Five Reasons To Get Into The NBA Right Now
20 years after the NBA’s last major moment in the UK, fuelled by Michael Jordan, Space Jam and the seminal game NBA Jam, there is an undeniable buzz around the sport of basketball. Whether that buzz has come through the league’s readiness to send highlights directly to Vine, the superstar athletes and their globally trending footwear or the fact that other team sports just aren’t delivering, the NBA has moved from late night outcast to a legitimate contender for our eyes and hearts.
Whether or not the Premier League is winning fans with its unpredictable Leicester City-led title race this year, or turning off a global audience who would rather tune in to see Wayne Rooney, Eden Hazard and Daniel Sturridge competing at the height of their powers remains to be seen, but the discussion over Arsenal’s “right” to win this most confusing of titles speaks to a league in a certain level of disarray. Contrast that with the NBA, where the best player in the world is playing for the best team, the second best player is playing for the second best team, the third best player is playing for the third best team and so on and you have an elite competition where the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
So from five to one, here are our five reasons to get into the NBA in 2016.
With more than 80 games played per team, per season, the NBA has a lot of content to share, and while the Premier League hunts down your dodgy Vine highlights from the North London Derby our American cousins have fully embraced the format as a tool for promoting the league and its many narratives. How many times this year have you woken up to Stephen Curry draining a buzzer beating three? The first time you saw it you watched and moved on, the second time you saw it you were a little more intrigued, but the third time you saw the Golden State Warriors phenom defy all reasonable expectations of gravity with his effortless accuracy, his name was firmly implanted in your brain. By the time the shut-down blocks, ankle breaking crossovers and soul-crushing dunks were flying across your timeline you weren’t questioning why you were watching, you were actively seeking it out. It’s okay. It’s happened to a lot of us. Throw in a few of those Jordan crying face meme videos on WorldStar and you’ll quickly realise that you consume as much NBA in a week as you do any sport outside of football. Vine’s greatest contribution to society might yet be something more significant than misogynistic six-second comedians and Luis Suarez nutmegs.
4. NBA 2K16
When the NBA came around in the UK in the mid-1990s a large part of its impact came through Midway’s NBA Jam. Loved not just by an basketball audience or even sports sim fanatics, NBA Jam crossed over in a way that made it a staple in the homes of a generation. NBA Jam’s outrageous dunks, its iconic commentary and simple, pick up and play fun saw it stand alongside Micro Machines, Street Fighter and Mario Kart as must-haves for any group of friends. Fast forward to 2016 and while our natural football obsession has seen EA’s FIFA franchise create uncharted fandom and engagement, something similar is happening in basketball. While FIFA is celebrated for its ergonomic control system, its hyper-real physics and its incomparable ability to cause arguments, fights and broken controllers, NBA 2K16 can be credited with those exact same attributes. Not quite as pick up and play as NBA Jam was in 1996, NBA 2K16 is slightly more accessible than FIFA would be to a n00b. It’s logical, it’s smooth, it has an engaged and challenging single-player mode and an online universe that rivals just about any in the gaming world. Just as FIFA is introducing fans around the world to the great game, as is NBA’s 2K series.
3. The New Superstar Era
The NBA was awash with superstars in the mid-90s. Michael Jordan being the obvious name, there was also Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Scotty Pippen, Shaquile O’Neil, Dennis Rodman, Grant Hill and the list goes on. That era of superstars made the NBA impossible to ignore. In 2016 we’re in a very similar situation. The New Age of Superstars is made-up of superhuman athletes with the kind of personality, you’ll struggle to find outside of American sports – Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are defining the sport both on and off the court.
Away from the biggest stars of the game, there is a tier of players taking the weight of the game on their shoulders including but not limited to the 2016 All-Star Dunk Contest (watch above) finalists Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, who competed in a jaw-dropping head-to-head in Toronto last month. Neither LaVine nor Gordon would be considered stars in their own right, but both stepped up to create a historic moment in NBA history at exactly the right time for the sport.
2. 30 for 30
30 for 30 isn’t just a Drake freestyle, it’s also ESPN’s award winning documentary series which focuses on great sporting moments from across the globe. Making use of unprecedented access to athletes, archive footage and research, the series also sees guest directors add their perspective on stories from running, to football, to basketball and beyond. If you’re lacking in any real perspective on basketball and how a sport with so many games can create such passionate rivalries then 30 for 30 is the place to start.
Basketball stories aren’t limited to the NBA, but they do a great job of contextualising the incredible things that happen every week between some of the world’s biggest athletes. The Fab 5 tells the story of five young stars changing the college game for the Michigan Wolverines, with all of the racial and social prejudices they faced at the time challenged and aired out in a way you would consider impossible in any European sport. Winning Time: Reggie Miller Vs The New York Knicks is as entertaining as documentary making gets, with the NBA’s ultimate windup merchant Reggie Miller’s epic battles with his arch enemies the New York Knicks over the course of the 1994 and 1995 playoffs in full focus, you’ll struggle to remember who the bad guy was supposed to be. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (watch above) tells the incredible story of superstar Allen Iverson’s pre-NBA career and an assault charge in his racially unstable hometown of Hampton, Virginia that went on to colour his brand as a thug even while playing at a game-changing All-Star level.
Basketball consistently creates some of the greatest stories in sports and through ESPN’s 30 for 30 series you’ll struggle to contain a spark in fascination and pure admiration for the game. Currently running on BT Sport and available from all friendly illegal streaming sites, there isn’t a better way to fall in love with the NBA.
1. Steph Curry
We’ve talked about the New Age of Superstars, but there is one player in the NBA today who stands alone in that regard. What Wardell Stephen Curry is doing to the NBA this season is unprecedented. No hyperbole needed when it comes to discussing Curry’s performances as the Point Guard not-so-quietly forges a path toward bettering Michael Jordan’s best campaign. Steph doesn’t have the physical, sweaty and aggressive game of MJ, but he’s statistically the most impactful player in the sport and through his near faultless shooting range he has that same match winning mystique.
With one NBA title in the bag, you’re going to want to say you watched this absolute phenom at his best. The Golden State Warriors have had an incredible season so far, but they’re not without competition as the San Antontio Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder all more than capable of putting up a fight across the course of a playoff series. Curry is favourite to lift another NBA trophy at the end of this campaign, but he’ll have to be at his best to get it done and that is something we will all be privileged to see.
Watch the 2015-16 NBA season live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUE PASS at nba.tv