It’s 1991. Saturday. Seven year old me has been up for a couple of hours while my parents sleep. At least one bowl of cereal demolished, possibly a new toy of Snap, Crackle or Pop. A string of cartoons have been watched: Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Taz-Mania and others. Then Channel 4 for Transworld Sport, but eventually we’d get features on basketball. The NBA. I knew little of the rules, but I was enthralled. The speed, the size and athleticism of the players, the showmanship.
The question was, who do I follow? I knew no one else who followed the NBA, none of my friends had an interest. Check the Internet? That wasn’t a thing. Our newspapers didn’t cover it. I had to look for something that drew me to a team. A certain player, a style of play. There was just one thing that I knew, even at seven years old, and that is that it absolutely could not, under any circumstances, be the Chicago Bulls. They were too good, it would be like cheating.
Countless hall of famers of yesteryear filled my screen. Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, my namesake Karl Malone, David Robinson, Charles Barkley and, of course, the Most Valuable Player in the league Michael Jordan. Boston, Houston, Utah, San Antonio, Philadelphia and Chicago were places I’d heard of, and the arenas were packed and the players wore colourful jerseys.
I didn’t know where to look, I was enthralled. Then one week I saw it, the team I knew I needed to follow. A behemoth of a man, physically bullying players at both ends of the court and a little genius who would continually make difficult passes and three-point shots. Names I’d never forget.
New York Knicks.
New York! That was such a big city that they couldn’t be a bad. What’s more, with these two players they were surely about to win the championship. It was decided. That was my team and that could never, ever change from this day forward. I was committed.
I fell in love with a game I knew nothing of. Travelling? That’s obviously the term used for players getting up and down the court. Rebound? That’s clearly one that goes in off the board at the back, above the ring. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know these things, the spectacle of it all was much greater than the sum of its parts. The rest came over time.
It’s now 27 years later and I can safely say that I love basketball more than ever. There’s no denying that the game has changed. It has, radically so. The days of giants bullying the paint has made way for smaller players penetrating. Three point shots play a much higher part in proceedings. The pace of the game is quicker. I love it all the same.
The one thing that has remained the same…
That championship is just around the corner.
Featured photo – via Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration