As a father of two young boys, I rarely watch anything that doesn’t feature bright animations, dream-haunting puppets or an occasional real person, speaking in a bubbly sing-song intonation. Even before parenthood, as an obsessive reader, I spent little time in front of a TV, as it always took a distant back seat to books and magazines, and still does.
Those habits are undoubtedly rooted in my childhood, during which my family didn’t have cable, at least initially, and I whiled away my hours exploring the mountains and creek near our log home, in addition to reading and indulging in other screen-less childhood pursuits.
These days, beyond watching it with my kids, my main motivation for embracing television is spending time with my wife, to periodically dive into a series or film together, a shared stationary adventure on the couch. My screen ignorance frequently leaves me in the dark during office conversations about newly trending shows and movies.
The exception to my viewing habits, however, is sports, specifically basketball and more precisely LeBron James. I love watching hoops, particularly any game with LeBron, and at no other time of year do I read less than during the NBA playoffs.
Of the many voids the pandemic has carved into our lives, basketball ranks low on the list of importance. Still, I’ve missed it greatly, so I’m thrilled to see it once again starting up on television this week, even with its myriad caveats, not the least of which is no fans in the stands, as athletes live and play in a “bubble” in Disney World.
I’m an unabashed, and perhaps irrationally zealous, LeBron James fan. As a longtime disciple of the game, I see him as the pinnacle of the sport, essentially a laboratory creation of basketball near-perfection and a thoroughly decent human being.
I grew up obsessively playing and watching basketball, and though I ultimately declined college-ball opportunities to focus on academics, the game remained a love, albeit one that hid in dormancy for a while post-high school. What brought me back into the viewing fold was LeBron.
As a Montana native, I have no geographical ties to sports organizations. While I do root for certain teams, my NBA allegiance follows LeBron, with his presence, rather than the city, dictating my fandom. The broader ripple effects are that I’ve grown to further appreciate what I believe to be the finest sport in the world.
I’m normally mild-mannered, edging toward quiet, but I’ve frightened my wife with my NBA-cheering outbursts. I’m aware how strange it is to see a grown man screaming at a television by himself, yet over the years I’ve embraced it as catharsis: a pleasant outpouring of emotions that is altogether different than the real-world emotions weighing on us the rest of the day. It’s trivial, only not.
We need diversions right now, and cheering nourishes the soul. I want to unplug from the turmoil, if only for a bit, and fully give myself up to a bouncing basketball. I crave the opportunity to find my own bubble, to believe something is truly important while it’s happening, and have the safety net of knowing, when the final buzzer sounds, it’s not really that important.
But beyond the philosophizing and psychologizing, I simply want to enjoy the beautiful game of basketball. The troubles of the world will still be there when I turn off the TV, but maybe they can disappear for a couple hours of squeaking shoes and the ever-comforting sound of a ball swooshing through a crisp net.