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Let's face it; there's nothing C.A. Clark from SB Nation's Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll could do to convince you to join the Evil Empire of the NBA. So if you want to root for the Lakers this spring, have no shame. You won't be the only bandwagon fan.
How fitting it is that the last attempt in this delightful exercise in persuasion is an attempt to convince you to throw your support behind the Los Angeles Lakers. By now, you've no doubt read 15 wonderful arguments from my colleagues, and they all have some kind of angle: The aging core with one last chance, the cursed city desperate for a championship, the team that plays beautiful basketball, the one that creates anarchy on the court, win one for the gipper, it's all there. The storybook of your choice awaits.
Me, I have no angles. We're talking about the Los Angeles Lakers here. We are the New York Yankees, we are the Dallas Cowboys, we are Manchester United. We are the villains of the NBA. Conspiracies work in our favor. Some combination of referees, David Stern, and "rival" GMs will ensure that we have an unfair advantage over the rest of the league at all times. Our players are the exact opposite of likable. Led by Kobe Bryant, the most polarizing athlete in the sport (and, until some golfer stole the title recently, all sports), the Lakers players are a combination of arrogance, smugness, indifference and laziness that you can't help but despise.
Our fans aren't tortured, they're insufferable. We arrive late, leave early and can't be bothered to cheer until the final moments of the game, because we're too busy scanning the court-side seats for celebrities. Most of us don't know much about basketball, or the team, because we're all a bunch of bandwagon riders anyways. The only thing any Lakers fan knows for sure is that Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player to have ever lived, or at least a close second to Magic Johnson. Win or lose, we do so with indignity, and the worst part is that when the Lakers come to town, we probably outnumber you on your own court.
Like I said, there are no angles. There isn't a single reason for you to feel good about rooting for the Lakers. There's only the truth.
The truth? If you want the best chance for this charade of yours to last deep into June, we're your best bet. Oh sure, we might look ripe for the picking, but take a good hard look at the Western Conference. Eight very strong teams, no doubt, but is there one team in there that really strikes you as dominant? Nope. It'll be a dogfight, it'll be a struggle, but deep in your heart, you already know the Lakers will probably end up at the top of the heap. Besides, if things start to look bad, one call from the commissioner's office should clear things up nicely.
In the end, the numbers don't lie. In 60 seasons of NBA basketball, the Lakers have missed the playoffs five times. They've been to the Finals in 29 out of 60 seasons, and won the championship 14 times (15 if you count the season before, played under the BAA). The Lakers might not win it all, but they are the safest bet in the field to make the Finals. After all, Orlando and Cleveland have to play each other.
The best part about throwing your lot in with the Lakers fans? You'll fit right in. Don't know any player on the team besides Kobe or Pau? Who cares, did you see Denzel Washington in the 2nd row? Don't understand the Triangle? Neither do we, and for that matter I think the Lakers players are pretty confused by it too. And God forbid if the Lakers were to lose, you'll be able to slink out the side door with the rest of us as the bandwagon empties en masse, and you'll be secretly smiling all the way to your team's off-season. It's a win-win for you either way.
I know that bandwagon fans have a negative association attached to them, but the truth is that every one of these pieces is trying to convince you that theirs' is the best bandwagon of all.
And, well, there's a reason our bandwagon is so big.
I wrote this one, folks, so ... uhh ... when it comes to the playoffs, GO MAVS!
Confession: I'm not really a Dallas Mavericks fan. I'm a Washington Wizards fan first, and then I'm a fan of the NBA at large. Among this year's playoff teams, though, there are none I admire more than the Dallas Mavericks, which is why I'm here trying to convince you to pull for them this spring.
Part of the reason I admire these guys is because they employ three of my favorite players in the league: former Wizards Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. All three gave me some great memories in DC both on and off the court. Plus, Stevenson and Haywood had the balls to call out LeBron James when nobody else would, which raises them about 10 levels in my book.
