Friday, May 25, 2012

Good Tidings on Blackout Day.

Today is a significant day in the NBA.  It is Blackout Day.

What is Blackout Day?  Why, it's the first day of the NBA season when there are no games scheduled, yet rumors and transactions continue amongst the league's front offices.  Yes, true, there are a few days off during the All-Star Break, as well as a few days in between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the postseason where no games are played.  But today is a distinctly different type of down day.  You see, every day after this, there will be less basketball.  Games will occur less frequently -- there will be no more playoff doubleheaders, and now we will see no more than one game per day.  In a few days, we will only see a game every other day.  After that, perhaps a game every two days. And then, after that, there will be no more basketball until the week of Halloween (unless you count the NBA's summer leagues).

Blackout Day's greatest significance on the NBA calendar rests in its singular message that winter is coming.  In many ways, it forecasts the dog days of the NBA offseason, when the courts are dark and silent, and the biggest news in the NBA is that Quincy Douby is getting an invite to the Sacramento King's summer league team.  It projects the long days of August, when summer leagues are over, and NBA front offices busy themselves with the work that doesn't appear on ESPN's news wire.  The hiring and firing of scouting staffs.  The subtle restructuring of contracts and the crunching of salary cap numbers.  General managers looking over the free agent pool for the umpteenth time, wondering if they really want to guarantee some dollars to have Earl Boykins, Cartier Martin or Salim Stoudamire fill out a training camp roster.  This is a dark day for most casual NBA fans -- the realization that the fun is almost over, and a long, dark NBA winter sits ominously on the horizon.

The offseason is a bizarre time of year for a NBA fans of all makes and models.  Though people may like a different team, a different style of play, a different conference, or whatever, we are all unified by our enjoyment of watching the players play.  It is the game, after all, that causes us to watch TV, locate illegal streams, and consume NBA knowledge on the internet (such as this humble little blog).  It's a pretty simple thing, really.  Two teams play each other, and an infinite number of outcomes are produced.  One team wins, the other loses, but anyone can get injured, anyone can score 30, anyone can haul of and deck another dude in the face.  We can hash out the correlations and causations from any number of events that occurred in the game, but the most important thing is that a game was played, and we were able to watch the pieces of this wildly intricate machine operate.   Whether they operated correctly or not is the most interesting thing to discuss -- and discuss it, we do.

But during the offseason, when the games are taken away from us, we are left with a dream machine that we can't really drive.  There are no players on the court, no way to prove or disprove theories.  Players become real human beings; they concentrate on other interests and projects, spend time with their families, and do everything they can to escape the spotlight a little bit.  The focus turns to the executives -- largely faceless former players and front office yes-men who are proficient at the buying and selling of assets, and who (purportedly) understand what it takes for a team to succeed.  For some of us, these individuals are just as interesting (if not more so) than the players, because it is they who create the new structures that the players will operate in, and write (or rewrite) the codes of conduct that will lead to success.  If the regular season (and postseason, for that matter) is the time to watch your dream machine fly around the track, the offseason is the time to get under the hood and really get to know and understand what actually makes your team run in the first place.  It is the time to study and prepare, rather than observe and analyze.

Blackout Day allows NBA fans to test drive their offseason routines.  So on this day, I encourage you to try out yours.  Today is the day you can watch hockey (yuck), baseball (double yuck) or soccer (doubly double yuck) without feeling guilty that you're missing a playoff game that you don't really have any interest in seeing (I can't believe I have to care about the Sixers-Celtics series still).  Perhaps you want to watch something different on television altogether (I haven't watched TV that wasn't basketball-related in quite some time, so I'll leave it to you to pick a program to view).  Hell, maybe you want to leave your house altogether, and interact with people who aren't professional athletes and/or handsomely paid analysts that live inside your television.  All of these are acceptable activities to participate in on Blackout Day.

But before you do something irrational, like separate yourself from the NBA while its not actively being played and discussed in any real or meaningful way, perhaps you want to try out rabid fanhood this offseason.  This offseason, we can simply look forward to the fact that there will be an offseason in the first place.  Last summer we were all locked out, but now we got some really intriguing stuff to look forward to.  The draft lottery is next week, and the draft takes place about two weeks after the conclusion of the NBA finals.  Draft day also marks the beginning of Summer Trade Season, where we can expect to see some big names, such as Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and perhaps even Steve Nash, find new homes.  NBA free agency opens shortly after that, where over the course of a few months, a group of talented, if not overly celebrated players will help a number teams get over the hump (or damage the job securities of misguided general managers and hapless coaches).  And then, after that, the creme de la creme of offseason NBA ephemera: the 2012 London Olympics.  The 2008 Olympics marked the beginning of the Superteam era, so we'll see what happens this year with a new crop of players.  These are exciting times, to say the least -- if for no other reason than they will end, and we are guaranteed a season in 2012-2013.  This, of course, was a luxury that was anything but assured last summer.

So there's little to fear.  This is the normal passing of the season into the offseason.  Good tidings on Blackout Day.  Prepare thineselves for a dark, but manageable winter.

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