UK fans forced to love NBA?

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By John Shindlebower

I’ve never been one to follow the NBA. During the regular season, my remote may accidently stop on a few minutes of a game every now and then, but I doubt it adds up to a full game over the course of the year. During the playoffs, there’s a tad bit more interest, maybe. I’ll check the paper for the scores, and may even catch five or 10 minutes of a game on television. Seems the NBA was a bit more interesting back when guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Byrd and Michael Jordan were around.
Kentucky fans are now left with the task of forcing themselves to like the NBA. With UK players leaving Lexington after one year to pursue their dreams at the professional level, Big Blue fans must feign loyalty to a league they never really embraced in order to follow players they got to know for a few months when they auditioned for the NBA at Rupp Arena. I’m not sure how long it can last.
Basketball fans in Kentucky have traditionally loved the college game. There’s something about the atmosphere in a college gym, the rivalries, the traditions that make college basketball a notch more entertaining than the next level. UK Coach John Calipari is calling on fans to abandon all traditions however, including things like rivalries and home games. It’s not good for the game, and it’s not good for Kentucky. I know I’m like a lone voice crying in the wilderness – but I for one can’t wait until Calipari finds a job in the pros and we can return to our first love – college basketball.
A change for the better
Meanwhile, fans of college athletics are in for a treat over the next month as the College World Series plays out, culminating in the traditional championship series in Omaha, Neb. At the same time, the NCAA softball championship is being determined. The idea of college athletics with real student-athletes are better represented in these two events than in what college basketball has evolved into. The College World Series has grown in popularity in recent years as well as television viewership.
One positive change in college baseball, and in high school as well, has been the phasing out of aluminum bats. They’ve been replaced by a composite type bat that more resembles the actions of a wood bat. Aluminum bats were simply getting too dangerous. A pitcher delivering a 90 mph fastball had virtually no time to react to a sharply hit line-drive back to the mound that would spring off an aluminum bat at speeds no human could be ready for.
As a result of the change, college and high school teams report that run production is down, there are way fewer home runs hit and players are actually having to learn more of the fundamentals like bunting, producing runs via the single and the importance of good pitching and fielding. Aluminum bats made average hitters great hitters because of the generous sweet spot, and in the long run, a good player will learn to be a better hitter with these new bats. If they are one of the lucky ones who move onto the level where they use wood, they’ll be much better prepared.
Which game is tougher to master?
Speaking of baseball, how does that sport stack up against football and basketball as far as athleticism, talent and skill go? Put simply, which of the three games is harder to master?
No doubt, when it comes to shear athleticism and fitness, I’d give the nod to the players in the NBA. Those guys play 82 games a year and beyond, if they make the playoffs. They are in top shape and the premier players do some amazing things that 99 percent of the population can’t emulate.
Football, I think, requires a level of toughness that goes beyond the other two sports. A football game is closely related to a well-organized battle for 60 minutes that leaves combatants often bruised, bloodied and exhausted.
However, when it comes to skills that are developed over years, I think baseball is the hardest game to master. You can take a great athlete and he will be able to do some amazing things on the basketball court or football field simply because of his ability. Yet put him in a batter’s box and ask him to hit a 95 mph fastball and things will get ugly. Put him on the mound and have him try to throw strikes to a .300 power hitter and he’ll be timid at best.
Look how long it takes most players to reach the major leagues? There are rare exceptions, like Ken Griffey Jr., or current sensation Bryce Harper, who at 19 is one of the few teenagers to ever make a major league roster. In fact, most major leaguers hone their skills in high school, college and then a few years in the minors before making the big leagues. You don’t find many 26- or 27-year-old rookies in the NFL or NBA, but that’s not uncommon at all in baseball. It just takes a while for even the best players to master the skills needed to perform and excel at that level.
I’ve heard others claim that the hardest feat in sports is hitting a baseball, where if you are successful 30 percent of the time, you’re considered a star. Former Pittsburgh Pirate slugger Willie Stargell may have had the best line I ever heard about the difficulty of hitting in the major leagues:
“They give you a round bat, throw you a round ball and tell you to hit it square.”
Players in the other sports may be stronger, quicker and more athletic, but when it comes to skills, baseball has to be the most complicated game to master.