But it's not about the former Wizards, it's about the Mavericks. Specifically, it's about how they keep winning and always seems to make the right decision. Since 2004, can you honestly point to one bad move the organization has made? Trading for Jason Kidd? How's Devin Harris working out for you, Nets fans? Trading Antawn Jamison to get Harris and Jerry Stackhouse? Those guys helped carry Dallas to the Finals.
Every other move has worked. They traded Antoine Walker for Jason Terry, turned a disgruntled Josh Howard and spare parts into Butler and Haywood, signed Shawn Marion, plucked J.J. Barea off the scrap heap and, in their latest coup, drafted the unknown, but electrifying Rodrigue Beaubois. Sure, they have a lot of money to spend, but so do the Knicks, and that hasn't worked out for them.
Seriously, the Mavericks have had unprecedented success this decade. They've won at least 50 games every season since 2001, and have three 60-win seasons in that stretch. In case you aren't counting, that's ten straight seasons of at least 50 wins. The last time the Mavericks failed to win 50 games was before Shaq and Kobe hated each other. And the Mavericks have kept succeeding through several iterations of the club, winning during the Don Nelson run-and-gun era, the Avery Johnson tough-as-nails era and the Rick Carlisle halfcourt-execution era. The style might change, the players might change and the coach might change, but the Mavericks keep on chugging.
But of course, they have no championships, and that's the name of the game. Nevermind that they got robbed in 2006. No championships=no respect. And that leads us to the one constant of the last ten years: Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki, like his team, remains the most underrated player of his generation. For ten years, he's been the best player on one of the best teams in the league, doing it in three completely different systems. Just when we think he's finally slowing down, he turns in a season that really should put him higher in the MVP chase than he will be. He rarely misses games, shows up to play every night and has transformed a fanbase that was once dormant and apathetic. He's also stayed out of trouble (with one notable exception) and has mastered the art of connecting with the fans and making himself seem human. (Just ask David Hasselhoff).
In other words, nobody this decade, with the exception of Kobe and Tim Duncan, has been a better "franchise player" for longer than Dirk. And yet, all we remember about Dirk is that he and his team haven't won any titles. We remember his failure in 2006, even though the only reason the Mavericks even got to the Finals is because Dirk played out of his mind against San Antonio and Phoenix. We remember how he shouldn't have won MVP in 2007, even though he was the best player on the best team. We remember how he was stymied by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs that year, even though it was his coach that cost them the series by not making any tactical adjustments. Much like his team, Dirk's consistent excellence has been ignored because of a few snapshots where he wasn't at his best.
Essentially, Dirk is this generation's Karl Malone. Both have been remembered for all the wrong reasons, their moment of falling short carrying more weight than their entire career of consistent excellence. It was unfair to Malone, and now, it's unfair to Dirk. He's been too good and too likable for too long to suffer Malone's fate.
So this spring, get behind Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks. Cheer for them as they attempt to secure their legacy as champions, and not just runner-ups.
Some of our bloggers took this exercise more literally than others and actually wrote letters to you fans. Here, now, is a message for you to root for the Suns, courtesy Trevor Paxton of SB Nation's Suns blog Bright Side of the Sun.
Hello there! It's nice to meet you. Even though you may not know who I am, and I likely don't know who you are, I feel that we share a certain common link. A bond, if you will. A deep rooted, unwavering connection that would make any You've Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle junkie jealous.
No, I'm not suggesting that we exchange emails or happen across each other via radio program. I'm talking about our love for the game of basketball. In our short time together, I will be talking about my love for the game. I could just give you the team name and have it speak for itself, but I will expand upon them in an attempt to help you understand just why the Phoenix Suns are deserving of your undying and unadulterated devotion, if only for this year's NBA playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns are the epitome of spirited, fun basketball. Now, I know that you are probably thinking, "Now, every team can lay claim to being 'fun' or 'spirited'. It's all a matter of perspective." Well, my new friend, you would be right.
