Lifting the NBA Boycott

I’ve never honored a boycott before.

In every self-righteous rant about the evils of Taco Bell and Walmart and vowing never to step foot into one of these death-dealers again, I’ve have quickly found myself eating a MexiMelt while walking the aisles of Sam Walton’s joint. It’s tough. For every time I’ve swore off Coors Light, I found a Silver Bullet in my hand. Living in a world of easy access and loose values makes it hard to be strong when a moral conviction takes hold.

That’s what made my boycott of the NBA last year so spectacular.

Not one red cent went towards professional basketball last year. I didn’t watch a single game, buy a single ticket, attend a single game, buy a single piece of NBA merchandise or read a single article about the game. For one full season, I put away my love of the Utah Jazz and put them in the back of a closet drawer that wouldn’t be opened until the nets were cut at the end of the season.

The 2011 NBA lockout angered me. Players and owners did something that I never wanted to experience as a basketball fan—they made me care more about the front office than the hardwood. I am a NBA fan not because I care about salary negotiations and municipal tax breaks but because of what they do on the floor 82-games a year. My anger spawned from the fact that there are only so many games in a season and they were risking these games in backroom dealings.

They said it was millionaires arguing with billionaires. Most of us, unfortunately, will never understand these kinds of numbers. Maybe the NBA model of salaries was/is unsustainable but the fact that between Dallas’ victory to the beginning of camp, they weren’t able to hash out a deal was insulting to fans. Going to games is expensive. Between the tickets, parking, snacks and incidentals, an NBA game can set back a fan almost $100 per person

Should the entertainment be free? No, but making fans suffer without so much as a collective apology was more than I could take.

Jazz basketball is more than the NBA franchise here in Utah. It was more. It was the escape in the sports page that put Utah at equal footing with other communities in the country. Utahns might go to the mat for the Utes or Cougars but we all rooted for the Jazz. It was Stockton-to-Malone, Williams-to-Boozer, Paul Millsap driving the lane, Big Al Jefferson’s bigger putbacks and me screaming in the stands, “We are Utah!”

And in a seemingly flash, they put all of that at risk. Instead of getting their collective heads around a collective bargain, they postponed the season. In the intermediate time, I promised that I would go back like a wounded lover if there were only 10-games or less cancelled. Jilted lovers never know when to call it quits. As the deadline approached and passed, enough was enough. I am barely smart enough to balance my checkbook much less a billion dollar industry but I knew that I was out.

Was 16-games a pittance and was I being myopic towards a league that has enthralled me for a decade by boycotting it? Possibly but in a time where money is tight, games expensive and the league out of touch with the average fan, I decided rightly that the entire NBA could go suck a lemon.

Games started and the Miami Heat won the title. Alpha to omega. If LeBron James gets a ring and I’m not there to see it, does it make a sound? Who cares? Fan of sports can find other outlets and fortunately for me, it came with a part-time job at the Salt Lake Tribune. Instead of pining away how games it would take for the Jazz to get the six-seed, I watched, covered and interviewed athletes that were less interested in the fans and more concerned about their team. Deadlines became more important than the going-on over-pituitary giants. Learning how to write professionally trumped wasting hours in front of the television and at some point, I simply didn’t care.

For the span of my boycott, this fact of losing my interest was the most damaging. Anger moved to apathy and in its wake, I became indifferent. I am not one not to have very strong opinions on things, including subjects I know nothing about. Sinking in the quagmire of not caring cheapened memories and moments of watching the Jazz and being a fan of the NBA.

I was there when our home losing streak against San Antonio was broken with UNR alumn Kirk Snyder passing the ball to Memo Okur in the closing seconds. I remember buying my Millsap jersey the night he lit up the Celtics. I stood 12 rows behind the basket when Deron Williams took Kobe to town in the Sunday May 11, 2008 play-off game where D-Will scored 29. Derek Fisher getting the police escort to the Delta Center still gives me goose bumps. Sundiata Gaines game winner was celebrated at home with me tackling my dog, Shelly, and us sharing a howl. Meeting Dan Patrick at the Tavernacle during the Western Conference Finals, getting to sit in the Budweiser suite, using my friend Scott Alexander’s season tickets as my own and having the Bear throw my bucket of popcorn on me are some of my best memories of being a Jazz fan.

The simple pleasure of sitting in the sea of green plastic chairs and rooting for the Jazz became a winter tradition. Between getting free tickets or working the scalpers in front of ESA, being a fan of the Jazz was the first and maybe the most important indicator that I thought of Salt Lake City as home.

My favorite picture of me and Erin is at a Jazz game. It was New Year’s Day 2011 and we were celebrating being together after I had to work the night before at the club. I am wearing my oversized Millsap jersey with Erin tucked into my arm. We’re both smiling big because we’re happy to be together, out and watching basketball. Outside, it was brutally cold. Inside, it was warm, loud and fun. We beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 98-92.

My boycott was not just my decision to not spend money or time on basketball but a reminder that great memories can be built around sport. Games become placeholders for moments that are unobtainable outside of the events on the court. Being a Jazz fan was more than a supporting a team but rather a declaration that I am in it for better or worse. Simply put, it was good to have a squad.

I lifted the boycott last night with my pal, Matt. We went to ESA to watch the Jazz take on the Denver Nuggets. We had great seats in the lower bowl, cold beers in hand and a plate of nachos. The Jazz came out of the gate playing like a co-ed rec league group of knuckle draggers. Denver went to town on them in one of the sloppiest halves I’ve ever seen. It seemed every time Kenneth Faried got his dreadlocks on the ball, he was setting up a SportsCenter highlight reel. I was dreading that coming back to basketball that I might have been a jinx—what can I say? My ego knows no limits.

It wasn’t until the second half that the Jazz woke up. They went on a scoring tear and got their defense in position. They held the Nuggets to 38-points and overcame a 16-point deficit. Between Enes Kanter blocking shots, Big Al playing like I remember him and Jamaal Tinsley looking like an All-Star, the second half was a beautiful homecoming. They won in the closing seconds of the game and we were showered in streamers.

Welcome back!

Let the NBA make lemonade out of lemons. I am back. I am happy that I took the year off and I am fully onboard with Utah. My time away gave perspective about the importance of discipline and staying firm in a decision. My reward for taking the season off was returning last night to witness a fantastic basketball game. It might have been sloppy but those guys out there are my guys. Go get them, Jazz. All is forgiven but not forgotten. I’m glad to be back but be forewarned that if you pull this kind of shenanigans again, I am going to become very interested in Grizzlies hockey.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Hey, there’s a new SLC PubCast up. Now if they can only do something about those $8 beers…

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