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Camp appeal

Here's a few ways to boost enthusiasm for NBA training camps

Posted: Monday September 27, 2004 11:32AM; Updated: Monday September 27, 2004 2:38PM
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They always seem to arrive before they're welcome, much like credit card bills, the next Prince album and Friday mornings after a Thursday night out at the West Side Tavern (a tip o' the Harp to friendly bartendress and New York Rangers skater Bridie). I speak, of course, of NBA training camps, which begin next Tuesday.

Sure, they herald the coming of a new NBA season -- though didn't the last one just end? And I suppose they provide the first opportunity for fans to see the latest acquisitions in their new uniforms (Shaq in black! Tracy in red!), a novelty that wears off after, oh, 20 minutes or the first Pepsi commercial. But at least they answer so many pressing questions. Questions such as:

How much weight did Rodney Rogers gain this summer?

How long will it take for Dennis Rodman's latest comeback attempt to falter?

Who, by god, will be the backup point guard for the Warriors?

What will the new LeBron ad campaign center around?

(The smart money as I see it: over/under of 30 lbs; nine days; Speedy because Fish got the big paycheck; and probably not his 5.4 ppg average and laissez-faire patriotism in the Olympics.)

If I sound jaded, it's probably because for NBA writers at the magazine, training camps mean the type of six-cities, seven-days travel that can drain the joie de vivre from any enterprise (though, thankfully, fill the frequent flyer and Marriott Rewards coffers something special). Still, it doesn't feel like the rest of the country cares in the least that another at-times-interminable, essentially unessential NBA season -- how can it be meaningful when more than half the teams make the playoffs? -- is around the corner. Certainly not in the way that fans welcome spring training (which is seen as some sort of Mecca-in-the-sun) or NFL camps. Grown men plan annual wife-avoidance vacations around catching AL teams in Florida. And, as I found last month while touring the Steelers, Browns, Bengals and Ravens camps, thousands of people will pack up BBQs and coolers for a day of watching their team's third-string receiver run through non-contact drills, and seem blissfully happy about it.

NBA camps? Not open to the public, not held in a beautiful outdoor setting and not about to inspire any worshipful prose from the George Wills of the world. You won't read about how some lanky forward running wind sprints is a metaphor for the cleansing of America or how the sound of bouncing basketballs conjures the nesting instincts of winter (even if it does). Instead, you will read a two-graph note about how some free agent whose name you've never heard of did not, as expected, make the team (accompanied, of course, by a quote from the coach about how "we really wanted to keep Joey Molasses, but it just came down to a numbers game.")

So I will offer a few solutions.

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1. Create a Midnight Madness atmosphere. Make the first practice into an event. Invite season-ticket holders and kids from local colleges, give away a free beer to every attendee of age -- on the theory that enthusiasm can be bought with Budweiser -- and hold a dunk contest and a one-on-one tournament emceed by the funniest player on the team. And -- I can't believe I'm suggesting this -- it wouldn't hurt to hire Dickie V. to show up and yell incoherently but with excess enthusiasm.

2. Hold the first preseason game at a local high school gym. This accomplishes three things: It gets the players out of the antiseptic, corporate arena and into an intimate gathering that will foster florid prose from local writers (oh, the Jimmy Chitwood comparisons!); it will humanize the players, who should stay and mingle with fans and the players from the high school; and it will increases the odds that the gym will actually be full.

3. Finally -- and this would never happen but it would be great if it did -- shorten the regular season and start it in January. And, while we're at it, let's get rid of those T-shirt-cannon people, the entire Clippers franchise, anything but 20-second timeouts and offensive goaltending. And bring back the Nuggets teams from the '80s, the ones that scored 145 point a night.

Last Thursday, fellow Daily Blogger Josh Elliott made a transparent attempt to employ the oldest trick in the book -- the reverse jinx -- with regards to the Dodgers-Giants battle for the NL West (though it apparently worked over the weekend. Looks like the Dodgers have this thing in hand now. Might as well just lock 'em in and call it a season). He prattled on about the pain of being a Dodgers fan and how LA would, inevitably, fold down the stretch.

For those of us who are Giants fans -- a contingent at the magazine that includes editor extraordinaire Dick Friedman and bow-tied, one-time Who Wants to Be a Millionaire contestant Doug Goodman (who, by the way, would kick Ken Jennings' ass on Jeopardy) -- the idea of a Dodger fan lecturing about the pain of missed opportunity is high comedy indeed. Try watching your manager give the game ball to his starting pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series, the game won, only to watch the bullpen un-win it against Disney Inc. Or, to take it back a little further, suffering through a natural disaster only to have the pain compounded by a sporting one (I speak, of course, of the devastation wreaked first by San Andreas and then by the A's lineup in 1989).

This is not only painful, but painful in a fundamentally different way than it is for Cubs fans -- who have found a way to make losing fun -- and the Red Sox, whose fans, I fear, would lose their reason for existence without the ability to bemoan their team's bad luck (to see how the attitude starts early, click here.

Random thoughts/corrections:

1. Best ahhhh-ahhha-aaahhhh sound in a song, ever: Three minutes into the Beatles' A Day in the Life. Right after "somebody spoke and I went into a dream ..." Other nominations shall be accepted, but they better be good.

2. Last week in this space, I described Basketball City's Ira Berday as the gym's "honcho." He has requested that I upgrade him to "head honcho." Consider it done. In return, I expect him to provide favorable referees at all the SI team games. And cheerleaders.

3. After getting major product placement in Six Feet Under, it probably doesn't need more attention, but I'd recommend Mary Roach's Stiff to anyone interested in a good, non-fiction, non-sports read. It is about, as the subtitle says, "The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." You will learn lots of interesting stuff, some of which you didn't want to know (the part about the transplanted dog head crying killed me).

4. R.I.P. Russ Meyer. You were ahead of your time.

For the three of you who read the Monday Blog on a regular basis, it has been quite a week for the Owens. After the emergence of a "second Owen" last week, the original O-dog felt compelled to send me not one, not two, but six Important Sports Thoughts during the week (by the way, it's Owen's 31st birthday today. Hope it's a good one, filled with all types of anti-Yankees rants).

My two favorites:

1. Pedro Martinez admitting on the record after Friday night's loss that the Yankees are his daddy is the most self-emasculating gesture in sports since 1995, when Stan Humphries agreed to be sacked by a 49er and basically admit the Chargers couldn't win in a commercial filmed before the Super Bowl.

2. With regards to Russell Athletic's stadium steps ad: Have you heard the fictional play-by-play and wondered the same things, too? 1) If it's the final play of the game, and they're in scoring range (and it's implied they need to score), why are they running the ball? 2) Further, why the hell are they RUNNING THE BALL OUT OF THE I FORMATION? Three guys in the backfield on the last play of the game? That's only when the offense is taking a knee!

Not to be outdone, Owen L. wrote back in to clarify his bubble idea for the Will Ferrell movie. "It made sense in the wee hours of the morning ... guy gets burned in a freak baking accident, and has to be in a bubble to heal... rolling through the halls like a giant hamster with his sweet foxy chick having touching moments with him in the hospital garden and corridors." He finished his e-mail by signing off as "O2."

That's all I got this week. Same time, same place next Monday.