However, there's something special about this Phoenix Suns team. Steve Nash, the age defying, future Hall of Fame point guard, is in the proverbial driver's seat for this team. If you don't get excited every time Steve Nash pulls off an assist of the "Did he really just make that pass?!" or "He must have eyes in the back of his head!" nature, you may need to seek medical attention, as you probably don't have a soul. Steve Nash is the embodiment of entertaining basketball. Since his return to Phoenix (and subsequent re-unleashing by head coach Alvin Gentry), the Suns have played a style nearly no one can describe as "boring" or "mundane."
Another huge reason to want to lay claim to the boys in purple and orange is ... Amare Stoudemire. Amar'e Stoudemire. Amaré Stoudemire. It doesn't matter which variation of his name/apostrophe placing you use, one thing still rings everlasting: the man is a beast. A monster. An absolute barbarian. After going down in the offseason with what could have been a career altering eye surgery, Amare has slowly worked his way back up to the ranks at the top of the NBA. I could go on for hours on how amazing Amare has been this season, and it still wouldn't adequately describe just how much the man has dominated.
Oh, and in case you've been living under a rock for this season, here's a small sample of what you've been missing:
Ahem. Sorry, where were we? Oh yes ... Amare Stoudemire. Now, if that video didn't prove to you that the Phoenix Suns are the team you should be watching in the postseason, I am truly sorry for you. However, because you are my new friend, I will offer more evidence as to just how awesome this bunch is.
The emergence of a young bench, brimming with an intense drive and determination. The Suns' bench has been truly remarkable, playing with heart and passion. However, even more than the spirited fist pumps and all out play, the Suns' bench is telling of a deep playoff run. In years past, the Phoenix Suns were always one of the best teams in the league. They were always one of the favorites to go home with the ever elusive Larry O'Brien trophy.
However, a lack of depth and true talent beyond the first six or seven players is what hindered the Suns from ever achieving that goal. One might blame it on bad luck, saddle up and get on the "I Hate David Stern" bandwagon, or simply resort to apathy when discussing years past. But, with the emergence of young Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic, Lou "My Ponytail Is Better Than Yours" Amundson and deep range threat Channing Frye, the Suns make the case that they can rely on their bench in crunch time, providing rest for their starters. Oh, and we can't forget Jared Dudley, fierce competitor and possessor of the most athletic hands in history.
So, if uptempo, thrilling, and leave-your-seat-exciting basketball isn't your thing, maybe comedy is. One thing you're bound to get when watching these Phoenix Suns is a dose of comedy, whether it's a snarky comment in a halftime or postgame interview (likely with Craig Sager), or a YouTube viral video.
It's okay, you can admit it: you laughed. It's okay, I laughed too. Who doesn't love a good, awkward video featuring Steve Nash, talking about how awesome Steve Nash is? I know I do.
All joking aside, while our time is swiftly coming to an end, I hope my words have inspired you to give the Phoenix Suns your viewership for the playoffs. Just for the playoffs. If you like what you see, we'll gladly welcome you into the fold. The Suns are kind of like peace. It's a nice idea, but you never know how great it can be until you give it a chance. Plus, you just had a reference to a John Lennon song. You're welcome.
The Denver Nuggets are a pretty wild bunch, so if you're looking for a team to feed your crazy side, look no further than the Nuggets, writes Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs.
The question is, why should you root for the Nuggets? Honestly, you probably shouldn't root for Denver, especially if you have a heart condition.
But if you really want to adopt a team for these playoffs and you're considering the Nuggets, then please make sure you say yes to at least one of the following.
If any of the above sounds good to you or is familiar to you then you've found the right team. Do not read about any other teams and learn to take the made up word "Thuggets" as a compliment and testament to the toughness of your new team. Oh, and if you have a decent amount of hair then please go find some super sticky gel, toss a Mohawk in and continue reading. If you can't find any gel or if you're out, then please look towards Ted (Ben Stiller) in There's Something About Mary for inspiration.
The Denver Nuggets ... how to describe thee. One particularly disturbing scene among many in the 1999 movie Fight Club has Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) taking a beating from a goon named Lou in the basement of a local bar. The bar owner decided he didn't want weirdoes in his basement beating the crap out of each other anymore, so he had his goon rough up Durden in an attempt to drive the Fight Club from his less than fine establishment. Lou had the following conversation with Durden as he was punchisizing his face:
Lou: [Lou hits Tyler in the face] Do you hear me now?
