COMMENTARY: The sports world misses basketball dearly

Giannis Antetokounmpo was an MVP favorite before the NBA season was shut down due to COVID-19. (Courtesy: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons)

I miss basketball.

A lot.

It’s hard to fathom that it’s only been more than a month since the NBA shut down — a day that will likely be remembered as Rudy Gobert Day.

Since then, our everyday lives have changed dramatically in almost every way possible — nothing more really needs to be said about that. And during these uncertain times, not having sports is definitely among the least of the world’s concerns.

But it still hurts.

As a fan of basketball first and foremost, I’m spoiled. The NBA regular season runs from October to April, and playoffs go from April to early June. In June and July, there’s the draft, the awards ceremony and free agency — arguably even more exciting than the regular season.

That means that the only months without any real NBA-related content are August and September, which is when I pour all of my pro sports attention into fantasy football anyway. So not having basketball at this time of year just doesn’t feel right.

Normally, the NBA playoffs would be in full swing by now. Given how the standings were by the time of the shutdown, here’s what the Western Conference first round matchups would look like (granted that, if the season had continued as per usual, the standings could look dramatically different given that only one game separates the No. 4 and No. 6 seeds in the West):

Lakers vs. Grizzlies

Clippers vs. Mavericks

Nuggets vs. Rockets

Jazz vs. Thunder

That first round alone would be ridiculously entertaining.

Imagine six-foot-five PJ Tucker trying to guard The Joker. Or the 21-year-old Luka Doncic threading the needle through that suffocating Clippers perimeter defense. Or the rookie Ja Morant fearlessly going at the Lakers’ rim-protecting bigs.

There have been talks about holding the playoffs in alternative forms — in fanless arenas, quarantined cities, even on cruise ships (shoutout Jay Will). But as things are progressing, it’s starting to look more and more likely that the playoffs won’t happen at all.

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With the juggernaut that has been the Golden State Warriors over the past five years out of the playoff picture, there would have been no prohibitive favorites going into this year’s playoffs. Multiple teams from each conference thought they had a legitimate shot of contending. Each and every game of playoff basketball would have been a battle, and I was ready for every second of it.

To think that we likely won’t be seeing any playoff basketball is upsetting to say the least. And I know that the rest of the basketball world, especially those who work in sports media, feels the same way.

I, like many other sports fans, watch Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe duke it out on “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” whenever I can. Their phony disagreements and clear bias in their takes are simply unbeatable.

For context, Skip is a strong believer that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, while Shannon believes that LeBron is deserving of the GOAT title.

As such, Skip tries to discredit LeBron any chance he gets. He’ll say things like, “I saw your guy LeBron go from ‘the chosen one’ to ‘the frozen one,’” or “Ray Allen saved your guy’s legacy with the greatest clutch shot of all time against my San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 Finals,” to which Shannon will reply something like, “Come on Skeeeeup,” or “Don’t talk about GOAT James like that.”

I normally laugh during these segments. They’re funny. They’re lighthearted. They’re entertaining. Skip brings up LeBron’s 3-6 record in the Finals whenever he can, and I love it.

During a recent segment, though, the legendary duo took it a little too far. As the NBA was planning for its H-O-R-S-E competition that was going to be aired on ESPN, Skip and Shannon spent an entire 26 minutes debating who would win in a game of H-O-R-S-E between Jordan and LeBron.

“It’s really come down to this,” I thought to myself, grimacing.

Come on, Skip and Shannon. That’s a stretch even for you two. 

To be entirely fair to them, though, it was a pretty funny segment, and at one point, Skip even said that MJ could sweep LeBron at the free throw line, which made me chuckle. 

But if that isn’t the most absurd, outlandish segment of a sports talk show that’s ever been aired on national television, then I don’t want to know what is.

What’s next? “Would Zion Williamson beat prime Vince Carter in a pool dunk contest?” “Is Trae Young’s dog the best four-legged defender we have ever seen?”

My takeaway from that segment is simple: We need basketball. Badly. Having to hear Skip and Shannon talk about a hypothetical H-O-R-S-E matchup between Jordan and LeBron is, put simply, heartbreaking.

I don’t know when basketball, or life as it normally is, will come back — nobody does — but the day it does will be a beautiful day.

Until then, I’ll have to make do with what I have: I’ll relive Virginia’s miraculous bounceback story from last year’s March Madness, I’ll listen to the Bill Simmons podcast, I’ll get my NBA 2K20 MyPlayer up to a 90 overall. 

I can’t wait for basketball to come back, and I bet Skip and Shannon can’t either.

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