Are other cities' fans your brothers…or do they see your team as a dog?
It's difficult to be geocentric as an NBA fan.
While we wait for Sportscenter to broadcast the synopsis of our team's latest game, we are force-fed all the highlights from the big-market teams, as well as the exceptional plays from all the other teams. And even though we may watch with waned interest until our local heroes come onscreen, we're still forming opinions the whole time.
In his seminal book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explains that our unconscious minds judge and evaluate in the blink of an eye, even with little or no factual information.
Translation: In the split second that you watch an alley-oop by a player you've never heard of, on a team you think you couldn't care less about, you've come to a conclusion—whether you realize it or not.
So let's give some ink to what we blink.
What do other teams' fans think of your NBA team?
Without Josh Smith, the Hawks will be doves by season's end.
Blink: They traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, so nobody's left but Smith and...uh, wait, doesn't Al Horford play for them?
Eyes Open: He does, and he'll be surrounded by some nice team players like Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams. They've been in the playoffs the last five years—which is more than many teams can say—but they haven't gotten past the second round.
The Hawks shook things up this year, but Smith and occasionally Horford will be the only guys you'll see with regularity on ESPN unless they notch a lot of wins.
Will Garnett ever age? Don't bet against him is all I'm saying.
Blink: I know they lost Ray Allen, but with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and now Jason Terry, these guys are the Methuselahs of the NBA. Isn't it over for them?
Eyes Open: Never count these guys out. Somehow, they manage to stay in contention, year after year.
It doesn't hurt that the league looks the other way when Garnett kicks out somebody's legs on a drive to the basket, or Paul Pierce flops more than a Ron Jeremy film festival in Salt Lake City. The guys are still tremendously talented, and Rondo is arguably the league's premier point guard. Boston will still be standing when the season ends.
And more importantly, ESPN will be shoving them in your face night after night. Hope you like the color green and fabled parquet floors.
Brooklyn's got a professional sports team again—and they'll be singing "welcome back" as the Nets soar this year.
Blink: They're known nationally more for their move and their ownership—rapper/Mr. Beyoncé Jay-Z is a minority owner, Russian moneybags Mikhail Prokhorov is the majority owner—than for their roster.
Eyes Open: Sure, most fans know the splendid Deron Williams as the franchise's cornerstone, but the celebrity owners, along with the move to a retro and storied sports city, are stories well-tailored for national exposure.
Add to that a fine core of players like Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, not to mention that the team now plays in such a major-market area, and expect to see the Nets on ESPN—as well as atop the Atlantic Division.
It's boxers. And we know because Jordan's been caught with his pants down on many a GM decision.
Blink: Last season they were one of the worst teams ever…and nothing's going to change.
Eyes Open: Michael Jordan has yet to prove he knows what he's doing as a general manager. My favorite Jordan-as-GM quote: After the Richard Hamilton-for-Jerry Stackhouse trade, while he was Washington's GM, Jordan famously said he "picked Joe's (Dumars) pocket."
Hamilton went on to score 11,500 points in a generally stellar Pistons career, proving to be the final missing piece in the Pistons' 2004 championship team. Stackhouse, well, he played about a season-and-a-quarter for Washington, with a bad attitude to boot, and helped get Jordan fired.
Some of Jordan's other lowlights:
- Drafting Kwame Brown No. 1 overall in 2001
- Hiring Sam Vincent
- Hiring Paul Silas
- Firing Larry Brown following the Bobcats' only playoff appearance
- Failing to re-sign Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton
Any reason to expect Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to turn things around? Only if you're a Bobcats fan.
The Bulls, outside of Joakim Noah, are ark-ing downwards without Rose.
Blink: I know Derrick Rose went down, and after that, I just kind of crossed the Bulls off in my mind.
Eyes Open: So did everyone else outside of Chicago. After Rose goes, who knows?
Carlos Boozer is not what he used to be; same for Rip Hamilton. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah might get some notice nationally, and let's face it, Chicago is a big-market team, so they're going to make Sportscenter even if they stink up the joint—which is not out of the realm of possibility.
But they have talent, as well as huge contracts. So if the rest of the Bulls keep the team in contention until Rose can return, expect that to be a story you'll never hear the end of on Sportscenter. You might get to know the rest of the guys as well as you know Rose.
Kyrie Irving is a heckuva player. Too bad that, like LeBron, he has little around him.
Blink: All I know about them is Kyrie Irving.
Eyes Open: That's kind of all there is to know about them. Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson are holdovers from the team's close-to-glory days, but that's not enough to get them anywhere—and Luke Walton isn't going to make anyone forget his dad.
