The NBA Playoffs have started, but for many local fans experiencing the hangover of another Sweet 16 run for the Zags, this time of year coincides with a certain smugness.
"The NBA Playoffs? That's not real basketball," they say with a scowl, their arms crossed over a navy blue Gonzaga sweater. "Those selfish NBA players don't play the game the right way. The players play harder in college. The NBA regular season is too long and doesn't matter."
I hear this all the time. It needs to stop. It's perfectly reasonable to enjoy college basketball more than the NBA. But don't pretend it's because it's better basketball.
The NBA regular season may be long, but it matters more. The seeding that comes as a result of the regular NBA season carries more weight in a playoff series than it does for college's one-game elimination tournament. In college, a team like Virginia can dominate all season, only to lose in a fluke game to a 16-seed. Did the regular season make much of a difference for them?
As for that 82-game NBA regular season, here's a secret: You don't have to watch every game. When you do, however, the level of basketball is far superior. The college game is slower, less purposeful. Drama in the final moments of a college game is created by mistakes more than it is by skill. The plays that you get excited about in college — the dunks, crossovers, the slick passes — happen so often in the NBA that it's hard not to become numb to it.
And yeah, NBA players get paid millions of dollars. That doesn't mean they don't play hard. They're competing just as hard as college players. The stars want to best the other stars. The role players want to win and earn a bigger contract. Most NBA players are playing for a spot on a team, a chance to live out their lifelong dream.
I enjoy March Madness. The tournament makes for an amazing display of passion and chaos, as teams walk a thin line between tragedy and triumph. It allows you to be a fan of basketball without actually being a basketball fan. And for season-long followers of a team, a March victory is that much sweeter, the loss that much more sour.
The NBA, on the other hand, is basketball at its highest level, a stunning display of athleticism and talent where each player and each team constantly strives for any possible edge until the best rise to the top.
So college fans, maybe you should give the NBA a shot. ♦