The objective is the same: shoot the ball into the net. The height of the basket is the same. The number of players on the court is the same. The fundamental rules of the game are the same. But what makes college basketball so different than the NBA? Maybe it’s the difference in the shot clocks or the number of fouls it takes to be disqualified from the game. After attending both a Detroit Pistons game and a Michigan game, I realized It had nothing to do with the petty differences in the rules. Rather it was something much greater than that. I discovered that the true disparity in the two games was between the passion displayed by the college players and fans versus the NBA players and fans.
While at the Detroit Pistons game against the Phoenix Suns on November 19th, I noticed a lack of intensity and focus by several players on each team. At times, some guys even looked completely disinterested in the game altogether. While many people prefer watching the NBA over college ball due to greater athleticism and faster play, I was surprised by the overall determination of the players, or lack thereof. Don’t get me wrong, there were several great dunks and flashy plays throughout the game by big-time players such as Andre Drummond and Goran Dragic, but as a whole the game proved very lackluster. I understand that it was a less than meaningful regular season game, of which there are 82 games, but for all the money the players make they should be playing with full intensity for all 48 minutes.
On the other hand, the sight was much different at the Michigan vs. Syracuse game on Tuesday night at the Crisler Center. From the opening whistle, both teams came out firing with full force. Zak Irvin was as hyped as ever, leading the Wolverines with the rest of the team right behind. Every possession was filled with maximum energy on both the offensive and defensive ends. The passion and heart were visible on every player and coach from both teams, even from the nose bleeds. After every big play, the guys on the bench would jump out of their seats, cheering on their teammates urging them to keep on fighting. With all things being equal, the game between Michigan and Syracuse was a lot bigger on paper than the Pistons vs. the Suns. It was the biggest non-conference home game for Michigan and there are only 18 home games all season as opposed to 41 in the NBA. However, I have been to all four of Michigan’s home game this season and at every game, I have seen similar passion by the players even though those games were not as “big.”
Maybe the difference in intensity lies in something I mentioned before:money. This also brings Eric Dunning’s comments about the transition from amateurism to professionalism in sports from his chapter “The Dynamics of Modern Sport,” into play. He argued that as sports become more serious and professional, they also become more competitive and less fun. I am not going to agree with Dunning’s argument completely because I do believe NBA players are having fun, but I also feel that once certain players reach a level where they are making millions of dollars, they are satisfied with that and the actual winning aspect of the game becomes less of a priority. This is purely my speculation and it certainly doesn’t hold true to all players. However, college players,meanwhile, are amateurs and are often playing for something more, such as impressing NBA scouts. Another reason why I believe college basketball players compete with more fire than NBA players has to do with the fans and atmosphere of the games; a huge difference between college and the NBA.
Even though I am a huge NBA fan and basketball junkie in general, there is no doubt that attending a college basketball game is just more fun. Many of the fans at the Detroit Pistons game were completely uninterested with the team. Yes, the Pistons are a below-average team, but if you’re going to bother attending the game in the first place you might as well be into it. Especially, when the game goes down to the wire as it did, with the Suns winning by just two points. As a professional athlete, I could only imagine how hard it is to play in front of a disinterested and half-filled arena.
College games, on the other hand, are a totally different story. With students lining up 12 hours before the game, everyone wearing all maize, the band leading the fans in Hail to the Victors, and the maize rage jumping up and down from start to finish, the atmosphere of college basketball games, and Michigan games specifically, go unmatched. There is almost something religious-like about Michigan basketball games in the way that us students conform to the various traditions, which is very similar to how Bart Giamatti describes leisure and baseball as having a religious aspect, in his work “Take Time For Paradise.” Giamatti says that our religious quality is shown by the intensity through which we follow sports, and here at Michigan we are no different when it comes to our basketball team. The passion we(the fans), along with the energy from the band and cheerleaders,display religiously at every game translates to the passion and devotion displayed by the players on the court.
After witnessing Michigan’s first signature home win in a heated battle against the Orange of Syracuse, there is no question the passion of college basketball by both its players and fans trumps the professionals of the NBA.