Tyler Durden: No, I didn't quite catch that, Lou.
[Lou hits Tyler again]
Tyler Durden: Still not getting it.
[Lou hits Tyler a few more times]
Tyler Durden: Ok, I got it. Shit, I lost it.
[Lou continues to beat up Tyler]
The above describes the Nuggets when they are losing, which they did 29 times this season (22 on the road). The answer to make the beatings stop seemed rather easy, but Denver likes to learn things the hard way and they can be very stubborn. The above can even describe how Denver fails, at times, to make in-game adjustments. They'll leave deadly three-point shooters open, they'll suddenly turn into jump shooting team when attacking the rim was working, they will almost flat out refuse to rebound properly, basically if you find something that works against the Nuggets or bothers them, stick to it as it will sometimes never get fixed.
But when the Nuggets are winning, nothing needs to be fixed. The feeling you get when the Nuggets are playing well is like ... well, it's like the feeling you get when your favorite team is playing well! I don't need to tell anybody here the euphoria that fandom can bring. You need no other analogy: it's like having a big bowl of ice cream to stuff in your face, because we know how we feel.
What I can tell you is that when the Nuggets are at their best the defensive intensity is creating offensive opportunities. The extra pass is being made. The ball-boy could come in and hit a shot because the rim seems to expand. The term run-and-gun is in action and a small deficit can turn into a double-digit lead.
The Nuggets have a nice mixture of veteran players like Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin, they have the crazy young gunners in Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, they have the big men who can be brilliant and frustrating in Nene, Chris Andersen and Johan Petro, the hard workers in Arron Afflalo, and Ty Lawson and a some good end of the bench guys in Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Joey Graham and Malik "Tacos" Allen.
The Nuggets are missing their head coach George Karl, who is recovering from neck and throat cancer treatments. His presence is being greatly felt as his absence has been prolonged to at least the second-round of the playoffs. The Nuggets are in search of their first NBA Finals appearance and without their general and perhaps without home court after the first round the fight will be tough, but this club is ready.
This isn't your father's Utah Jazz, so you should make an effort to get behind them, writes SB Nation's Jazz blog SLC Dunk.
Picking a team to root for in the playoffs when your own team is on vacation isn't an easy thing to do. Let me help you with that choice.
First, you shouldn't follow a team that has won a title in the last 20 years. I would kill to have had a championship in the last 20 years. Second, you can't root for a team that has a megastar. They're the normally the odds-on favorites anyway and it's un-American and un-human to root for them unless they're already your team. You also can't root for a division rival.
So unless you're a fan of the Timberwolves, you should be following the Utah Jazz. I know what you're saying, "But they're so boring," or "They're a dirty team." First, I don't blame you for thinking that given their lack of national exposure. When they do get on TNT or ESPN, they're always the late game so half the country is already asleep. Second, the reputation of being dirty has been carried over from the previous administration. I wish they were dirty. I wish they were more physical.
So let me give you a breakdown of why you should follow the Jazz.
Deron Williams: We refer to him as ninja in Jazz circles. Ninja passes, ninja steals, ninja crossovers. He's as far from boring as you can get. He's the only one with any star wattage on the team.
Mehmet Okur: His most recent name is slow-mo-Memo. You can see his move coming a mile away and he even has to start it with 10 seconds on the clock just to avoid the violation, but you can't stop it.
Carlos Boozer: Say what you want about Booze, and it has been said, but he's just went to work this season. You can guess at his motives, and he's not going to stop anyone on D, but he's shown flashes of toughness.
Andrei Kirilenko: AK is what makes the Jazz go. It's no coincidence that the Jazz have struggled without him in the lineup. There aren't any players in the league with his skill set. He saves the team a lot of nights.
Wesley Matthews: The embodiment of a hard-working, Sloan-type player. Undrafted, he was the beneficiary of injuries early in the season, but he's made the team on skill and hustle. How else could he be the starting guard as a rookie for Jerry Sloan?