Bottom line: These guys are not going to set the Cuyahoga River on fire. (Although, as Clevelanders well know, if you toss a match in, you could do that yourself.)
While you were busy on Shark Tank, Mark Cuban, your roster went into the tank.
Blink: It seems like yesterday that they won a title. Now Dirk Nowitzki's hurt, Jason Terry's gone, Jason Kidd's gone, Tyson Chandler's gone...how did they dismantle such a great team so quickly?
Eyes Open: I wish we could tell you, but yes, this is not your older brother's Mavericks...assuming your older brother is just a year older than you. You might see Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and maybe O.J. Mayo on highlights—and Dirk when he gets back, of course.
But if you're one of the trillions who are rooting against LeBron and Co. getting another championship, these are no longer the guys who are going to stop him.
You probably don't know much about the Nuggets, but you ought to: they're one of the best team-play squads in the NBA.
Blink: I haven't heard much from these guys since Carmelo left. I think they got Andre Iguodala in that massive trade. I think...
Eyes Open: You got it right, and Andre Iguodala is all you'll know about the Nuggets unless these guys have a good season. Iguodala is guaranteed his share of highlight time, but these guys—a solid team-oriented group—have no one spectacular on their roster outside of Andre.
JaVale McGee might finally earn his paycheck with these guys, and Ty Lawson is underrated. But the Nuggets will toil in relative obscurity until they make some noise in the playoffs, and there's a good chance they do. After all, like Larry Brown says, these guys play the right way.
Greg Monroe is a future All-Star, but Andre Drummond might make Sportscenter more often.
Blink: The way every analyst talked, the Pistons got a steal and a bust in Andre Drummond at the same time. I'm no rocket scientist, but that's simply not possible.
Eyes Open: Analysts are all talk. Drummond was all action this preseason, and with future All-Star Greg Monroe as his frontcourt mate, the Pistons might just have twin towers to be reckoned with—that is, if Drummond plays as well in the regular season as he did in games that don't count.
And to be in contention, Brandon Knight must also play the point like his talent says he's capable of, and Rodney Stuckey must stop taking minutes and games off.
If those ifs become truths, the Pistons might be firing on all cylinders and getting some national media love for the first time in a long time.
So THIS is where David Lee is playing...
Blink: I don't know much about these guys except they upset the No. 1-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs a few years back. Do they still play small ball? And just where is it that they actually play?
Eyes Open: Careful, casual fan. Oakland, CA already has a chip on its shoulder, being San Francisco's red-headed stepchild. But no, most fans don't know where Golden State plays—or even who plays for them.
For the record, it's Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Richard Jefferson on a way-too-lucrative contract. And don't forget the fine Stephen Curry, who—if he ever makes the highlights—will make you forget Baron Davis pretty darn quickly.
No, they're not playing small ball anymore. Don't worry, we're not blaming you. We're blaming ESPN…and the mediocre teams the Warriors have fielded since their upset for the ages.
Can Jeremy repeat Linsanity now that Harden is his backcourt mate?
Blink: Haven't heard much from Houston since the end of the Ming dynasty...wait a minute. They got James Harden? And signed him to a max deal? They're crazy…wait a minute. Did that bald guy on ESPN just say 37 points?!?
Eyes Open: He did. On the day most casual fans scorned James Harden's max deal, the bearded wonder went off for 37 points against the Pistons. Harden followed up by dropping 45 on Atlanta and 24 on Portland. But it's his opening barrage on contract-signing day that fans around the country will remember.
Basing on a team with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik seemed ridiculous, but basing a team on Lin, Asik and Harden, well, just might propel the Rockets into the playoffs. And if Harden continues to score dozens of points a night, expect Houston to have their first player to make them national-media regulars since Yao Ming and his 90 inches were made ubiquitous by the powers-that-be at ESPN.
Speaking of which, have you ever seen a player ring up more injury highlights than Ming?
The Pacers? Wait, don't they have Tyler Hansbrough?
Blink: I think they made the playoffs last year. Other than that, I don't have a clue.
Eyes Open: Right you are on both counts. The Pacers have improved their record each year for the past three seasons and made it past the first round last year—but virtually no one nationally knows their roster.
Roy Hibbert, George Hill, David West and injured Danny Granger are their featured players. But chances are, if I tell you they have Tyler Hansbrough, you'll say "Oh yeah..."
Even though they toil in comparative obscurity, look for the Pacers to get some exposure come playoff time, as they can advance in a weaker East.
