I’ve been watching a lot of basketball lately.
My team’s been eliminated since the season’s opening night, which allows me to be (relatively) objective when assessing the rest of “The Association.” And nearing the end of the other night’s epic, quadruple-overtime thriller between the Nuggets and Blazers, I started thinking about who to root for over the balance of these NBA playoffs.
I like to watch the first couple of rounds and kind of take my own temperature as to what I’m feeling, rooting-wise. The remaining eight teams are the ones I expected to be here as the season came to its conclusion a month or so ago, so there has been plenty of time to assess band wagon openings and see if lifetime-built animosities still drive my rooting interests (yes they do, and helloooo Boston Celtics).
So I decided to put together my personal list of teams to root for, in the order I hope they succeed (or fail), based on strictly personal biases. Yup, the likes and dislikes of AtticBro will construct this one, factoring in a series of preferences starting with non-basketball-related data points like how much I enjoy a particular city; how I’ve felt about prior editions of the franchise dating back a half century or so; and the general level of contempt I feel toward the team’s fans and their biggest stars. Finally, I must factor into the equation how generally sick I am of the team in question (nice to see you again, Houston Rockets).
With that as backdrop, here are the 2019 SportsAttic NBA Playoff Likability Rankings — get your crayons ready Sixers fans, I eagerly anticipate your rebuttals:
- Portland Trailblazers — This one wasn’t even close. First of all, Portland is one of my favorite cities. I thoroughly enjoy the eclectic, borderline weird vibe the city is so proud of. They’ve got food, wine, art and music, all in a uniquely cool, Portland kind of way. Add to that Damian Lillard, maybe my favorite NBA baller in today’s NBA (Oakland kid, by the way, with all the requisite toughness and street-hardened humility that city turns out with regularity) — the guy’s simply a badass, featuring nerves of steel, while letting his play do (most of) his talking. Okay, enough said. Honorable mention to Enes Kanter, who is nearly as badass as Lillard, right now playing with virtually one arm, and still the toughest big man left in the tournament. And I like the Blazers lineage — the Walton championship team of 1977 was one of the league’s coolest ever (notice a pattern?), and even the early-’90’s edition featuring Clyde the Glide, Terry Porter and Duckworth was both fun and awesome (mix in a near-retirement Buck Williams? Anyone? Anyone?). The Blazers are my current bandwagon and I will ride them full throttle until they get knocked out.
2. Denver Nuggets — Okay, this is a bit of a hedge, as I’m not convinced they don’t figure out a way to outlast the Blazers in this semifinal, and I’m not ready to reluctantly pick up a blue and gold pom pom and jump on the overcrowded Dubs bandwagon just yet. Besides, I do like young and talented squads that aren’t really sure how good they are yet, or how far they might advance. And the Nuggets are definitely at that stage in their development. Nikola Jokic is a do-everything, beast in the making, Paul Millsap has been around forever and is the ultimate lunchpail power forward, doing the thankless well on a nightly basis with little flash. And they have a gaggle of athletic and super-young guards (Jamal Murray was nails in Game 4 — yeesh!) and wings that just keep coming at you. The city and lineage are just so-so for me. I do like Denver, but it’s not a place I go out of my way to visit. And I was always a Michael Adams fan due to some fun, NBA conversations the fearless, undersized guard and I shared some 20 years back, and those Denver teams of his with Alex English and Fat Lever could totally light it up (especially from behind the arc before it became fashionable). All in all a plus on their history, too. So by default, write in the Nuggets as my number two.
3. Golden State Warriors — I’m conflicted here. Rooting for the Warriors right now is akin to rooting for shares of Microsoft to appreciate in value. They are just so damn good, and while I believe the end of the dynasty is near, they still remain the heavy favorite in 2019. It took a shockingly poor performance by Steph Curry last night to keep the Rockets from being placed on life support today, and there’s little doubt in my mind the Dubs survive this series in less than the full seven games. Yes, I miss Boogie Cousins, who’s presence may have been enough to nudge them past Denver in this most subjective of rankings, but c’mon, I still can’t help but like Steph and that mouthguard hanging from his teeth at the free throw line. And Andre Iguodala does everything you could ever ask if designing the ultimate team player that makes a good team great — passes, defends, runs the floor and hits the critical three. Plus Andrew Bogut? He’s an Aussie for god’s sake, and we all know how likable those guys are. Lastly, this is Golden State’s swan song in Oakland, and it would be great to see some happiness for the locals before watching the team they cheered on every night during the many dark years pack up and move to San Fran. So yeah, slide them into the three-hole and here’s one more prayer that KD is up to the challenge of turning the near-sunken battleship known as the New York Knickerbockers around beginning next year.
4. Toronto Raptors — And now we enter the soft, uninspiring middle of the field. A couple of teams I neither like or dislike, neither of which I expect to advance to the conference finals. However, because I despise each of their opponents in these Eastern Conference semi-finals, they land at four and five on my likability meter. By a nose, we’ll go with the Raptors at number four. This is a nod to my preference for Toronto as a city to spend time in over Milwaukee. Kawhi? Meh. Yeah, he’s that good, and he is the single reason they may not underperform their potential the way the past few years of Toronto hoopsters have, but still, meh. But what about the city of Toronto? It’s yet another really enjoyable city. Cosmopolitan atmosphere and culture, the hockey hall of fame, a strong fan base, and lest we forget, they’re Canadian. Yeah, you could say I like Toronto (just avoid the months of December through February, please). Add in the fact that they’ve got a stocky point guard who looks like he spends his pregames grazing at Krispy Kreme, and in a pinch I can root for this team.
