The Beginner's Guide to Pretending You Follow the NBA, by Sam Butler

Has this ever happened to you? You’re spending time with friends, playing video games, watching TV, or whatever it is you do, and suddenly, things take a turn for the worse. One of your friends brings up a topic you know nothing about. You freeze, knowing you will be unable to participate for the next segment of conversation. Sure, you can nod and smile, you can murmur in agreement from time to time, but all-in-all you are effectively shut out of the room. If the topic that isolates you from your friends is the NBA, then I have just the thing for you. Welcome to:

The Beginners Guide to Pretending You Follow the NBA

Before we go over some conversational scenarios, we need to go over some of the information you’re going to have to memorize. Though memorization isn’t necessarily required (you could keep cue cards with you, or write the information on your hand), it is highly recommended. Luckily for you, I’ve consolidated this information as much as possible to make memorization more feasible. Without further ado,

The Three NBA Teams You Need to Know

1.     The Golden State Warriors
This is the best basketball team in the world. Due to this overwhelming superiority, you’re supposed to hate them. The reason you need to know them is that they will most certainly be in the NBA Finals this year, and you will have to root against them.
            How to recognize them:
They wear two different jerseys, one blue and one white. Their secondary color is yellow. On the scoreboard, they’re generally the team with the higher number next to their name.
Key thing to remember:
Despite being called the Golden StateWarriors, they do not represent a school named ‘Golden State University.’ They are a professional team from the San Francisco Bay area. Don’t worry, it’s a common mistake.
2.     The Cleveland Cavaliers
The team the Warriors will play in the finals. They have the best player in the world, and yet next to Golden State, they are the underdogs. This is who you will root for in the Finals.
            How to recognize them:
The jerseys the Cavaliers wear have more variety, so just remember that their colors are dark blue, dark red, and gold. If you see a massive man wearing number 23 and controlling everyone and everything on the court except his receding hairline, that’s the Cavaliers.
3.     The Orlando Magic
This team is terrible, and that’s why they’re the most important team for you to know. If people ever get suspicious that you don’t actually follow the NBA, drop the fact that you know what the Magic are. That should convince them.
            How to recognize them:
Luckily, the Magic never play on national TV, so you won’t have to recognize them. But just in case, you’ll find them in either white or blue jerseys with thin stripes on them. On the scoreboard, they’re the team with the lower number next to their name.
Key thing to remember:
There’s a famous former player known as ‘Magic’ Johnson. He’s different from the Orlando basketball team.

The Four NBA Players You Need to Know

1.     Michael Jordan (aka MJ, Air Jordan), #23
The greatest player of all time. He played in the ‘90s for the Chicago Bulls, winning six championships. He is now retired, and owns the Charlotte Hornets (a team you don’t need to memorize).
            Key factoid:
He retired for two years in the middle of his prime to try a career in baseball. It’s widely hypothesized that this was a secret suspension for his gambling. Personally, I think his massive ego just got the best of him.
2.     LeBron James (aka King James), #23
The greatest player since Jordan. While he currently plays for the Cavaliers, he won his first two (of three) championships with the Miami Heat. Depending on the group you’re discussing the NBA with, it will be well-received if you either:
A.    Praise LeBron
·       “He’s the best player in the world.”
·       “He should be MVP every year.”
·       “In a way, going to Miami was the hardest move he could’ve made.”
B.    Talk shit about LeBron
·       “God, he flops so much.”
·       “LeBron’s game is receding faster than his hairline.”
·       “Going to Miami was the worst cop-out I’ve ever seen.”
3.     Wardell Stephen Curry II (aka Steph Curry), #30
Perhaps the most exciting player in the league today, Steph is the main reason the Warriors are the best team in the league. A two-time MVP and NBA champion, what Steph is most well-known for is his mastery of three-point shooting.
4.     Kobe Bryant, #8 & 24
All you really need to know about Kobe is his reputation for chucking ill-advised shots. A five-time champion for the Los Angeles Lakers, the legacy he will leave behind is people all across America yelling ‘Kobe!’ as they throw their garbage into the trash can (something you should start doing around your friends).

Bonus Facts to Remember
For all the over-achievers out there, I’ve added a Bonus Facts section to enhance the façade that makes up your NBA knowledge. If you already have your hands full memorizing the required three teams and four players, you may skip this section.

1.     Bill Russell has the most championships of any player.
When you find yourself in a conversation ranking the league’s all-time greats, bring up this fact. A simple “Call me when [whatever player being discussed] has 11 championships like Russell” will do.
2.     The league is soft now.
Nothing impresses people more than a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, and the NBA equivalent of that is claiming that today’s players are soft. For instance, “Curry wouldn’t have been able to handle the old-school NBA.”
3.     Johnson is the most common last name in the NBA.
If you find yourself cornered, asked about what you think of a certain team’s roster, keep this fact in mind. Though risky, if you put enough confidence behind it, you might be able to get by with a “I think Johnson’s really underrated.”
4.     The San Antonio Spurs have been to 20 consecutive playoffs.
Even though dominant teams are usually hated in sports, the San Antonio Spurs and their 20 consecutive playoff appearances seem immune. So, if you hear the names Duncan, Ginobili, Parker or Popovich, speak highly of them, or you may find yourself in an argument you’re not prepared for.

Conversational Scenarios

Here’s the most important part of your guide. There are certain situations you can’t be prepared for by just knowing a few teams and a few famous players. To prepare you for those, I have a couple of scenarios, with answers that will act as your ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.

What do I do when…

…a struggling team comes up?
In general, with NBA fans, they know the players and the coach, and may be able to notice when you talk out of your ass about them. The safe play is always to blame ‘the front office.’ Nobody really knows the names of who manages these teams, so you’re safe to criticize them freely.
            …a player whose name I don’t recognize comes up?
You can’t compare them relative to other players, because you don’t know how good they are. So, you compare them to their perception. Because, the thing is, there are always people who think too highly of players, just as there are always people who think too low of them. “[Player being discussed] is so (under/over)rated.” It really doesn’t matter which you pick, as either your friends will agree and move on, or disagree and start arguing back, allowing you to pretend to listen.

…Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors comes up?
You hate this decision. To quote loud, obnoxious, and overenthusiastic ESPN journalist Stephen A. Smith, “I’m viewing it as the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar, plain and simple.”

…someone tries to argue that a player is better than Jordan?
You say “No, he’s not.”

…I’m asked about the talent disparity between the Eastern and Western conference?
No additional memorization is needed for this answer. Just give the most political non-answer you have, “Yeah, the talent disparity is huge, but what can you do. One of the conferences is always going to be better, that’s just how it goes.”

…someone asks me who my favorite team is?
The Magic are your favorite team. It’s a rough franchise to support, but they’re the only team of the three you’ve memorized that won’t raise suspicion as to how long you’ve been an NBA fan. When you’re asked this, though, you need to divert attention immediately in order to avoid follow-up questions about the team. “The Magic are my favorite team. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to actually sit down and watch a game though, since I got diagnosed.” With this answer, the follow-up questions you get won’t be Magic related, and you’ll be in the clear.

And that’s it! If you’ve read this far, you’re ready to fake your way through a conversation about the National Basketball Association. Despite your newfound grasp on the basics of NBA conversation, the most important advice I can give is to not get too cocky. Don’t go seeking out NBA conversations, and don’t extend them past where they could end when you find yourself roped into one. Stay in your comfort zone, and you’ll do great.

Welcome to Fake NBA Conversations: Where Amazing Happens.