The NBA is back, and that noise you heard when it was announced was every NHL fan in America shrieking knowing that Sportscenter will once again be taken over by routine dunks, alley oops, and buzzer beaters. I understand that the American bias is shifted toward the NBA because after the NHL lockout the popularity of the sport dropped dramatically. I’m not trying to make an argument that the NHL is better than the NBA because it comes fully on preference. I will however, give NBA fans five reasons why they should tune in and watch some hockey this year.
A brawl in the NBA happens once in every ten or so years, and don’t get me wrong, the malace in the palace was absolutely awesome. Well, except for the fan who got destroyed by Ron Artest. There has for some reason been a debate in the NHL for years as to whether or not they should ban fighting in the NHL, which is absolutely absurd. How about we ban hitting, passing, skating, and scoring too? Lets just have a bunch of Canadians stand on dry concrete and throw a ball around, oh wait, that’s Steve Nash. A lot of uneducated hockey fans think that fighting is just a brawl on skates, but it’s not, it’s an absolute art form. I know some of the biggest people in the hockey world who are terrible fighters simply because they don’t have the balance, stamina, or technique to drop with the best. Aaron Asham proved that fighting in the NHL isn’t dead in his fight against Jay Beagle, which is a good reason why you don’t go after star players if you don’t plan on paying the price for it. In no other sport (except obviously MMA and boxing) can you legally fight and it’s just a 5 minute break and you can go back out and play. It adds an element that no other sport can create. Cheap shot an opposing superstar? Expect a little more than just a technical foul or a 15-yard penalty. I’ve added the Asham fight for your viewing pleasure.
4. Crosby/Ovechkin Rivalry
Yeah yeah yeah I know there are rivalries in the NBA like Lebron vs. Kobe. But when has either one of them gone off the record to talk about the other one in a negative fashion? I’ll take never for 400 Alex. Crosby and Ovechkin publicly hate each other, and it is one of the greatest stories in the sport. No matter what side you are on, you have to appreciate the talent that the other one brings to the table. These are by far the two most talented players in the world and they want nothing more but to shove their Stanley Cup ring down the other ones throat when it’s all said and done, and add that Crosby’s Canada and Ovechkin’s Russia are rivals on the international circuit makes it that much better. Pretty sure at the end of this season you aren’t going to hear of Crosby, Ovechkin, and Stamkos all taking their talents to South Beach. Why? Because they want to prove they are the best leader of their
perspective organizations. A main reason why the NHL is so great is that the best players stay put for years and years after finding a good fit. They don’t lose one year and demand to be traded to a better team like a bunch of pissed off 5th graders who got knocked off in dodgeball first and claimed immediately “unfair teams!!” Crosby is leading the cup race 1-0, but with Ovie’s Caps on the rise it could be their year. NBA fans should tune in every time the Caps and the Pens play and watch a true rivalry between two future hall of famers who can’t stand one another.
I can’t stand to watch a single NBA regular season game because there is absolutely no attempt to play defense. I could go to the YMCA and watch volunteer fire fighters put on a better defensive display than these guys who get paid tens of millions of dollars to play professionally. After the lockout, the NHL did a lot of things to try and improve scoring: such as eliminating the 2-line pass and restricting goalie equipment, but the art of defensive hockey never died. The amount of courage it takes to block shots for example, can’t be matched by taking a charge in the NBA.
Defenseman have to be the toughest guys on the ice because 10-15 times a game you’re forced to go back and make a play knowing you are about to get hit by a forechecking forward going full speed. There is no dynamic in the game of basketball that compares to the ability it takes to play defense in hockey. Sacrificing the body, blocking shots, switching from man on to zone in a single shift, while still maintaining the tendency to know where the puck is at all time is an aspect of the game that is commonly misunderstood, and definitely under-appreciated.
4. The Winter Classic
The NBA has their tradition where the Lakers play on Christmas day, but no other sport has a tradition like the NHL does with the Winter Classic. What football is to Thanksgiving, and baseball is to the 4th of July – hockey is to New Years Day. When the idea was first sprout up, there were a lot of critics wondering if the NHL could pull off such a ludicrous idea. An outdoor game? It’s something straight out of Mystery Alaska! The first Winter Classic game was held on New Years Day of 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and it was between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It couldn’t have went smoother.
The throwback jerseys, Ryan Miller wearing a beanie over his helmet, the snow falling for the entirety of the game, and the atmosphere were all a combination that a professional league has never seen. The game ended in dramatic fashion, with Sidney Crosby sliding a goal five hole through the snow passed Ryan Miller in the shootout to give them the win. The game was so successful that the leauge immediately scheduled one for the next year at Wrigley Field, which ended up having 72,000 plus fans – setting a new NHL attendance record. Since then, the tradition has flourished and it is something that NHL fans look forward to every year. If there is one game that NBA fans could watch and appreciate, it is The Winter Classic.
A reason why the NBA is tough to follow is because the same teams are always good, and the same teams are always miserable. Don’t get me wrong, there are powerhouse teams in the NHL like Detroit and Pittsburgh that seem to be good every year, but the overall competitiveness of the leagues aren’t even comparable. For example, since 1999 there has only been three different franchises from the Western Conference in the NBA finals (the Lakers 7 times, the Spurs 4 times, and the Mavericks twice); and for good measure the Jazz went in back to back seasons in 1997 and 98. There were six different champions over that span, but the fact of the matter is the same teams were in the same situations every season. Lets compare that to the NHL: over the same 13 year span, but remember there was a lockout in 2004-05 so only 12 seasons, there have been eight different representatives from the Western Conference (Dallas , Colorado, Detroit , Anaheim , Calgary, Edmonton, Chicago, and Vancouver) and seven different representatives from the Eastern Conference (Buffalo, Carolina , New Jersey , Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Pittsburgh , and Boston). There have also been 10 different champions in the 12 season span, with Detroit and New Jersey being the only teams to win it twice. The numbers don’t lie, the overall competitiveness of the NHL overpowers anything the NBA can offer.