Paul Millsap: He's accepted his role as backup PF despite his new contract. Little known fact: he's never been to the free-throw line in his NBA career because he never gets fouled. Amazing, right? However, he knows how to foul from 15 feet away and without making contact. Remarkable.
CJ Miles: Jazz fans have a love/hate relationship with CJ. He makes some brilliant plays and then some that result in an immediate facepalm. He could be a factor in the playoffs.
Kyle Korver: That Korver, he's so hot right now. If you're looking for a way to convince your wife to continue watching basketball even though your team is out, look no further. We have the hottest guy in the league. He just broke the single-season record for three-point percentage. Oh, and he's easy on the eyes.
Kyrylo Fesenko: Big Fess. You can't help but love the big guy from the Ukraine that is a comedy gold mine. He spends more time checking out the stands and jumbotron that he does the playbook, but the 7-footer will not disappoint in comedy when he's on the floor.
Ronnie Price. Straight hustle Plus, he hates the Lakers.
Kosta Koufos. The KOOF. He will destroy your soul. Chuck Norris dresses up as the KOOF for Halloween.
Othyus Jeffers. He's the newbie to the team, signed to a couple of 10-day contracts before getting signed for the rest of the season. He's the team's second DLeague call up. We don't know much about him yet but soon could.
Sundiata Gaines. I refer to him as Jughead because his shot that beat the Cavaliers sent the Jazz into an alternate universe (LOST Spoiler!) where they started playing well and came together as a team. Oh, and he's not a bad backup PG either.
Jerry Sloan. Tough guy extraordinaire. He has a team with two D-Leaguers, an undrafted rookie, and nobody besides Williams taken in the first round and turned them into a contender. He's lost Eric Maynor and Ronnie Brewer and kept plugging along.
If you're a fan of team basketball, you'll know why you should follow the Jazz. Cuts, passes, backdoor screens, and more. Don't worry though, it's not boring, it's a thing of beauty when it's run.
No pressure. You don't have to make your pick now. Just watch the Jazz this Saturday, if you can stay up that late, and fall in love with team basketball.
Dave of SB Nation's Blazers blog Blazers Edge lists the many reasons you should root for the Blazers this spring.
Why would you root for the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs? Let me count the ways:
1. Cool uniforms. Don't underrate the importance of cool uniforms.
2. Underdog status. When in doubt, upsets are more fun, right?
3. A rabid fan base. No matter what the standings in the series you can bet that Blazer fans will be LOUD in the Rose Garden. At full crescendo, the environment almost takes on the cultural momentum of a World Cup match. Don't you love getting caught up in something like that? Of course you do. That's why you watch the World Cup, right? It can't possibly be for the soccer.
4. A chemistry experiment going right. The Blazers have been an odd petrie dish in the last few years. They started from less than nothing five seasons ago. Their best players were also their worst malcontents. They weren't winning. They blew it up and started over completely. Through some shrewd maneuvering and a little luck in the draft they stocked up with talented, young players. Too many talented, young players really. There wasn't court time for all of them to develop. Last year's playoffs showed obvious holes in the armor. The Houston Rockets bushwhacked the Blazers early and the youngsters couldn't make it up. But in the past year Portland has focused on mixing veterans in with their young talent. Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, and Juwan Howard provide a solid base from which those young guys can launch. All three veterans are playing good-to-great basketball. The team looks more cohesive and controlled. Whether that transformation makes any difference in the post season remains to be seen, but it's interesting to watch nevertheless.
5. A never-say-die attitude. Make no mistake, the Blazers were dead in the water this season. When they lost Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla in quick succession the heart got ripped out of their defense. Sustained injuries to Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez tore apart their depth as well. Brandon Roy's injuries lopped off their collective head. Roy's recent meniscus tear is only the latest in a devastating string of blows this team has suffered. Yet somehow they just keep getting up and saying, "No, no! It's just a flesh wound!" Somehow they create wins where most teams would have limped off to the lottery. Coupled with underdog status this should make rooting for Portland a no-brainer.
