A chance to educate

With the NBA lockout in full bloom right now and the NBA website devoid of anything that might allude to the existence of current players in the NBA, the league has also had to adjust their television network programming.

Over the first two weeks of the lockout, the league was seemingly scrambling to fill the 24 hours of airtime. It was mind-numbingly repetitive at times. Initially, we were seeing old NBA drafts from the 1980s and early 1990s. There were a few WNBA games that they’d show, but then they’d replay them over and over for the next half of a day. We were given some dunk contest programming from the '80s and early '90s as well, but again everything seemed to be on a constant and drawn out loop.

They essentially killed the luster of the experience by saturating their airwaves with the exact same programming throughout that day and well into the next day. It was tough for them, and many of us loyal viewers understood that. There was a limit with what they could show because they couldn’t have anything involving current players.

A lot of us were left wondering if the idea of consistent and fresh entertainment from NBATV was going to be locked out all summer long.

Then the NBA began to get its act together.

They started showing Charles Barkley’s 56-point game against the Warriors in the 1994 playoffs. They highlighted a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz from the 1996 NBA playoffs in which Arvydas Sabonis showed us the skill that made him such a feared specimen in the international basketball community. They were still playing these on a loop over the course of a couple days, but the lockout entertainment was starting to look less bleak.

Over the course of the past week, NBATV has showed us a rookie game from Pete Maravich in which he and Lou Hudson dueled against Dick Van Arsdale and Connie Hawkins, a Christmas Day shootout between Magic’s Lakers and Jim Paxson’s Blazers (featuring a rookie Clyde Drexler), and Bernard King dropping 60 points on the Nets. We’ve also been treated to a Wilt Chamberlain game from the 1972 Finals against the Knicks, a Lakers-Blazers Western Conference Finals game from 1977, and a showdown from the subsequent 1977 Finals matchup between the Blazers and 76ers.

The league has gone from showing us Kenny Walker and Kenny Smith’s hilarious flattops over and over again, to showing us evidence of the legends of NBA past. We get to see Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Walton doing what our basketball ancestors alleged the stars used to do. We’ve heard that today’s style of play is far superior to what was played 20, 30, and even 40 years ago. We’ve wondered if Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard were as physically imposing as the big men of the NBA’s roots. Now we get to see with our own eyes and judge if these statements have any validity.

NBATV is doing something we’ve been begging them to do more of over the past couple years – educate us with old tapes.

Last week, I was able to watch old All-Star Games in which players like Julius Erving, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Paul Westphal shined. Some of them were games I had seen before. Seeing an All-Star Game from the 1960s in which Baylor was in action was one that was a completely new viewing experience to me.

I got to relive the moment in the 1992 All-Star Game in which Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas both took cracks at scoring on a retired Magic Johnson in the final moments of a blowout game and coming up short on their attempts. Then they denied Magic the ball in the waning moments of the game before he finally freed himself from his defenders and calmly knocked down a 3-pointer over Thomas to cap off a very emotional sendoff.

It was truly a trip into the past as I listened to the announcers during the game discussing the issue of HIV and whether certain players were comfortable sharing a basketball court with Magic. Looking back, it seems so archaic to our society’s knowledge of the situation now. But back then it was a very real and uncertain reality.

Over this coming weekend, NBATV is going to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the WNBA. It’s going to be repetitive with the same programming for a couple days and a few WNBA games sprinkled in for good measure. But as next week begins, we’ll get to see Larry Bird’s 50 greatest moments and various legendary games.

Some of the action you’ll get to see is:

• The Pistons and Bucks Game 4 of the 1989 Eastern Conference semifinals. Isiah Thomas will record a triple-double while narrowly knocking off a loaded Bucks team that starred Terry Cummings, Ricky Pierce and Jack Sikma (names all young NBA fans should become familiar with).

• The Bulls and Pistons Game 6 of the 1989 Eastern Conference finals. Michael Jordan is going to fail like few of us remember him doing. He’ll score 32 points, but we’ll be reminded that basketball is still a team sport as the Pistons close out Chicago.

• The Lakers and Celtics Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals. You’ll get to watch one of the most memorable Finals games in NBA history and the turning point in that series when Magic Johnson hits his famous running hook before Larry Bird misses the game-winner in the corner to the shock of everybody in the building.

• The Lakers and Warriors Game 5 of the 1991 Western Conference semifinals. Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Sam Perkins will have an incredible duel with Run TMC.

A lot of what NBATV is doing is still repetitive loops of action throughout the week, but we’re no longer relegated to seeing the same dunk contests and old drafts that we’ve seen over and over again. Every couple of days, they’re going to show us more legends and more historical moments in league history.

It’s an education in NBA history that every basketball nerd craves to watch unfold before their very eyes. Maybe the lockout is keeping us from debating offseason moves, but at least we’re starting to get to see a bit more basketball.