Thank God or David Stern that the NBA offseason is almost over and we can start to get to the answers that have been on people's minds for the past six months. I know they've been on people's minds because everywhere I go, I am asked these fascinating questions. They aren't always relevant questions, and try as I might, they aren't always answerable questions. But I've never been through an offseason like this, when there have been so many of them and when they have been asked so often and so passionately.
Every other hoops writer, I'm sure, experienced it, too. Almost 20 years in the game for me, and nothing like it. It's as if people got desperately inquisitive overnight about everything NBA. It's as if the whole Chris Bosh and LeBron James-to-Miami thing tapped a deep-seated thirst for basketball that had been trapped inside the psyche of the hoops-loving country. Every day, I was asked questions -- one more absurd than the next, the next more intelligent than the last.
For this, I blame LeBron.
Because the week after King James signed with the Heat, a guy standing outside of a Walgreens with a cup in his hand collecting change from people entering and exiting the store, without provocation, warning or mentioning that he knew who I am, stopped me and asked: "Are you going to watch every Heat game this year?"
I'm like, "Every game? Seriously?"
And he wasn't the only one. It seems as though the world stopped when those three contracts were signed in Miami, and we're all going to stay standing still until this upcoming season is over.
I told the gentleman, respectfully, "Dude, I didn't even watch every Jordan game when he was playing back in the day, and we had bootleg cable."
I explained that I'm going to treat the Heat the same way I'm going to treat the Oklahoma City Thunder: I'm going to catch 'em whenever I can catch 'em. But I'm not going to elevate them to "General Hospital" status. Not yet.
Then I handed him a dollar.
Being/living in Chicago might have been a factor in the number of questions that came my way. Many, many times I got asked this: Will the Heat be better than the '95-96 Bulls?
"Of course not," is my usual answer. Followed by a cop-out: "At least not this year." Which usually leads to a too-long conversation about how Dwyane Wade, Bosh and James have six years on their contracts (with an opt-out in four); and at some point before those contracts are up, they more than likely will do something special. But 73 wins and only one loss in the playoffs? I don't know.
(Then I'd recite this whole Bill Simmons-ish theory I have about how after leaving the Celtics at the end of the season, Doc Rivers will get that offer-he-can't-refuse call from Pat Riley -- after, of course, Riles convinces Erik Spoelstra that it's in his best interest to step down as Heat coach -- and during the next five seasons, Rivers will become sport's new Lord of the Rings.)
Almost as soon as the 100,015 minutes of LeBron's-exodus-from-Cleveland fame had run their course, the Carmelo Anthony question came to the forefront. Is Melo going to the Knicks? had a two-week run. My answers varied, depending on my mood, my alcohol intake and what city I was in.
"How in the world would I know? I'm not Marc Stein."
It seemed the warmer the weather, the more interesting the questions got. In New Orleans, someone on Bourbon Street didn't ask me about Chris Paul possibly leaving the Hornets, but instead asked, "How good is Boobie Gibson?"
In New York -- Jersey, really, Weehawken, to be exact, don't ask -- a dude rolled up and asked whether I thought Dr. J might be angry because LeBron stole his number.
At the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, I had that only-in-New-York moment. While I was in the men's bathroom, I was asked (and this is for real, no joke), "Is being Jewish going to give Amare Stoudemire street cred in New York?"
Only to find out later that Amare was the one who gave the question its roots by actually saying as much during a news conference. Learning he's Jewish was as tripped-out as finding out that Zach Galifianakis pledged to Kappa Alpha Psi, making that one of the few questions during the summer for which I had no answer whatsoever.
The Kevin Durant questions during the FIBA World Championship games were unrelenting. He had just about everyone caught up. Is he this? That? Top-five? Better than ? Got all that. But one person at a gas station in Chicago asked me, "Is [Durant] better than George Gervin?" The guy said he'd read a while back that I'd compared Durant to Iceman. I said, "In order for KD to be better than Adrian Dantley, he'd have to do what he did last season about six more times in a row."
The guy drove off without even shaking my hand.
