Biasotti: Liberated fandom for the NBA
I don't know if Jerry Seinfeld was the first person to compare rooting for a professional sports team to cheering for laundry, but he's Jerry Seinfeld, so I'm giving him credit for it.
That blind passion — "Boo! Different shirt!" — is fun, and probably useful. If sport is war without killing, well, that's a whole lot better than war with killing.
But now, on the eve of this strange, truncated NBA season, I'm asking you to give it a rest. That way madness lies: Cleveland Cavaliers fans burning LeBron James jerseys at public hate-ins; Lakers fans seriously arguing that Derek Fisher is still an acceptable starting point guard.
The alternative is something the brilliant, now-defunct basketball blog FreeDarko called "liberated fandom." It means taking seriously the cliché that the NBA is a players' league. There are people wearing those jerseys, and they're a lot more fun to root for than the fabric.
Here I present a beginner's guide to liberated fandom: a list of some of the most interesting, watchable teams in the NBA. We'll start with the good teams and work our way down to the Wizards.
Miami Heat: The conventional wisdom is that the Heat failed last year because they didn't win it all. That's crazy. They made the Finals in their first year together, and they're in a great position to get there again.
To enjoy the Heat, you need tunnel vision. You have to block out the LeBron drama, and just watch the man play. Many times this season he will do something that no one else who has ever picked up a basketball could do. Don't miss them all because you're obsessed with whatever character flaw you think made him play poorly in last year's Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The main reason the Thunder will be fun to watch is that they'll be very, very good. Heat-Thunder in the 2012 Finals is a popular prediction for a reason.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are amazing, but what sets the Thunder apart is the talent and youth of the supporting cast. Serge Ibaka jumps out of the gym, dominates games defensively and looks like he's actually figuring out what to do with the ball in his hands. James Harden's game is now good enough to pull some of the attention away from his championship-quality beard. Only one of their regulars is older than 27, and most of their key guys are under contract for years, so get used to seeing the Thunder playing in June.
Memphis Grizzles: Like the Thunder, a young, dangerous team. They don't have a Durant-type superstar, but they have everything else.
When you watch Memphis on TV, watch Zach Randolph's feet. They never get more than a few inches off the ground, but the way Randolph moves them, they don't need to. They jab, they spin, and then Randolph is floating the ball softly through the hoop, the best athletes in the world flying harmlessly past him.
L.A. Clippers: People will call you a bandwagon-jumper for your sudden interest in the Clippers. So what? They weren't interesting before. Now they are.
What is there to say that hasn't been said about the idea of Chris Paul throwing alley-oops to Blake Griffin? All I can add is, savor every dunk. This is the Clippers, an organization that until recently didn't deserve that term, so you never know how long this will last. As John Keats once wrote — yes, I only know this from the movie "White Men Can't Jump" — "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
Minnesota Timberwolves: This is not a good team, yet. It might be another year until they win more than they lose, but it's not too early to start watching. Kevin Love is one of the best young players in the league, even if he does turn redder in the face than I do when he runs. Ricky Rubio, the rookie point guard from Spain, should be a joy to watch, even if he can't shoot. Derrick Williams could easily be the Rookie of the Year.
And then there's Anthony Randolph, third-string power forward. I can't quit Anthony Randolph. I've been a believer even since I saw him destroy the Las Vegas Summer League in 2009 as a member of the Golden State Warriors. Time is running out for Randolph. If he can't earn playing time with the Timberwolves, what's left?
Washington Wizards: If you're actually a fan of the Wizards, if it would bother you to see them make tragic and hilarious mistakes night after night, you probably shouldn't watch them. But if you don't care whether they win or lose, this could be a fun team.
Second-year point guard John Wall is a breathtaking athlete with a real feel for the game. Washington has surrounded him with players who fit only the first half of that description: JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young are a three-headed beast that blocks shots into the stands, throws down monster dunks, loses track of who it's guarding and swallows basketballs without ever passing one back.
Washington also has Jan Vesely, a rookie Czech forward. He's big and quick and specializes in dunking on people's faces, so when he was drafted in June, an ESPN reporter asked him if he was "the European Blake Griffin." "I think," he replied, "Blake Griffin is American Jan Vesely."
Now that's someone I can root for, no matter what color his shirt is.
Tony Biasotti is a writer based in Ventura. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @tonybiasotti on Twitter.