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Yawn Kemp (9/19/03) --
While immersing ourselves in the plethora of NFL games offered by the Sunday Ticket package over the weekend, my brothers and I found our way into talking about the National Basketball Association. I can remember back in the mid-nineties when all three of us shamelessly placed ourselves on the Knicks bandwagon when they did battle with the Chicago Bulls. We would watch not only every minute of the playoff games, but the pregames as well. NBA basketball was where it was at, baby, and if you werenít involved, then you werenít nuthiní chump.

And now, in 2003, Nate didnít even realize there was a team in New Orleans until midway through the season.

How in the world does something like that happen? To me, it all parallels the career of Shawn Kemp. I can recall back when the Supersonics were first starting to get hot, Shawn Kemp was a bona fide superstar. This guy was putting up highlight reel plays, was an unbelievably athletic player, and was a very popular person to hang your hat on. He was leading an upstart team with huge potential and, (GASP), he didnít go to college! Plain and simple, if the Bulls and Michael Jordan were your fathersí team, Shawn Kemp and the Supersonics were your 7th grade buddyís squad.

I remember in the 1997 Finals, the penultimate year for the Supersonics in my lifetime, when they did battle with the heavily-favored Bulls. As we were still intensely following the NBA at this time, my family was fully backing the Bulls and Michael Jordan. It was easy to see why. The Bulls were inexplicably good (more on this in a moment) and were a model example of a champion. But being in junior high at the time, how could I go wrong with the Sonics? Shawn Kemp was a one-man wrecking crew, carrying the Sonics to six games before faltering. I was the only one in the house pulling for Seattle and that was due largely to Shawn Kemp.

19 illegitimate children and 465 pounds later, Shawn Kemp, and the NBA in general, are old and depressing.

Kempís downfall can best represented in this scenario: My feelings for Kemp are well-documented above, so you can see the level of respect I had for him. In my fantasy basketball league this season, I audibly groaned when my starting center got hurt and I was FORCED to pick up Shawn Kemp to shoulder the load for a few weeks. Shawn Kemp? Are you kidding me? Why not go out and find Oliver Miller and Yinka Dare to round out the squad? Heís clearly the best example of an athlete letting go of himself that I have ever seen.

And it was somewhere between the cheesecake, pot-smoking, and child-making sessions that Kemp engaged in that everything changed for the NBA. For it is Kempís downfall to me that marks the jumping of the proverbial shark in the NBA.

One more time for posterity: When Shawn Kemp became an obese slob, the NBA jumped the shark. Period.

I know that are there are some die-hard NBA fans out there that would take offense to that statement, but Iím confident that both of them will calm down after they hear me try and back up my claim. Letís assume for the sake of conversation that Kempís transformation to the Don Zimmer-like body took place at the turn of the millennium. That means that up until the 2001 tip-off, the NBA held my interest which is for the most part true. But why did it fall off the map? (Other than Kemp, who is largely a figurehead in this model. The emphasis is on the ďlargeĒ)

Look alive, chubby
The first and most important difference between now and then is the lack of player recognition. In the old days (ya know, early and mid-nineties) you had guys that not only had been playing in the NBA and with their current teams for quite some time, but these same guys developed in front of your eyes in the college ranks. After watching the Grant Hills and the Larry Johnsons of the world achieve notoriety in college, you couldnít help but pay attention to where they went and how they fared in the pros.

Does anybody know (or care) where Szymon Szewczyk came from, who he was drafted by, or who the hell he is? (Poland, Phoenix, No)

For me, I want to know who the players are. If I want to slog through European names, Iíll watch hockey which is a vastly more entertaining game anyway. But now, with the influx of high school and foreign players, nobody has the slightest clue what players their team drafted.


Guy A: Hey, I hope we get Laettner in the draft.*
Guy B: No kidding, man. Either him or maybe Augmon. He looks good.


Guy A: Hey, did you see we drafted Sofoklis Schortsanitis?
Guy B: DAMN IT! We had a shot at Nedzad Sinanovic and we let him go.

In the meantime, we cling to the old standbys, the guys that we already know. And frankly, Iím tired of watching a lot of these felons play basketball. For every David Robinson that has left the game, an influx of Jason Williamses and Bonzi Wellses have taken their place. Itís hard to stay positive when your point guardís loyalty to his bong is stronger than that to his team.

"This goes out to my children: Johnny, Sally, Marcia, Robby, Harold, Larry Jr, Larry XIII..."
And while as much as character issues riddle the NBA, the league faces another problem:

The games are torturous to watch on TV.

When thereís no other sports on, I feel it is my duty to watch the Timberwolves play ball. Being a sports fan and them being the ďlocalĒ team, I would be remiss if I didnít. But the game that is being played is downright brutal. While four guys battle for the basket, you have six others dogging it out on the court. The offenses are all one-on-one oriented, thereís far more emphasis on dunking than on offensive innovation, and again, the players take 3/4 of the game off. Have you ever noticed how in the NBA it is not uncommon for one team to open up a 20 point lead in the first half, only to have the other claw back into it and make it a game in the fourth quarter? Itís just standard probability. Team A dogs it in the first half, thereby letting the other team open up the lead. Then when Team B decides to take a nap in the late third quarter, Team A is now playing semi-hard and makes the comeback. Is the season here yet? I can hardly wait!

All of this might be able to be overlooked if the league had any intriguing storylines and teams. There is not one, count Ďem, ONE team in the NBA that excites me. Back in the nineties, you had the Bulls who were, well, the Bulls. When I think back to my sports-watching life, no team intimidates me more than this squad. Yeah, the Cowboys were good for awhile. The Yankees seem to buy a World Series every couple of years. But the Bulls? Holy *#*#, weíre talking about THE Chicago Bulls. Even their current collection of corpses masquerading as a basketball team can't erase the memories of their glory teams.

But the best thing about the game at that time was that the Bulls were hardly the only interesting team. The Phoenix Suns were a fun team to watch, with a rejuvenated Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, who I always thought put out a great effort. The Indiana Pacers were a cocky group of youngsters led by Reggie Miller who would shoot the lights out and tear out your heart in the process. The Knicks were the coolest NBA team Iíve ever seen. Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley played like the Dudley Boyz in shorts. Pat Riley was a master craftsman with the team. Patrick Ewing was a superstar and John Starks officially ranks as my favorite basketball player of all-time. End of story.

Now? Thereís not a team in the league that makes me mutter at least as much as an ďEhĒ when I see them on TV. The Lakers? Not a chance. Dallas? Well, maybe Cuban will run out on the floor or something. Sacramento? I still canít fathom the fact that the Sacramento Kings are legitimate title contenders. Sorry, itís not working for me.

And finally, the biggest nail in the coffin occurred last year. When I was way into the NBA, I needed to settle on a team to pull for. I decided to pick the young, up-and-coming Charlotte Hornets who had just picked up Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson the year before. Even as my interest in the NBA was waning, this was still my favorite team. But George Schinn was/is a complete tool that sabotaged the franchise, its ties with the city, and then shipped them down the road to New Orleans.

Not only do I not have the league to cheer for anymore, they took my team, too. This officially makes me the only person outside of the Charlotte metro area that has any feelings of bitterness about this relocation.

In summary the games stink, the teams are boring, thereís no player recognition, and the ones I do recognize I sometimes wish I didnít. And to finish it off, they took my team. And we can all thank Shawn Kemp for it. He took it upon himself to jump the shark for the league, when even though nowadays heíd have a very hard time jumping over anything else.

*Sentence altered after suggestions from readers.

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