Jump ball

Another year.

Another basketball season.

Another 82 games of excruciating horribleness.

Another season of rooting for the Indiana Pacers, my arbitrarily chosen team, picked because I loved Reggie Miller and held on to because I still love Jermaine O’Neal.

But this team – the one that was just two wins away from an NBA Championship in 2000 and the only one to ever knock the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs between 1991 and 1998 – is in horrible shape. Bad trades. Bad personnel. The loss of a great leader and a culture still reeling from The Fight and The Retirement.

The Pacers could be the worst team in the league this year.

Or, they could surprise the hell out of everyone and succeed. They have some of the tools – a bright young forward in Danny Granger, a new energized coach, a lack of distractions and a multiple-time All Star in O’Neal. I hope they do. I hope they’ve filled a team with under-the-radar talent that can at least make a playoff run and prove everyone wrong.

Either way, I’m happy. I’m not watching basketball for just the Pacers this year. I’m watching basketball to watch basketball, to enjoy the game and hope for classic match-ups, great games and spectacular performances. I’m watching LeBron as he tries to follow up a tough NBA Finals. The Suns as they try to leap to the front of the Western Conference. The Spurs as they try to repeat. The Mavs as they try to put last year behind them.

I’m watching new rookies with phenomenal hype. I’m watching superstars in new locales, All Stars in new roles and role players in new races for starting minutes. I’m watching Kevin Garnett find a renewed sense of excitement in a basketball-rich city, and I’m watching Kobe Bryant as the pieces fall apart around him on that basketball-rich city’s biggest rival.

With the Pacers slotted to be horrible, I’m free to accept it and enjoy the game for what it is. And with a new digital cable package, I’m free to watch 85% more games on TNT and ESPN. So if the Celtics are playing, you’ll know where I’ll be. Or the Warriors. The Cavaliers, the Suns, the Spurs or the Mavs. The Pistons. The Bulls. You know where I’ll be.

Another year.

Another basketball season.

And finally, a chance to be a fan of the game. Not just a fan of my team.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 30th, 2007