Season's greeting: Never had it so good
Now that my heyday was officially back in the day, I'm at the point that I keep noticing how much better things used to be. All it takes is one airline trip with a $150 change fee, a forced disrobing at security and a $5 charge for a box of cold, dry food to make me nostalgic. And don't even get me started about the decline of popular music. I'm starting to feel like my grandfather, who spent the final 20 years of his life convinced that the 1983 Toyota Camry was the greatest car ever made. There are only two important aspects of my youth that I can say have definitively improved: communication and watching the NBA.
First of all, as my "Around the Horn" doppelganger Michael Smith once said, whoever invented text messaging needs to go straight to the Hall of Fame.
And when it comes to the NBA, we have more access to more quality teams than ever. These are the good old days.
There are almost as many watchable teams now as there were in the entire league in the 1980s. Here's my list of teams I'd deem screen-worthy under any circumstance: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards. That's a winning blackjack hand's worth of teams.
Whether it's learning about the teams we expect to see in May (Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Thunder, Magic) or simply watching the players I like (Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, John Wall), there's a game I want to watch on some channel.
Granted, the elite teams aren't as good. There isn't a squad around today that could match up with the 1982-83 76ers. The Showtime Lakers would beat the current Lakers by 20 points. The 1980s teams would laugh at the rush to dub the Heat a "Superteam" without a former MVP or No. 1 overall pick coming off the bench.
The problem was we hardly got to see the best when they were doing it. Living on the West Coast meant catching the 1985-86 Celtics on a handful of Sundays. I feel deprived that I didn't have the chance to see Larry Bird on a regular basis when he was at his best. The Magic vs. Bird argument was one of a broader scope, as much sociological as it was athletic. It meant more to the league. But those who get caught up in a LeBron vs. Kobe debate are better informed on the subject.
In the great days of the 1980s, our exposure to out-of-market teams used to be limited to a weekly game on cable and a Sunday afternoon game on CBS after the NFL season ended. And when NBA League Pass first came around in 1990s there weren't enough teams to make it worthwhile.
I first bought League Pass during the 1996-97 season, when I was covering the Fab Five-flavored Washington Bullets with Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. After home games I'd head back to the condo in time to catch the second half of the Lakers games in the first season of the Shaq-Kobe combo. On off nights I'd check out Allen Iverson's rookie season with the 76ers. I also watched Michael Jordan and the Bulls, of course. I liked Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in Seattle. And that about covered it.
The talent level hadn't caught up with expansion. The style of play was trending to stalling, clock-draining and mind-numbing. The typical Cavaliers score in '96-97 was 88-86 ... and they had a winning record. Scoring was trending downward to its nadir in the shot-clock era, bottoming out at 92 points a game per team in the lockout season of 1999. It's a good thing the games weren't broadcast in HD back then, because you would have seen nothing but bored expressions among the fans in the first 12 rows.
The game is moving in the opposite direction now. Scoring and shooting percentages have increased for the past five seasons. Fans will get to vote for the likes of Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams on their All-Star ballots.
You can watch almost every game. You can get alerted to a classic-in-the-works via Twitter. You can watch clips of the best plays online.
You young'uns don't realize just how good you have it.