My boy called me from the ATL. Called while my wife and I were watching "The Hangover" (Zach again) on On Demand. He had only two questions: "How in the hell did Josh Smith get his own shoe?" And, "Should the Hawks have re-signed Joe Johnson?" This led to a session. I still don't understand (and maybe this is just me) whom the Hawks thought were going to replace Johnson with if they didn't re-sign him, even at the price tag of an exorbitant contract. What free agent was really going to go to Atlanta? In three months, I have yet to get anyone to answer that question.
Needless to say, I missed the rest of the movie.
Will the Clippers turn it around? No.
Is Brandon Jennings the next A.I.? No.
Is Shaq going to hurt the Celtics? No. Shaq never hurts a team; he just doesn't always make it better.
Does Skip Bayless really hate LeBron? No.
Now that the Heat have the trifecta, is the Southeast the best division in the NBA? Uh, no.
Should the Portland Trail Blazers be my fantasy team? Hell no!
While in L.A., in the lobby of the W in Hollywood, checking in, I bump into Spike Lee. Haven't spoken to Spike in a minute. I don't get a chance to tell him congrats on "If God Is Willing ," or talk to him about the Yankees or about that brownstone he almost had me buy last year when he was convincing me LeBron was coming to play for the Knicks. Because before any of that could come out of my mouth
"We getting Melo in New York?" came out of his.
I tell him maybe. I let my mouth say what my heart couldn't. There's still a chance -- with a lot of patience (on both sides) and prayer -- that he might wind up in Chicago. Spike wasn't trying to hear it. He was in a New York state of mind.
That was just the offseason.
The second the preseason began, the questions, which came from all corners, were even more passionate. And all of them, to some degree, had to be answered.
The players didn't help.
Carlos Boozer trips over a suitcase in his house. Breaks his hand. So Is Carlos Boozer going to end up being the worst offseason acquisition? Or, Are the Bulls going to regret getting Boozer?
My answer: No. "One injury," I told the cashier at Borders, "even if it's a string of them, doesn't make a $100 million investment bad. This ain't panic time. This ain't Portland."
Michael Jordan lets his inner MJ get the best of him; and the next thing I know, I'm in line at a grocery store or purchasing tickets to see "RED" or running into young kids in skinny or sagging Levis and women who just completed the breast cancer walk and they're asking me, Do you think Jordan could really drop/score 100 if he were still playing?
My answer: In a game or in a season?
Then Gilbert Arenas decides to come out of his shell. I'm angry because I didn't create a Vegas line on how soon it would be before Gilbert Being Gilbert reared its beautiful head. I should have listened to fellow sports writer Dave Zirin.
Came this question: Do you know of any other player who's ever faked an injury besides Gilbert Arenas? I've done this for almost 20 years; my list of private answers to that one is long. I could name-drop enough to roster an All-Star team. Those names stay protected, though. Trust me, Arenas isn't the first. He's just the first to be honest about it.
The Lakers lose three games in the preseason. People in L.A. seem to be losing faith. Kobe scores 19 in one quarter against the Jazz, and Magic Johnson sells his ownership shares (to philanthropist Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong), and all they can talk about is the loss to Barcelona. Is the preseason a sign that the Lakers are done?
I got asked that one more than once. Not, Is this a sign that they might not repeat? Not, Is this a sign that the Heat may beat them? Or, Is it a sign that they might be vulnerable in the West? No, I got asked whether they're done! Seriously.
Last week at O'Hare International Airport while waiting on a flight back to LAX, somebody stopped me and asked what I think are two of the most meaningful and legit questions I've gotten all offseason:
• "Is LeBron more hated than Kobe now?"
• And, "With the game on the line, who from the Heat is going to take the last shot?"
They were discussion questions. Questions that have room for thought and dialogue.
The brothas who asked are named Jared and Brandon. Young dudes, nice guys. True basketball fans. We went deep into a philosophical conversation about basketball dynamics and Dianetics. The subtle intricacies of how passions and feelings can shift, of how allegiances change unexpectedly, of Mike Miller.
Then some fool in a Cross Colours jacket plopped himself into the seat next to us. Found his way into a great conversation and asked, "Is Shaq really dating Hoopz?"
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.