The sport of basketball is going through a major renaissance. In just the last few years, the sport has undergone a major marketing campaign. The big question is: Are fans having fun?
It has to be said that the NBA is one of the most boring sports in the world, and to those who love the NBA, it is a sport where they enjoy watching their team play poorly. To those who don’t follow the NBA, it can be very frustrating watching a team lose every game.
The most recent case of boredom happened against the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors were the most successful NBA team of the last decade, winning the NBA Championship in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In all three of these championships, the team had strong performances.
The 2012 Eastern Conference Championship was decided in seven games by the New York Knicks. The Knicks were in the midst of an unbelievable three-year run of winning 60 games or more, only to be stopped by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. This series saw a Game 7 in which the Raptors trailed by a point in the fourth quarter before blowing out the Knicks.
The Raptors lost to the Knicks in the conference semifinals, but in 2013, they defeated the Miami Heat in the Finals for the first time in franchise history. A year later, they won the Eastern Conference again, beating the Heat in five games in five games. In 2014, the Raptors were in the midst of, yet another deep playoff run, beating the Chicago Bulls in five games in seven games.
After that historic regular season, however, the Raptors made the mistake of going into the season without one of their most talented players, Andrea Bargnani. The veteran center sat out of the team’s first game, against the Memphis Grizzlies, with a wrist injury. He sat out of the next two games, as well, before returning against the Washington Wizards in Toronto’s next game. He played the rest of the way, but his status for the upcoming playoff run was uncertain.
Bargnani’s injury was the only reason the Raptors missed out on the number-three seed, but they won the head-to-head tiebreaker, which gave them home court advantage throughout the playoffs. In round one against the Atlanta Hawks, Bargnani played only five minutes in the first half, but came out of the locker room to score 20 points, and then another 20 in the second half. He finished with 28 points, and the Raptors blew out the Hawks in six games.
As for what was happening in that locker room, Bargnani reportedly told team members that the Raptors were better than they had shown that day in Atlanta. “It was all a joke,” says teammate Rudy Ray, who saw the message. “Guys were laughing.”
For Ray, who had led the Raptors in scoring by more than 30 points for five consecutive games, the message was a major morale booster. “He was telling us we weren’t a joke, and that we should be better,” Ray says. “It was a pretty cool moment, and it’s something we never forgot.”
Even more fun was watching Bargnani run up and down the court on that early February day. For a few weeks afterward, he kept saying he was still feeling well. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to go,” he told reporters. In his first two playoff games, he’d come up with a couple of excuses.