This junkie just can't get enough NBA playoff stuff


You know someone like me.

My eyes are bloodshot. I'm always late to the office, and my excuses get lamer every day. (My last one: John Sununu promised to fly me to work.)

I hardly talk to my family anymore.

I don't eat regularly.

I don't care about the things I used to. There are actual moments, though brief, when I even forget what place the Orioles are in or exactly how many no-hitters Nolan Ryan is up to.

OK, I admit it. I'm an addict. I'm Pete Rose with a day job. And it's all Ted Turner's fault.

It used to be you could hate Ted Turner because he had a squirrely mustache or because of the Goodwill Games or because he hangs out with Jane Fonda or because he colorized "The Big Sleep" or, and this is the way to go, because of all of the above.

But now, it's TNT, a Turner creation, and Ernie and Rick and Doug and Hubie telecasting every NBA playoff game they can find, and, God, I can't help myself.

I watch pro basketball until the middle of the night it seems like every night. I watch when everyone else in the house is fast asleep. I watch in the fourth quarter when teams are down 23 points, just in case. I watch when Karl Malone can't buy a #F basket. I even watch when Hubie Brown calls the Pistons Dee-troit.

I'm working what used to be milkman hours. Except all I do is watch. I like to watch.

I put away the remote control. No grazing for this cowpoke. I don't switch to Ted Koppel. I don't watch Martha Quinn's greatest hits. I even pass up "L.A. Law." I just sit there mesmerized and shout, usually to myself, "Did you see that play?" And I did. I did.

Or I call my friends in California, who are still awake. Did you see it? Did you see it? Didja, didja, didja? To which the usual reply is either "What time is it there?" or "Get a life."

The funny thing is that, even though it's my living to watch games, I'm not a sports nut. I don't care if I miss "Monday Night Football." I don't even buy Home Team Sports. The Minnesota North Stars are just another hockey team to me.

This time of year, something takes hold. This time of year, I like to hear Rick Barry talk. Odd, isn't it? Next thing you know, I'll be inviting John McLaughlin over.

This is supposed to be the best time of year, a time of blossoming renewal, at least that's what the baseball poets tell us. But while normal people are outside, doing whatever it is normal people do on a springtime Saturday afternoon, I'm holed up in a dark room watching Bill Laimbeer stick his elbow through Dee Brown's face.

What's the problem?

That's easy. It's the game. It's like pistachio ice cream or the early Mel Brooks movies ' I can't ever get enough.

You see, in the playoffs (this is for you Bullets fans who don't understand the concept of postseason), the game is much different. To say it's more intense than the regular season is to say that Michael Jordan is a good leaper. So what you have is the greatest athletes in the world performing the near-miraculous while another set of equally astonishing athletes attempt to stop them.

It's like football, but only if they played it on a high wire.

Not that the game is perfect. I don't like to see John Stockton get his head ripped off because he has the temerity to drive to the basket. Take away the hard fouls, and you'd have a real thing of beauty. You'd have pure, unobstructed flight.

My wife thinks I need help. She says it's all one game, with just uniform changes. Of course, she also thinks A.C. Green is a color-coded electrical unit.

I don't expect everyone to like the game. But the Woodman does and Jack and Billy Crystal. That's OK company. In fact, pro basketball, in large part thanks to Nike commercials, is for the first time in its long history a hot product. Every place but around here, that is. (By the way, congratulations to Susan O'Malley. The good news is she's the first female president of an NBA team. The bad news is the team is the Bullets.)

For me, watching Bird smash his face on the hallowed Boston Garden floor and then come back to deliver the Celtics to the next round of the playoffs is legitimate theater. To have seen Chris Mullin and his quick release battle Magic Johnson and his otherworldly vision is to fall asleep finally a happy man.

Have you seen Tim Hardaway's knuckleball? Chris Mullin's hair If you haven't, you've got to. In fact, you need to see the entire Golden State Run-TMC gang, which may never make it to prime time. That's why I stay up late. For James Worthy's drives to the basket. For Clyde Drexler. For the Mailman.

The supposedly awful thing about the NBA playoffs is that they take forever to finish. But I'll let you in on a little secret, if you promise not to tell my wife: I don't mind at all.

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