6. The chance to adopt early. Everybody likes to be on the winning side. Everybody likes to look like a genius by getting on that side before anyone else. This team won 54 games last year with a squad so young they might as well have suited up in diapers. The team won 50 again this year with less than half of a roster, playing guys who were 10th-13th on the depth chart when the season started. If there's even the slightest chance of decent health in the future you have to believe this team is going somewhere. Claiming fandom this post-season allows you automatic renewal in the better years to come.
7. Meet friends the easy way! It'll seem a tad self-serving but it's not an exaggeration to say that the Blazers have one of the biggest online followings of any team in the league ... comfortably THE biggest if you count per capita. Most of those Blazer fans are smart, cool, people. Most of those Blazer fans also love the lift that this time of year brings. Pop over to Blazers Edge and start a fanpost asking why you should be a Blazer fan. You'll get 100 responses and make 1,000 new friends (literally from all around the globe) before the day is done.
8. Batum and Fernandez. With Brandon Roy basically non-functional the most interesting players to watch for the Blazers will be Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez. In Batum you will see one of the quietly-rising defensive players in the league ... a player who is also beginning to discover a boundless offensive confidence. He has been superb shooting the long ball this season and his stop-and-pop jumper off of the drive is a wonder to behold. His ability to chase down fast-breaking opponents and swat their layup attempts to kingdom come has become legendary in Blazer circles.
Fernandez has struggled this year but when he's focused, energized and hitting his shots, he's a dynamo, stealing the ball, canning the three, passing and dunking with equal ease. Though neither is at the stage of coming through every game, both can be thrilling.
9. We're not the Lakers.
10. Did I mention the cool uniforms?
The Spurs have a reputation for being boring, but that's not true anymore, writes SB Nation's Matt O'Brien.
I know, I know. Convining anyone outside of south Texas to root for Gregg Popovich's squad is a Sisyphean task. The Spurs are just a boring collection of hoops automatons sent to ruthlessly and efficiently win games, aesthetics be damned. Right?
It wasn't always this way for the Spurs. Sure, they've never exactly excited the passions of NBA fans the way Steve Nash's 7SOL Suns did, but back in 2003 San Antonio was at least something of a feel-good story. Perpetual good guy David Robinson got to cap his career with a second ring, and Duncan and Co. were the perfect antidote to the monotony of watching Shaq and Kobe foist yet another championship banner in Staples Center. And as a bonus, that team even featured a not-yet-obviously-crazy Steven Jackson. Good times.
But it didn't take long for the backlash against the Spurs' brand of dull yet methodical basketball to take hold. The 2005 Finals against the Pistons represented a real nadir in watchable pro hoops; that affront to the basketball gods featured one low-scoring blowout after another. By 2007, the Spurs had made the somewhat unlikely transformation from boring to villains ... except they were still too boring to really pull it off. Greybeards like Bruce Bowen (who made an art of stepping on opponents' feet) and Robert Horry gave it their best, antagonizing opponents with borderline tactics, but -- as Mark Jackson would explain -- at the end of the day, the soporific game of the Big Fundamental overwhelmed even blatant cheap shots like this in the public psyche.
And that's where the public perception of the Spurs has been stuck for years now: "old", "boring" and "dirty. "Which is a shame because this Spurs team is decidedly different (no really, they are). Yes, their core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker is now on the wrong side of 30, and yes, they still coast for the first months of the season before turning things on as the playoffs near, but the rest of their roster has been made over the past few years in favor of young, athletic players.
Gone are aforementioned mainstays like Bowen and Horry. The club even jettisoned the ancient Michael Finley (who, of course, promptly signed with the new elderly home of the NBA, the Celtics). In their place are an assortment of draft picks and D-League savants other teams have inexplicably overlooked or short-sightedly let go, and who are now just meshing with the Spurs' Big Three. Guys like George Hill (whose recently re-injured ankle is a major concern) and DeJuan Blair have emerged as key contributors, with others likely to take on bigger roles next season.
