Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Confronting my Feelings on the Hawks

Here's my latest at SB Nation, trying to explain why I can't get as excited as I should about the Hawks' surprisingly solid season.  As usual, I start babbling about sample sizes:

This is an instance where my sports ideology conflicts with my self-interest as a fan. My favorite sports are college football and European club soccer. One of the reasons for these preferences is the fact that these sports have meaningful regular seasons. College football's two-team playoff puts a premium on winning regular season games. In Europe, domestic championships are decided in the fairest way possible: each team plays each other team home and away and the team with the best record at the end is the winner.

The NBA doesn't have this structure. It has the conventional American pro sports model that annoys me: a long regular season, followed by a reset button and then a short tournament during which the long regular season is a total afterthought. However, because: (1) home court advantage matters so much; and (2) the better team tends to win in basketball because the large number of possessions reduces variance, the NBA doesn't lend itself to upsets. If my problem with the NFL and MLB is that undeserving teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants can win multiple championships after merely decent regular seasons, then I should like the NBA. Even on the rare occasions where the NBA produces a surprise champion like Dallas last year, that team is usually a perennial contender that finally broke through from a slightly lower seed.

The NBA is pretty good at crowning a deserving champion, so where does that leave the Hawks? With the Braves and Falcons, we can be excited when they go into the playoffs because the MLB and NFL playoffs have turned into lotteries. The Hawks aren't buying a lottery ticket so much as they are facing a firing squad. As someone who tries to value the big sample over the small one, I should be enjoying the Hawks' solid regular season, but in a league where regular season success is dismissed, I find it hard to step outside of this mindset. Reduced to focusing on the postseason, I try to imagine a Black Swan world of highly improbable events, but with the Hawks, it is hard to make myself believe.
One factor that I didn't mention because it's somewhat trite is that I'm at the stage of life where I don't have as much leisure time as I used to.  For example, I got home yesterday at seven, had dinner with the wife and kids, helped give the boys their bath, read books to the younger, more rambunctious version of B&B Jr., and then had about an hour of free time before going to sleep.  I decided to watch Benfica-Chelsea instead of the Hawks game.  In my younger days, I would have had time for both.  In this instance, I chose to watch a game that had more riding on it.

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