Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Magic Basketball previews the 2011-2012 NBA season with a look at the players we’re most excited to watch this year.
My love for LeBron James has not gone undocumented. You can argue with me, hate me, judge me, or even discredit me. I stand firmly on my convictions that he is the best player in the game. But that’s not why I am writing today, nor is it the sole reason I live and breath NBA basketball.
The very same way that LeBron James represents my passion for the NBA, and really the game of basketball, James Harden represents all that there is to look forward to in the future of the league.
Whoa, that is a huge jump. Sit tight. I’ll explain what I mean.
There are basically a handful of super stars in the league that we are forced, either because of regional convictions or otherwise, to pick from and stand behind. Kobe guys are convinced that he’s the most clutch and greatest player to play. Dwight fans think that no one understands (like they do) the importance of defense, blocked shots, and presence. LeBron guys, while usually afraid to admit their love, are still convinced that he’s going to win five to seven championships pretty soon. I fall in that camp, by the way. Durant scores a lot, big time fantasy guy, we get it. But what goes unmentioned a lot of times are the rising stars that still grip us and represent the part of us that roots for the underdog (by that I mean undersized, underskilled, and under-everything). And really forget rooting for the underdog. How about rooting for a situation where we get to experience the growth, development, and arrival of a star.
I experienced something awesome last June. Most of the people I see every day here in Chattanooga know very little about the NBA (but goodness they will talk SEC football like it’s their job). They ask me a lot of dated questions about LeBron’s decision, and cite tired arguments about Kobe or LeBron being better — but their knowledge doesn’t go much farther than that.
Side note: I told a few guys at work this week that Chris Paul got traded to the Lakers and received more than three blank stares followed by a confused, “who?”
But something happened when the playoffs started. For many reasons, but primarily the story line revolving around LeBron and the Heat, people started giving the game a closer look. What I mean is the NBA is slightly less a wretched league infested by selfish, gutless prima donnas who want to “go one-on-one with anyone.” Yes, that is how most southern boys view the NBA. My geographic position in Chattanooga has typically left me sheepishly asking the bartender to change the channel from an SEC baseball game to an NBA game.
But last year during the playoffs, bars came alive with (perhaps) bandwagon Grizzlies fans rooting their hearts out for the likes of Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo, and Zach Randolph. What? It was such a weird sight, but I realized that the draw for most of these guys was a.) the fact that Memphis was an underdog, b.) the guys on the team who were getting national attention for their unprecedented performances (Randolph, specifically), and c.) how identifiable Memphis was for these guys. It’s a regional thing.
It’s a good thing to access the game through superstars, but the game becomes addictive when you realize that guys like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol (and James Harden — yes, I’m getting to him) can hang in a 48-minute game with, well, anyone.
The point here is that superstars doing superstar things have given new interest in the league that didn’t exist years ago, they get you to turn on your TV, or in my case, to revitalize your interest in the game of basketball. But it’s the rising stars that keep you coming back. They give you that hope that you’re witnessing something that will be talked about in years to come.
All that said, James Harden is by far and away the most exciting non-superstar to watch this year, and here’s why.