Yeah. It’s 11:32 now, and the game ended about an hour and a half ago. Predictably heartbreaking, but unexpectedly sweet – seeing a lineup of Roger Mason Jr., Jared Jeffries, Shawne Williams, Toney Douglas, and Carmelo Anthony on the floor for the entire fourth and almost win… Yeah. This game had all the moments you look for as a fan, all the moments you crave, except for the final score – a detail which remains unnervingly irrelevant to me tonight. As I prepare to go to bed, I am at a sleepy and content loss for words. I’ll post the second round predictions tomorrow!)