So the Spurs have a few real underdogs, and who doesn't like underdogs? But there's more. This season has also seen San Antonio's most entertaining player, Manu Ginobili, undergo a dramatic late-season resurgence, that has not only turned them into a legit title contender out of the 7-seed, but also made the team much more palatable for the eyes. Ginobili's sometimes-spastic, always-creative playmaking has long been one of the underrated aspects of the Spurs' play. His indifference for his own health, however -- he's made a career out of careening his way through the lane -- had slowed him do so much the past few years that it seemed his days as an elite-level player were finished. Not so much. With Tony Parker out earlier in the month, Ginobili rediscovered his game and played arguably the best ball of his career, simultaneously securing both a contract extension and a measure of redemption.
So underdogs, a comeback ... anything else? Ah yes, there's finally the legacy question. A few weeks ago, Dan Shaugnessy set off a minor firestorm when he proclaimed Tim Duncan didn't crack his list of the top ten all-time greatest NBA players. Really, someone who's anchored four NBA championship teams isn't better than Charles Barkley, Karl Malone or John Stockton? Luckily, SI's Joe Posnanski did the heavy lifting deconstructing and disproving this particular brand of crazy, but the larger question remains: what will it take for Duncan to receive the type of recognition his career deserves? If it takes watching the Spurs march to an improbable fifth title under the oft-placid leadership of the Big Fundamental, then damnit let's root for Gregg Popovich's team to do so; at least that will have made suffering through the four previous ones (more) worth it, to be able to say that you saw one of the definitive, if underappreciated, all-time greats at his best, demolishing more highly-touted opponents.
So jump on the Spurs bandwagon. There's plenty of room. And this year's Spurs team actually has enough compelling storylines (and talent) that they might be able to ditch the boring label and instead be remembered for something else: simply as champions.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are young, talented, fun and overachieving. SB Nation's Andrew Sharp writes that the case for the Thunder is pretty simple.
Let's see... Prada gave me this assignment. "Why should you root for the Thunder?"
That's a real question? Like, if you're seriously asking that as a fan, here's another question...
Do you even like basketball?
If you do, and you're not already committed to another playoff team, then the Thunder have got to be your team. They've got two of the most exciting players in basketball (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook), they've overachieved all year long, and if you hop on the bandwagon now, nobody will call you a poser three years down the road, when these guys are true title contenders. I mean, really. They're that talented.
But let's focus on the payoff they provide in the short term. Here's what you're getting if you root for the Thunder: the best scorer in basketball (Durant), a great coach (Scotty Brooks), one of the best Poseys in basketball (Jeff Green), and a home crowd in Oklahoma City that's tasting the playoffs for the first time EVER. Think they'll be loud against the Lakers?
And that last point applies to the whole team, really. With the Thunder, you get the very best that sports has to offer. A rags-to-riches story, and a bunch of fresh-faced newcomers that are just thrilled to be a part of the playoffs. They're going to play hard every night, smile when they win, and maybe cry if they lose. OKC is the type of lovable underdog that we as sports fans are conditioned to love.
But there's a twist with the this group: They're actually good.
This isn't your typical rags-to-riches narrative, because Oklahoma City doesn't suck. We usually apply the "Cinderella" tag to teams and players that aren't good enough to warrant other superlatives, but not with this team. Durant and the Thunder are a feel-good story, yeah, but they could actually make some noise in the first round against the Lakers. They're scrappy, and overachieving considering their youth, but they still have more pure talent than half the teams in the Western Conference playoffs.
They'll go to war with one of the best players in the game on their side, a fun supporting cast, oceans of good karma, and a puncher's chance against the NBA defending champs. If you can't get root for the Oklahoma Thunder, again I ask ... Do you even like basketball?
The Cavaliers may be the favorites, and they may employ LeBron James. Still, SB Nation's Cavaliers blog Fear the Sword writes that you absolutely should root for them so the city gets the title they deserve.
So you need a team to root for in the NBA Playoffs? By going last in today's list of Eastern Conference Playoff teams it must mean I am proposing the Cavaliers.
