[the fan being, me; this originally ran on NBA.com]
Mark Deeks is a 30-year-old Englishman who didn’t play basketball growing up, didn’t coach, didn’t scout and didn’t really follow the game at all. Yet over the last decade, Deeks has become among the most knowledgeable people on earth about the game and the league, through his expertise in understanding one of the NBA’s least understandable topics: the salary cap and Collective Bargaining Agreements.
His website, ShamSports.com, has become among the go-to sites for anyone seeking down to the penny info on player contracts and the arcane yet necessary knowledge about the CBA (the site is currently being renovated). It was Deeks who discovered in 2012 that Zach Randolph’s contract extension with the Memphis Grizzlies and Tim Duncan’s with the San Antonio Spurs technically violated existing CBA rules, and needed to be changed to be legal. They were. Deeks also blogs about how teams put together rosters — the why as opposed to the how — and has strong opinions on team and player decisions. Mark has been kind enough to lead us off this week with his story.
The NBA is an increasingly global brand. With NBA games now played every season in Europe and Asia, plus ones last year in Brazil and last month in South Africa, the NBA has delivered its distinctly American product around the world. And of course, the league has used the greatest facilitator ever, the Internet, to cover games live and on-demand to pretty much anyone who wants it.
As a result, there are hundreds of millions of basketball fans around the world, many of whom are quite new to it. To be a fan of basketball outside of the USA is to be a fan of the NBA — no matter how good your domestic league is, or how much like a religion basketball is in nations such as the Philippines, it is extremely rare to delineate one from the other. As more and more people take to basketball, they take to the sport at its pinnacle, and there is no lack of supply to meet that demand.
This was not always the case.
In October, 2013, I travelled to Norman, Oklahoma, to visit a friend. On my first evening there, we went to a comedy night in a local bar, where a nationally televised NBA game was also being shown. I remarked upon how unusual it was to see a weekday game start so early. It was quickly brought to my attention how stupid of a thing that was to say. But it wasn’t stupid to me.
I am an Englishman, born and raised in a country that basically does not have basketball in any substantive form. Basketball here is a widely played game amongst inner city youth, but a jarring lack of facilities, a semi-professional domestic league, a lack of history and inexplicably little media coverage make it an afterthought sport roughly equal in stature to lamenting the fall of the empire. Rolling cheese down a hill gets more media coverage in my country than basketball does.
It is not an exaggeration to say that I didn’t even know what basketball was until I was about 13, that I had never seen it until I was 14, and that I still have never truly played it.
In 1998, a half-hour long magazine show featuring highlights and news from that week in the NBA started being broadcast on a mainstream TV channel on a Saturday afternoon, presented by Beverley Turner and former Olympic runner Derek Redmond. On one such Saturday afternoon, this bored 14-year-old was channel hopping, found this channel, and stuck with it for a bit (at least in part due to Turner). For whatever reason, I immediately took to the game, and watched those half-hour snippets over and over again. There wasn’t much other choice.
Half an hour a week had to suffice, at least until the internet began to take over. In 2003, I made a friend in Wisconsin who had League Pass on his cable subscription, who recorded all Chicago Bulls games for me on VHS and posted them over every few weeks — this was the exact moment an addiction took hold, never to be shaken. As the technology of the internet improved, I was able to watch a lot more. And then in 2006, basketball, in both NBA and NCAA form, really arrived on British TV. They were bought in bulk by the same companies selling extremely expensive Premier League football packages as a cheap means of padding out the schedule between footballing Saturdays.
To be awash in so much NBA content today, then, is a beautiful and once unimaginable thing. Every game is available to watch, via television, the Internet, or both. Further to that is all the other coverage, the analysis, the entertainment, the discussion, the Draft, and everything in between. And no longer must one be a U.S. resident to enjoy it. Where once there was so little, there is now so much.
However, that does not make it easy to be an international NBA fan. Particularly in England. Those 7 p.m. ET tip-off times that seemed so normal to amateur Oklahoman stand-up comics are games that tip at midnight in my country. And, the further east you go around the globe, the later it gets. Los Angeles Clippers home games routinely start at 3.30 a.m. and finish after everyone else has risen for work.
If you want to watch those games, but you also need to work a 9-to-5 job given that you cannot work in your industry of choice due to your nation’s greater focus on the beautiful marriage of gravity and dairy, what do you do?
You could settle for a casual relationship with the sport, watching NBA games when it is convenient and maybe a few on catch-up. Yet it is not within mine or many sports fan’s nature to be anything but fanatical. Watching reruns just doesn’t work — you miss the discourse and the pertinence of it all. So instead, you have to cater for the time difference.
And that means sacrifice. That means having next to no money, as you sacrifice employment for love. That means going to bed at 7 a.m. every day, and not seeing the sun during the winter months. That means permanently having bright pink eyes and a slight headache.
Inevitably, it also impacts upon relationships, familial and otherwise, as well as the obvious financial and social repercussions. And it also makes you something of an outcast — you can be the most gifted person socially, but if no one understands your lifestyle, what you do with your time and why you have to do it in the way that you do, you’ll always be slightly on the outside.
At times, these things bite. I cannot with certainty speak for NBA fans outside of England, but this surely is at least partly true of any NBA fan east of the Greenwich Meridian. It’s something you have to do if you want to fully immerse yourself into the game, and if you love it enough, being fully immersed is the sole aim.
I can’t really explain to anyone who hasn’t lived anything comparable to it how weird and difficult it is to essentially devote a decade of your life to an activity that not a single one of your friends and peers even remotely understands. It felt almost like a double life. My family haven’t really got a clue why I live like this. My nan occasionally asks how “the netball” is going, which is nice of her.
Friends have a better idea, although I have not one real-life friend who likes basketball. And how can people like it like I do when they see the cost I pay doing so?
It is considerably easier now to justify it all given the relatively vast amounts on offer, and the ease of access. But it still isn’t easy. Staying up until silly o’clock to watch men play a sport I myself have never really played purely so I am more informed for the opinion-giving I do after the fact is a tough sell to those in my life, as is attempting to work in an industry that simply does not exist in my country.
But is it all worth it? Of course it is. We love this game.