5. Milwaukee Bucks — Don’t ask me why, but I can’t bring myself to root for Giannis Antetokounmpo (yup, had to google that spelling). I think it is because I’m seeing the next unstoppable force, and I’m already bracing for how unfair he will make future postseason appearances seem. Scoring the Bucks down because of their city is a bit unfair, since I’ve only been to Milwaukee once, and had a perfectly pleasant time at a Brewers game, while appreciating how nice the fans were there. But yeah, it is Milwaukee (although I’m sure Bucks fans are equally nice). And there is a solid lineage here, with the Oscar/Kareem championship team of 1971, and the Sidney Moncrief years (okay, is there a NBA fan out there worth his or her salt who doesn’t agree with me that Moncrief was BAD-ASS before everyone wanted to be badass?). So I’ll root hard for them to take down the Celts in this series, but unfortunately I just don’t see that happening. Wait til next year, Bucks fans, because I suspect the latest NBA monster is being birthed right now in Wisconsin.
6. Philadelphia 76ers — The cheese steaks get the six-seed only because Houston and Boston are still alive. This is an incredibly obnoxious squad. So easy to dislike, in fact, that they negate strong marks on city (Philly is plain a lot of fun — history beyond anything anywhere else in the country, checkered table cloth, old-school Italian food to die for, gritty vibe, Geno’s and Pat’s) and lineage (Moses and the Fo’, Fo’, Fo’ champs of ’83, Dr. J., World B. Free, AI — “Practice? Mannnn, we talking about practice?” , the 9-73 standard bearer for futility back in 1972-’73 — this list goes on and on…) — but this year’s Sixers squad is just a shitty collection of prima donnas and stars who think they are more than they really are. All I need do to hammer that point home is point out that Jimmy Butler is only my third most hated player on this squad, behind Joel “The Process” Embiid (who may be heading for the douchebag hall of fame), and Ben Simmons, who’s sourpuss facial expressions make me wonder how someone that young and talented can already be such a dour prick. Wish they weren’t so damn talented, though, because we may be stuck with these guys for another month.
7. Houston Rockets — Only the shamrocks of Boston could keep this franchise out of my cellar. I don’t like the current team, especially that phony Chris Paul, who plays the affable insurance pitchman in his commercials, yet comes across as a miserable SOB once the whistle blows. I take solace in the obvious two steps he’s lost as his career winds down with no rings, and the fact that he’s barely a factor any longer as The Beard Show leaves little room for co-stars. I’d like to root for James Harden, but the guys never stops whining. His leg kick while shooting three-pointers, followed by the immediate head snap in the direction of the ref, pained expression for all to see as though “and one” is his divine right, has turned me completely against him. It’s akin to the flop in hockey and soccer, and the guy’s so damn good that it’s totally unnecessary. Besides, history tells us that a team completely built around one player who dominates the ball just can’t advance to a title (if you doubt that, see Chamberlain, Wilt — the early days; or Jordan, Michael — the early days). The Rockets legacy doesn’t help them in our rankings either, as I’ll never get over how they stole the title we were supposed to take home in the 1994 Jordan Hiatus season (pox on you, Sam Cassell, Kenny the Jet, and most of all John Starks — “take him out, Riley, for god’s sake, take him out!!!”). And I never warmed up to them during the lovable loser years of Rudy T. and Calvin Murphy either. What about the city of Houston? Next…
8. Boston Celtics — Just like you root for the uniform, not the current roster (yup, I’ll die a Knicks fan), you also despise certain uniforms. Especially the green ones. Thank goodness for Kyrie Irving (here’s betting this is the last time I ever type that sentence). As I thought about this year’s edition of the Celts, I actually had a tough time coming up with more than Kyrie to root against. Not to worry, though, as this special Celtics brand of hatred goes back to day one of my rooting infancy. John Havlicek sadly passed away this week, and it was a somber and nostalgic passing for the NBA, but all I could think about was how much I couldn’t stand his Celtics teams of my youth, with Dave Cowens illegally hand-checking Willis, and Jo Jo White matching the almighty Clyde jumper for jumper. And that damn Havlicek seemingly everywhere doing the superstar thing while Tommy Heinsohn screamed himself hoarse from the bench. Oh how I hated the Havlicek-Celtics. And the Bird, McHale, Parish vintage? Even worse (except for Walton, I root for Bill Walton, uniform be damned). I don’t dislike Boston as a city, but it still ranks no better than sixth on my list of favorite east coast destinations (NYC, D.C., Richmond, Baltimore and Philly are all better visits if I’m doing the choosing). Yup, there will be no escaping the basement for the Boston Celtics in this exceedingly personal stack ranking, and that’s what makes sports rivalries so much fun for us aging diehards.