Like Blake Griffin's dunks? You may be seeing even more than usual if the Clippers have a great season.
Blink: It's got to have been so tough to be a Clippers fan. Will these guys ever be anything more than the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA?
Eyes Open: This might be the year. L.A.'s a big market, and though nobody will get highlight time like the Kobe/Howard combo, if the Lakers stumble, Chris Paul and Sportscenter's dunkin' darling Blake Griffin will be getting some serious exposure.
Lamar Odom and Caron Butler have been reunited, and it may feel so good for Clippers fans. DeAndre Jordan holds the Clippers' only disappointing contract, and even he's been getting better as time goes on.
As shocking as it may sound, by season's end the Lakers may be fighting the Clippers for on-screen time.
Wouldn't that be a sign of the apocalypse?
Had enough of Kobe and Dwight? Tough. You're gonna get more...lots more.
Blink: It's always Lakers this, Kobe that, Dwight Howard this, Pau Gasol that. When will the media shut their pie-holes and give some other teams a chance?
Eyes Open: Probably no time soon. Kobe can't play forever, but with Dwight Howard, they seem poised for a new influx of energy, although they've struggled so far this season. But more than anything, the league loves to showcase these guys.
I seriously believe ESPN could do a whole hour of Lakers highlights and commentary and keep a straight face. It's almost as if you have no choice but to be a Lakers fan if you watch national highlights. That, or be bored out of your mind for 20 minutes out of each Sportscenter hour.
But you've got no options: The Lakers are a major-market team with one of the league's two more visible superstars—expect the ad nauseum Kobe-and-Howard highlights to continue until morale improves.
If there's such a thing as karma, though, these guys will lose 82 games. Hell, they'll lose 83.
Most fans won't recognize Rudy Gay, because Memphis gets limited exposure, but this could be the year the Grizzlies advance in the playoffs.
Blink: With Marc Gasol and Zack Randolph, along with Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol, this is my sleeper pick in the office NBA playoff pool.
Eyes Open: You have an office NBA playoff pool? Where do you work?
Anyhow, yes, the Grizzlies are everybody's underdog pick—but like Gonzaga, the Grizzlies might be underdogs no longer. These guys could make some noise in the West now that the Thunder are without Harden and the Lakers appear somehow to be struggling. And if they do, everybody in Memphis will be walking 10 feet off of Beale Street.
But don't hold your breath, as the Grizzlies need one more piece, in my opinion. Expect most fans to know only Randolph and maybe Gasol, because they get limited exposure nationally.
Blink: These guys conspired to win the championship, and they don't deserve it...so why do I have to watch highlights of them over and over again? It's totally unfair, and it makes me care less about the NBA.
Eyes Open: I've yet to meet a fan of the Heat outside Miami who's older than 18, but the youngsters love LeBron, and the league is desperate to attract young fans.
It's all about marketing. I would have loved Dan Gilbert's statement to come true—for Cleveland to win before the Heat. Heck, I would have taken any team to win the championship over the Heat, but win the Heat did, and they might well do it again.
And though everybody loves an underdog, lots and lots of fans love a winner. When the Heat is on, ratings soar. The James and Dwyane Wade show will not be canceled, whether you like it or not.
Like life, the NBA isn't fair.
This is Brandon Jennings. If you're not a Bucks fan, that probably won't mean much to you.
Blink: We knew Bogut was hurt last year, so lots of fans didn't even know he was traded.
Eyes Open: He was, and the Bucks got Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh for him. Now they've got Samuel Dalembert, who'll make Sportscenter a bunch. Milwaukee will get some exposure.
Will they get somewhere come playoff time? Probably not. Then again, if casual fans remember that the Bucks traded Bogut and now have Dalembert, that's more than most fans know about Milwaukee.
Other than Laverne & Shirley and beer.
There is a chance that Minnesota will grab your attention this year...finally.
Blink: Kevin Love is there, but they've been so bad for so long. Yet I hear people saying they're going to be good.
Eyes Open: Supposedly, but Love is injured and so is Ricky Rubio. They've got nice role players like Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams, but how the team is going to manage while their best two players are out remains to be seen.
Love is always fun to watch on ESPN as another tall guy shooting threes in the Dirk Nowitzki style. If both guys come back 100 percent—to quote the theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show—they might just make it after all.
(P.S. You'll find Ms. Moore's legendary hat-throwing moment immortalized in a statue in downtown Minneapolis, if you ever happen into town.)
Anthony Davis will create some buzz for the Hornets, but that's about it.
