Louisville has always had a complicated relationship with the NBA. You can look at that statement a hundred different ways and it will still be true.
There’s the city’s relationship with the ABA when the Kentucky Colonels were king, the constant flirtation with bringing an NBA franchise to the Derby City that always results in disappointment, the fact that no city in the United States embraces the college game more wholly than this one; the list goes on.
All of these things, or at least some combination of them, has led to a city majority opinion that I’ve been hearing since I was a child: The NBA sucks.
They only play defense at the end of games. They’re all prima donnas. There’s no passion.
If you’ve lived in Louisville for any period of time, you’ve heard the spiel.
As a former card carrying member of Louisville’s “NBA Sucks” club, I am here today to offer up this contrarian opinion: The NBA does not suck. In fact, the NBA is good. Not as good as college basketball, no, but still good nonetheless. It is especially good right now.
My sense is that this is a blossoming opinion around these parts, and it isn’t difficult to figure out why.
Before Tuesday night, it had been 31 years since a former Louisville player had scored 20 or more points in back-to-back NBA Playoff games. Terry Rozier ended that streak of futility by following up a 23-point performance in Boston’s game one win over Milwaukee with another 23-point performance in game two. Rozier also has 11 assists and no turnovers so far in the series despite playing 74 minutes.
It won’t be another three decades before the feat is accomplished by a fellow Cardinal alum. In fact, it’s already been done. Donovan Mitchell hung 28 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Utah’s impressive game two victory Wednesday night. This came three days after Mitchell poured in 27 in his playoff debut, making him the first former U of L player in history to ever score 25 or more points in back-to-back playoff games.
There’s also this:
Donovan Mitchell has scored a total of 55 points in his first two playoff games, which is the most by a guard in NBA history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2018
The previous record holder is someone you may have heard of pic.twitter.com/Q9wfJhVpCo
That’s pretty cool.
Being a sports fan around here gets sort of weird between April and August, especially in those first few weeks.
After months of being conditioned to come home from work or school every day and flip on whatever college basketball or football game we can find, we’re abruptly forced to go cold turkey. We find new shows on Netflix, we re-introduce ourselves to our families, or we casually watch pro basketball, baseball, hockey or golf.
Coming home after radio the last two nights and being able to watch Rozier and Mitchell do their thing in front of a national audience has been, for lack of a better expression, cool as hell. It’s nothing like rooting on Louisville in the NCAA tournament (or even a November exhibition game), sure, but it’s still far more exhilarating and fun than the April sports on TV activities I’ve known in prior years.
That fun and exhilaration figures to continue into next month with the Celtics looking to have a decent shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals and the Jazz now appearing to have more than a puncher’s chance against the Thunder.
Louisville fans have been all about new spring traditions in recent years. We flock to Jim Patterson Stadium after Derby every year to watch the Cardinal baseball team try and earn another trip to the College World Series. We celebrate the first two days of the NFL Draft because we know we’re going to see multiple U of L stars hear their names called.
Hopefully, watching guys like Rozier and Mitchell and Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell and whoever’s next shine during the NBA Playoffs can be the next addition to that list.