NBA Playoffs: College basketball at its best

May. 01, 2014 @ 06:30 AM

I rarely take an interest in NBA games. I don’t like the high-scoring, high-flying individualism that the league promotes. For example, I’ve seen one player hold the ball for 20 seconds before taking a shot, without even looking for a teammate. That’s not basketball.

However, late-season games and the playoffs have a college basketball feel and I love it. It’s as if someone flips a switch and says to the players, “Ok, you can start playing real basketball now.” Defenses tighten up, breakaways and dunks are challenged, and teams actually run set plays instead of relying on their superstar to bail them out at the end of the shot clock.

The officials seem to have gotten the memo as well. Wonder of wonders they actually call traveling and charges when a defender has established legal guarding position. They have also swallowed the whistles which has allowed for a more physical style of play. This, in turn, has caused scoring to drop as players have to work for shots instead of taking three steps to free themselves for an easy basket. Sound familiar, college basketball fans?

Postseason basketball recently returned to Charlotte for the first time since 2010 when the Bobcats made the playoffs. Though it only lasted four games thanks to a sweep by the Miami Heat, I was thrilled. Judging by the attendance at Time Warner Cable Arena, so was the rest of the Queen City. For their two home playoff games, over 19,000 fans packed the arena accounting for the second and third largest crowds in the venue’s history. The largest came in 2008 when Charlotte hosted the ACC Tournament.  Why? Because Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina is college basketball crazy. I think that’s why fans turned out to see the Bobcats in droves during the playoffs. They wanted to see professionals play college ball again.

Fans wanted to see players hustling, diving on the floor after ever loose ball. They wanted to see Kemba Walker’s silky smooth jump shot and fire on the defensive end of the floor not seen since he played for UConn. Most of all though, they wanted to impact the game and help their team win.

Most NBA fans just sit on their hands during a game. But not Bobcats fans in the playoffs. Chants of “Defense” rang out across the arena and came through my radio without the prompting of the PA announcer. They booed Lebron James every time he touched the ball and jeered him with every missed shot. They didn’t need a video board to tell them to get loud. Bobcats fans have seen enough college basketball to know what to do.

I saw this phenomenon in person at the Bobcats final regular season game against the Bulls. The game had a playoff atmosphere, complete with all the attributes I’ve already mentioned, but the most telling  thing was when Joakim Noah shot an air ball. It’s as if the crowd had studied the college basketball fan rulebook and they passed their final exam with flying colors. They chanted “Air Ball” three times just like you are supposed to do. They even raised their arms and brought them down in a swooshing motion when the Bobcats made a foul shot. It’s obvious that the Bobcat fans have never really graduated to the NBA and that’s a good thing.

Now the Bobcats are no more and the Bee-loved Hornets (sorry I couldn’t resist) will soon be on the scene. Hopefully this will fill fans with nostalgia and they will pack the arena. Then the players will feed off the crowd’s energy night after night bringing passion, desire and hustle to the floor. Maybe then, I won’t have to wait for the playoffs to see college basketball in the NBA.