Blink: Since the departure of Chris Paul, this team has been faceless. But didn't they get that Anthony Davis kid?
Eyes Open: Yes, they did, and he figures to be awfully good. Eric Gordon's a good, if overpaid, player, and Al-Farouq Aminu might yet emerge. But there's just not enough talent here to be relevant.
Summation: If you're a Hornets season-ticket holder, you might be reminded of The Sting—by season's end, you'll probably feel conned.
Yes, the nicked-up Jason Kidd is a Knick.
Blink: They got rid of Jeremy Lin and brought in Jason Kidd? Is he still ambulatory?
Eyes Open: I get your cynicism. Though many are predicting a nice year for the Knicks, I say lots of folks will be heading to Brooklyn instead.
I'm personally surprised the Knicks weren't taken over by the league, given the Knicks' continual ineptitude over the past umpteen years and the NBA's desire for a contender in New York.
The sports media has done what it could to help: Linsanity, for example, would never have happened had Jeremy Lin played in, let's say, Memphis or Sacramento. And the media is going to struggle to make the Knicks a story again this year: an aging Kidd and a huge contract for declining Amar'e Stoudemire—now expected to be out until mid-December—don't spell contender.
But the Knicks do have Carmelo Anthony, as I promise ESPN will not let you forget, and Tyson Chandler. And since New York is the biggest sports market of all, expect Carmelo highlights to be shoved down your throat more times than Nathan's hot dogs go down Joey Chestnut's gullet.
And, yes, somehow, in his 39th year and 18th as an NBA point guard, where skills erode more rapidly than most, Jason Kidd is still alive and kicking, managing to rack up over five assists per game last year in 28 minutes played.
Did you know Kevin Durant accepted a pickup flag football invitation from fans during the NBA lockout? He finished with four touchdowns and three interceptions...and a whole lot of admiration.
Blink: I was so rooting for Kevin Durant and the Thunder to take down LeBron and his band of arrogant sidekicks. Can they do it this year, without James Harden?
Eyes Open: The question is, can they even get another shot at it without Harden? The guy was the real deal, and though their defense might be improved, it's a question whether Kevin Martin will score on this team like he's been known to in the past.
Even so, with the amazing Durant, Martin, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins, these guys are still formidable. And if they don't get back to the promised land, they've got some draft picks from the Harden trade to make them stronger.
But ESPN has a tendency to spoon-feed us what we already know, so expect regular doses of Durant and Westbrook nightly.
Take a good look at a Magic fan's recurring nightmare.
Blink: They traded Dwight Howard, right? Well, then the Magic have nothing else up their sleeve.
Eyes Open: Well, yeah, unless you want to count Disney World.
Orlando's coach, Stan Van Gundy, is also gone—just the way Howard wanted it, though his opinion no longer matters to the Magic—and the team's roster is filled with second-tier guys like Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson. These guys are going to be playing for the No. 1 pick, only two full seasons after they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals.
How did they fall this far this fast? It must be magic. Which is only funny if you don't live in Orlando.
Jrue Holiday and Jason Richardson can play, but Sixers fans may not enjoy the same success as last year.
Blink: Andre Iguodala made the All-Star team, right? They upset the Bulls in the first round? And then they traded him for Andrew Bynum? Are they crazy?
Eyes Open: Maybe. I'm sure a lot of Philly fans are thinking the same thing.
Bynum's defense is on a par with Iguodala's, and he can score. But he's injured a lot, as any fan knows. So if he stays on the court, and if Doug Collins can work his usual magic, these guys may make some noise.
The Sixers may not get as much play on ESPN as they did in the first half of last year, but they are considered a major-market sports team, so don't be surprised if you're forced to look at Bynum highlights even if the team struggles.
(By the way, most fans won't know this, but if you're ever in the Philadelphia area and you like good eats, don't miss the Reading Terminal Market. It's as awesome a food court as we've got in America.)
Mr. Beasley might as well be playing with Buffy, Jody and Sissy this season.
Blink: This team had so many changes during the Steve Nash era, they were the Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills of the NBA. They should've capitalized while they had the chance.
Eyes Open: Their coach is still Alvin Gentry, who was at the helm the last time the Suns went to the conference finals—but that's about it.
Michael Beasley can play ball, but he doesn't have much of a team to play with. Suns fans have something to truly root for: Channing Frye's health. His doctor has thankfully said there's a better-than-not chance that Frye will lead a full and normal life.
The prognosis for the Suns is far less optimistic.
LaMarcus Aldridge isn't enough to make NBA fans forget about who's not on the court: Greg Oden.
