After reading Yoni Solomon’s opinion piece in The Times-Delphic this past Monday, I felt compelled to reply and give my take on the college basketball vs. NBA debate. Granted, all I ever watch is college basketball and loosely follow the NBA because I grew up in Kansas, where the closest thing we have to pro basketball is the Kansas Jayhawks. Nevertheless, I feel like this debate isn’t really a debate at all.
NBA and NCAA basketball are two completely different games. The NBA are the cream of the crop basketball players from across the globe who are paid to live, breathe, sleep and eat basketball. Of course they are going to be better. The majority of college players will not even sniff the NBA. A good many of them are playing basketball in college because it is the only way they will be getting a college degree. So there is obviously a playing gap. It is obvious in every sport. From college to pro in football, from minor to major leagues in baseball, from America to Europe in soccer, there is always a talent gap. For the NBA, it is about beautiful passing, super athletes and the superstars. For college basketball it is about the tradition, the passion and the unpredictability.
All “Matrix” associations aside, each league its their own great stories. Bill Russell and his 11 championships with the Celtics is a great example. He even won 2 straight championships with the University of San Francisco “Don’s” in 1955 and 1956 before joining the NBA. But what about Coach Mike Krzyzewski (said ‘sha-shef-ski’) of Duke reaching the Final Four five straight times from 1988 to 1992, winning back-to-back titles in ’91 and ’92? That is absolutely unprecedented, taking into account graduation and players leaving early.
The month of March is the holy grail of all those who follow college basketball. Well, it is for those who don’t follow college basketball as well. April, May and June are the NBA’s great months, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The NCAA tournament is a social game, during which people who are casual fans can fill out a bracket, watch ESPN and feel like part of the fan section. People who have never watched a game the entire season can pick teams by their mascot or whatever tickles their fair-weather fan’s fancy. It is more of a television event that people look forward to experience every year at this time, rather than being a sport purist. Excitement and drama is what the people crave.
Obviously, as he stated in his article, because of the one-game NCAA system, it “doesn’t mean that the NBA’s system isn’t just as upset-prone.” That is not the point of the matter at all. Great games equal great ratings for television. It plays wholly to the cliché of “on any given day, any team can beat one another.” It isn’t about the upsets ultimately, though. These teams play their entire year to get into the NCAA tournament. The Butlers, the VCUs and the Drakes of the world hope and pray to get into the tournament every year if they aren’t in a BCS conference. Getting into the tournament for them is like they have one the national championship in their eyes. So when they get in, they play like they have nothing to lose. And therefore upsets happen. Going into a series takes away from the unpredictability. More likely the better team will win. In the NCAA tournament there is a 50-50 chance that either team will win the game, making it that much more intense.
When Drake got into the tournament there were excited fans and players. But were ousted by a half-court buzzer beater. Where else would that happen? I am not discounting the NBA for excitement one bit. Take for example, the 2009 first round series between the Bulls and the Celtics. It was quite possibly the greatest and most exciting series of basketball games in a playoff series ever. Four overtime games, one in double overtime and one in triple overtime, took place during the season. Showcasing hopefully a future hall of famer in rookie Derrick Rose versus a loaded Celtics team with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Everyone always tries to make generalizations about how either game is better than the other. It is completely and totally irrelevant. Both are different games. We can enjoy both thoroughly as the casual basketball fan or the crazed basketball purist that all of us are. Of course, no matter how much basketball you watch, you will see great games and great teams or the ugliest basketball possible (Monday night‘s Butler vs. UConn as Connecticut won arguably the grossest display of basketball I’ve seen in the last five years). Ultimately, I would like to remind you all that the NCAA and NBA are completely different types of basketball, and we can enjoy both thoroughly.