Shi: NBA or college ball?

May 8, 2013, 12:05 a.m.

I don’t know why everybody likes to complain about the NBA.

College basketball is fun. I will grant the college fans that. Standing in the cheering section has been a revelation; Lakers games are hardly so involved.

I have heard the same argument over and over for why college basketball is superior: college players play harder than NBA players. The sad part is that that criticism is true; despite the fact that NBA players playing at half speed would still destroy college teams, the NBA regular season is intensely boring.

The season is too long; players don’t play 100 percent. Yes, the NBA season is 10 or 20 games too long. Yes, players are more intent on conserving energy than on winning every game.

But there are always compelling games, even during the regular season, and the NBA is at a special point in its history: There is just so much talent in the league and so many recognizable stars.

The Lakers played at 100 percent during the regular season and made the playoffs. But I doubt college fans would have liked the Lakers. Granted, they weren’t exactly the most sympathetic bunch. Everyone laughed at the Heat when they initially struggled after forming their superteam. The Lakers have the deck stacked in their favor. I guess they don’t deserve any sympathy.

But now that the playoffs are coming in, how many arguments are left?

Every team is playing at maximum effort. Every team is handing the ball to their stars, and with the worse teams in the NBA weeded out, the level of competition is simply incredible.

Pound-for-pound, the NBA might have the finest athletes on the planet. The Association has come under fire for having so many playoff teams — half the league makes the playoffs — but amazingly enough, for perhaps the first time in recent memory, it doesn’t feel as though there are any teams that don’t deserve to be in the postseason. That is how good the game is right now.

Monday’s transcendent Warriors-Spurs game was the best thing on television in months. Stephen Curry has been a one-man offense for the entire postseason, erupting night after night — as ESPN pointed out, in precisely the same way that March Madness is so famous for. Curry carried his Davidson team to the Elite Eight in his sophomore season. He is doing the same thing right now.

I never expected Curry to be this good. I thought he would be just another one of those designated shooters in the Adam Morrison mold that ends up as a role player at best. Perhaps that’s why college fans are so uncomfortable watching the NBA: it’s understandably strange for fans to see their college favorites so often crash and burn in the Association. Why is the NBA so different? Why couldn’t basketball IQ make up the difference?

But that’s the cost of playing at a high level. So many players have basketball IQ and athleticism. NBA players run the same pick-and-roll over and over and over again at times, but there are so many variants and little decisions that players have to make on that one play. Every play in the NBA is refined to perfection. The San Antonio Spurs, who defeated Curry’s Warriors on Monday, are famous for technical perfection, selfless play and hard work, but nevertheless they are derided as boring.

Is it because the Spurs don’t have players that are transcendent characters; Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have quiet personal lives, and while Tony Parker was married to Eva Longoria for a while, the most interesting thing he’s done off the court is get injured accidentally when two rappers’ entourages were brawling nearby.

I suppose that the real reason why NCAA basketball is compelling is that unlike the Spurs’ players, the fans feel a real connection to college players. The Lakers do not really represent me; only one player on the team (Steve Nash) even went to college in California, and he’s Canadian. But college players go to the same school as we do; they have a different experience because of their monstrous time commitments, but they still do substantially the same things. They are always part of the school in the same way that a virtuoso pianist is part of the school. We don’t have that in the NBA.

And that’s why I like college ball too.

Winston Shi wants it known that he almost lives the life of a college basketball star. Encourage him to take that final step and walk on next year at wshi94 ‘at’

Winston Shi was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also served as an opinions and sports columnist, a senior staff writer, and a member of the Editorial Board. A native of Thousand Oaks, California (the one place on the planet with better weather than Stanford), he graduated from Stanford in June 2016 with bachelor's and master's degrees in history. He is currently attending law school, where he preaches the greatness of Stanford football to anybody who will listen, and other people who won't.

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