Blink: They could have Kevin Durant. And I thought my team had it bad...
Eyes Open: This is one of those franchises that NBA fans know for who's not on the court, rather than who is.
LaMarcus Aldridge is a fine player, but all NBA fans know is that Greg Oden has barely played a full season of ball throughout his entire career and now took a year off to rehab. And there's no one on the roster who will make the media forget this colossal draft boo-boo.
We know Portland gets a lot of rain, so apparently, when it rains, it really does pour.
Kings fans may be kissing Cousins, but the rest of the roster and ownership are pretty much frogs.
Blink: With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, the Kings ought to be courting a playoff spot—but they never do.
Eyes Open: The franchise has been on a rollercoaster: Would they relocate or not? Would they change ownership or not?
It's still anybody's guess whether the Kings will continue to reign in Sacramento, with the Maloofs taking meetings with other cities regularly, while at the same time assuring Sacramento fans they will remain in the California capital.
No wonder fans both in Sacramento and around the country are aloof toward Maloof and the Kings.
Although once upon a time, in 2002, this franchise won my heart and admiration by heroically battling the mighty Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers in my favorite seven-game NBA series of all time—somehow managing to get at least half the ESPN series highlights in the process.
Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? Yes, well, once they were Kings.
The Spurs' machine keeps running...expect more of the same this year.
Blink: Seems like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been around forever. Yet like the legendary drum-beating pink bunny, these guys just keep going and going and going...and continuing to win. You gotta love 'em for it, but how do they do it?
Eyes Open: By playing like a team ought to.
Gregg Popovich has truly built a dynasty, and he's done it in a city that has no business getting the Sportscenter time it gets. This is the league's best example of a team playing the right way, and they have plenty of hardware and success to show for it, as well as their share of fans of not just the players, but the team as well.
So, as usual, you're going to see plenty of top moments from these guys, because they're good for the league—and what the league wants, fans get.
Will Andrea Bargnani make non-Toronto fans remember the Raptors? I'm betting not.
Blink: I can't remember one highlight from these guys since Vince Carter left. How have they not folded?
Eyes Open: Good question.
You're exaggerating a little with the Vince Carter dig, as Chris Bosh did get some ESPN time as a Raptor. But ever since Bosh left, the team has struggled to find its identity.
Dwane Casey wants a defense-first squad, but with Andrea Bargnani, good luck. Speaking of Bargnani, he's the only Raptor to regularly make the ESPN highlights, but that's not enough to make non-Toronto fans remember the Raptors.
But here's how they've not folded: The fanbase is rabidly passionate, for some unknown reason. Maybe there's nothing else to do in Canada? No, wait a minute. Toronto is an international jewel.
Well then, Raptors fans, go find something else to do, for goodness' sake!
Enes Kanter and the Jazz might just make some sweet music this season.
Blink: I liked 'em when they had Boozer and Deron Williams. What have they been up to?
Eyes Open: Well, making the playoffs last year for one thing. They've got Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and young guns Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
This is a team-oriented squad in a small but loyal market. The only way they're going to get much highlight-reel time is if they have a great season...and there's a good chance they will. But with the players they've got, even the best highlights won't be anything to get jazzed about.
Forget a heart, a brain and courage. The Wizards need a miracle.
Blink: John Wall and Nene are injured. Maybe they should change the team name to the Wicked Witches of the East.
Eyes Open: With their two stars out, the team will fall far behind in the playoff picture, but they are so rarely on Sportscenter, most casual fans still think Gilbert Arenas plays there.
I know, I know, I just blew your mind. No, friends, Agent Zero, most lately of Memphis, is no longer in the league.
And it'll be a long climb back to relevance for his former, seemingly constantly snake-bit team.
We know about the NBA's superstars because David Stern wants it that way.
Though David Stern announced his eventual retirement, one of his legacies is how carefully and deliberately the NBA markets itself. It values superstars over teams, and the media machine, as Elton John's lyricist once called journalists, plays along willingly and wholeheartedly.
So expect the NBA to, as it has done in the past, market its perennial superstars, maybe create one or two new ones for the season, and give you lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of the Heat and the Lakers.
But at least now you know how other fans around the NBA perceive your team.
Small-market teams, don't take offense if fans know next to nothing about your team or their players. That's how the NBA rolls. Or, shouId I say, picks and rolls, because it carefully hand-picks the stars and teams you'll be seeing.
And big-market teams, don't let it get to your head. It's not necessarily your team or its players that gets you all the national exposure—it's the city your team plays in and the TV revenue dollars that go along with it.