NBA Playoffs: More Important Than You Think

This time of year brings with it a familiar feeling of anxious optimism about the next couple weeks. Many have poured hours and hours into reaching this point, studying, researching, and observing for the better part of six months. We know one small mistake now could negate all progress made. Oh, did you think I was talking about exams? Well, the final exam for NBA franchises has arrived: the NBA playoffs.

Some may say that spending hours a week following a team is a waste of time. However, for those avid fans that grew up with a successful NBA franchise in their hometowns, following a team throughout the season and into the playoffs is a powerful and rewarding experience. At schools like the 5Cs, where most students grew up far from Claremont, playoffs bring hometown pride back to the forefront. 

Alex Bau PO ’15, self-proclaimed Golden State Warriors super-fan, detailed the feeling.

“When I’m at home, I can watch with fellow Warriors fans or even get to go to some of the games,” Bau said. “And so most of the people who I’m watching with will be my good friends who are all pretty big Warriors fans, and so we’ll all cheer and hug and laugh when the Warriors do well.”

However, college is a time of separation from one’s family, friends, and hometown. For some, watching their team perform during the playoffs can be a way to keep in touch with family and friends from afar. 

“It’s always funny because my dad will be watching it and then my friends from high school will be watching it and then we’ll have these rapid-fire text messages … People are tuned in for sure,“ said Stacey Abrams PO ’16, a Portland Trailblazers fan.

Owen Bell PO ’16, a fan of the dark horse championship contender Memphis Grizzlies, said that watching the Grizzlies helps build “friendships and keep them close from back home.” 

For an NBA team to succeed in the playoffs, it helps if the team has the collective support of the city around them. Part of the rewarding experience of watching a team is seeing an entire city band together in support. 

Abrams explained what it’s been like to follow the Trailblazers in their surprising first-round matchup with Houston. 

“Coming back [from road games], everybody was really excited, kind of like this homecoming,” she said. “So there was definitely this, you know, rallying around the team … that feeling of pride that your hometown is doing this great thing.”

In Memphis, the Grizzlies serve as a beacon of togetherness for all to appreciate regardless of their backgrounds. 

“Memphis just acts like it doesn’t have much going for it, and then whenever we do [win] everyone goes crazy,” Bell said. “I think it makes a big difference in Memphis.” 

Recently, an audio recording of racist comments made by Donald Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was released. Fans of the Clippers and Clippers players themselves refused to let what could have been a tragic situation ruin their NBA postseason. Instead, the players bounced back, getting a much needed victory on Tuesday night to take a series lead as they were showered with an uplifting chorus of “We Are One!” from the crowd at the Staples Center. 

“I think especially with situations like the recent controversy, I think that it really opens up doors for conversations that wouldn’t necessarily be there,” Bau said. “I’ve had two or three really interesting conversations about race and the ideas of boycotting and what it means to support a team.” 

Yes, watching a basketball game, we are cheering for our team to win. Yes, in the sense that those hours could be spent doing something else, watching a game is a waste of time. But watching a favorite NBA team isn’t just about cheering for the triumph of a team in the final score of the game. It can be about cheering to feel connected once again to old friends and hometown traditions, cheering for the unification of an entire city, or even cheering for the triumph of social justice. 

Of course, I love a great basketball game as much as the next guy, but the stuff that happens off the court, hidden from the casual observer—that’s what makes the NBA playoffs special. 

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