By Rob Mahoney
There are 1,230 NBA games played every regular season—far more than any person should watch and, frankly, more than the best athletes on earth should play. The beauty of such a dense schedule is that it allows every fan to approach it on their own terms. You don’t need a unifying theory behind your NBA fandom. Be curious, and see where that curiosity takes you.
Remember that the regular season is more than just some overdrawn prelude to the playoffs. An injury to Lonzo Ball can give Brandon Ingram a weeks-long run at point forward. Sixers coach Brett Brown might throw plays at the wall just to see what sticks. The Clippers’ Lou Williams could stutter step his way to 50 points in a January game against the Warriors.
There is something revelatory in every performance; competition at this level, and with this much style, is a form of expression. The court is a stage, but players uncover some part of themselves when they submit to the creative flow of the game. Dazzling ball handlers will pull moves from their unconscious. Great shooters will describe a hot streak as an out-of-body experience. Top defenders can fall into a trance-like state, in which they read the intention behind every step.
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No sport taps into that creative energy quite like basketball and no league does so as effortlessly as the NBA, a frame where style cannot help but become substance. There is no way of divorcing James Harden’s production from the feel of his game because the two are fully and completely entangled. A bucket he scores is materially different than one Kevin Durant would score. “Two points,” as LeBron James says, “ain’t two points.” Appreciating the difference is at the heart of the thing.
How you get there is up to you. If data is your way into the world, parse Basketball Reference or the NBA’s own stats portal to find hints of what to look for—whether that starts with the realization that Philadelphia had the best starting lineup in the league last season (and is set to alter it) or the fact that Russell Westbrook, out of nowhere, stopped committing offensive fouls. If you’re drawn to a highlight reel, reverse engineer it. How the hell did Victor Oladipo drop 38 points on the vaunted Celtics defense, and then drop 35 on them again in their next meeting?
Personally, I'm curious to see how the Celtics juggle one of the deepest, most talented rosters in basketball on a nightly basis. I'm eager to find the limits of LeBron James's patience with the Lakers' imperfect roster, what the future might hold for Luka Dončić and whether the Rockets will look entirely themselves after some offseason modification. There is never any shortage of intrigue.
Reading about the league will reveal its surprising depths. Ethan Strauss will introduce you to aspects of the game you never would have considered. Zach Lowe can take you inside a team’s thinking at every level. Then you can revel in absurdity with Seth Rosenthal, share in a player’s most vulnerable moments through Chris Ballard, dissect a team's culture with Kevin Arnovitz, and follow Seerat Sohi to where the micro meets the macro.
You could track the entire sport solely from the perspective of salary cap arcana, understanding every team by the mechanics that made its construction possible. Just the same, you could focus your entire viewing experience around Giannis Antetokounmpo because you once learned that he, like you, enjoys a good smoothie.
To be an NBA fan is to see the league through a particular lens. To be a better NBA fan is to try another on for size. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
• Ten years after being elevated to interim coach, Dabo Swinney reflects on the first days of his Clemson dynasty. (By Andy Staples)
• Anonymous NBA scouts don’t hold back when assessing opposing teams. This year is no different.
• The toughest part of Melvin Gordon’s game-day Sunday might be the traffic. “I loved San Diego. It was my kind of energy, my kind of vibe.” We spent 24 hours with the Chargers star for the team's Week 4 win over the 49ers. Check out the SI TV feature, too. (By Robert Klemko)
• It appears we'll finally move on from Warriors-Cavs. Phew.So who should we expect to see in the Finals instead? (By the Crossover Staff)
• The Red Sox can’t get enough of “Playoff Alex”—their rookie manager who has proved to be Boston’s perfect leader in October. (By Stephanie Apstein)
• Zion dunks. Konate blocks. UMBC’s Twitter.Here are 64 reasons why we can’t wait for the return of college hoops. (By Molly Geary and Eric Single)
LISTEN UP: FALL OF A TITAN — THE STEVE MCNAIR STORY
July 4, 2009. Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair is found murdered in his Nashville condo. He’s been shot four times—twice in the chest, once in each temple—and his mistress Jenni Kazemi is lying dead at his feet, with a single gunshot wound to her head. After just four days of investigating, Nashville police conclude that Jenni killed Steve and then herself. Murder-suicide.
Right away, though, McNair’s and Kazemi’s friends and family have a ton of questions—about the motive, the murder weapon and the crime scene—and so they turn to a former Nashville cop named Vincent Hill, who’s started investigating the case on his own.
Nine years later Hill is still chasing chilling new rumors and uncovering fresh leads. In Fall of a Titan—a podcast presented by SI: True Crime and Cadence 13—host Tim Rohan uses Vincent Hill as a guide, re-examining the case in a new light and exploring the question: Did Jenni Kazemi really kill Steve McNair?
VAULT PHOTO OF THE WEEK: SHAQ'S LIFE AT 23
Remember where you were at in life at 23? Or where you think you'll be at 23?
This was Shaq's life at 23. He was a budding, 7'1'' sensation with the Orlando Magic, complete with a Florida mansion and jet skis, of course. He already had career earnings of $11.7 million, per Basketball Reference, when this photo was taken in April 1995. Not a bad way to make a living.
Photo taken by Neil Leifer.
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BEST OF THE REST (NBA-ONLY EDITION)
In anticipation of the NBA season starting up shortly, SI's Rob Mahoney picked his favorite stories from around the league.
• The NBA is the most social-media-friendly sports league in existence, but some within it are looking to disconnect entirely. Close down Twitter for a minute and read Tom Haberstroh’s piece for Bleacher Report for a sobering look at some of social media’s unintended consequences.
• If you’re trying to wrap your head around the idea of Giannis Antetokounmpo as an MVP candidate, start here, with Matt Moore of The Action Network.
• Before Brad Stevens was a basketball coach and cult icon, he was just a guy clocking in for work at a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. Click through for a glimpse of Stevens’s other life, stay for the scouting report of his corporate league game, via Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report.
• On the Sixers’ practice court, the corners are blocked off in bright red paint. A gray “four-point line” stretches beyond the usual arc. Two boxes are outlined in black along the baseline. As The Athletic's Rich Hofmann spells out, Brett Brown is creating a game within a game, all in the hopes of building good habits.
• If you missed Jackie MacMullan’sfive-partseriesabout mental health in the NBA, you owe it to yourself to catch up on ESPN.com–starting with this installment on the role race plays in that discussion.
• Bleacher Report's Mirin Fader offers a look intothe inner life of Brandon Ingram, the 21-year-old up-and-comer trying to find himself as he runs with LeBron James.
• For his summer vacation, Marc Gasol helped man a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea, where immigrants from Libya and elsewhere float, terrified, on makeshift rafts toward Europe. The chances of survival for these immigrants, according to the rescue group Gasol worked with, “drop to nearly zero after one day in the water.” ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski has the story.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.