Now, usually the team with the best record is a hard sell. People love the underdog. They love to root for the story and in most cases the team with the best record is not the best story. Consider this, however. A Cavaliers championship is much more than a title for a team that has never won one. It is about a region starved for a World Champion and the pain they have dealt with for the last 45+ years.
You see, that's the last time the city of Cleveland has enjoyed a title - in any sport. Sure, other cities get all the publicity for their various sports droughts. The Red Sox were well publicized, despite the Celtics run in the 80's and the Patriots winning Super Bowls in the early 2000's. How about Chicago? Sure, the Cubs get all the attention even though the Bears won a Super Bowl in 1986, the Bulls won six Titles in the 90's and the White Sox won a World Series just a few years ago.
Look at the Eastern Conference and you won't find a city as ‘cursed' as the city of Cleveland. Milwaukee won a NBA Title in 1971. The Heat won a title in 2006. What about the Bobcats? Sure, they are in their first postseason, but the Carolina Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006.
The point is this - while the Cavaliers might be hard to love for the mainstream fan, the city of Cleveland is the ultimate underdog. See 1986: The Drive. 1987: The Fumble. 1989: The Shot. Three crushing defeats in four years. How many cities have even one ‘Name Game'? The Indians made the list too, losing the 1995 World Series to Atlanta in six games and the 1997 World Series in extra innings to Florida. That game, of course, was tied by the Marlins in the ninth inning. The Tribe was one out away.
If LeBron James, the best player on the planet, isn't enough, along with a cast of characters that play willingly in his shadow, than consider for a moment a fanbase that has been tortured for nearly half a century. No better reason to jump on the Cavaliers bandwagon.
If they win, it will be one helluva party, and you're all invited!
I know, I know, a lot of people don't like VInce Carter. But as SB Nation's Magic blog Orlando Pinstriped Post writes, this team is so much more than him. If you take some time to appreciate the entire package, you'll come away a fan.
Last season, the Orlando Magic won a lot of admirers on their unlikely trip to the NBA Finals. They dethroned the reigning Boston Celtics in the second round, dismissed league MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and gave the L.A. Lakers a pretty tough go of it in the Finals. A tougher go than the 4-1 loss might indicate.
But that was with a roster that included two easygoing role-players (Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu), as well as a surprising rookie (Courtney Lee), logging heavy minutes. This summer, the Magic went a bit mainstream when they ditched the pizza-chopming, hard-partying Turkoglu for Vince Carter, the career underachiever and lazybones. And, in Matt Barnes, they added a real instigator, a guy not afraid to go forehead-to-forehead with Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and the like. And while these moves, among others, have made the Magic a better team, they also might have reduced their appeal. Who wants to root for Carter, anyway?
But that's just it: the team is far more than Carter. Coach Stan Van Gundy, who himself has drawn criticism for his insistence to the media that his team doesn't get any respect, has the Magic playing sound, fundamental, fun-to-watch basketball. Yes, Orlando takes more three-pointers than any other team in the league, and yes, sometimes role-players like Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Anderson start chucking threes on the break. But if you watch the team, you'll see it plays some beautiful pick-and-roll basketball: Drive, kick, move the ball to the weak side, shoot. Orlando works the ball from side-to-side as well as any other team in the league.
It also employs Dwight Howard, the league's most dominant post player. The talking points about his lack of a post game are simply outdated. He's not quite Tim Duncan or Al Jefferson on the low block, but he knows enough moves that he can usually free himself for a dunk or baby hook. Or, if the double-team gives too much resistance, he's an improved passer from the low post, and he'll find Barnes, Jameer Nelson, or J.J. Redick, cutting to the basket for an easy hoop. And we haven't even touched on his defense, where his ability to lock down the paint and force opponents to alter their offensive schemes simply to account for him is without peer.
The bench boasts some great players as well, and can be good fun to watch. Jason Williams may be 34, but he still makes at least one baffling, how'd-he-do-that pass per game. Pietrus is unstoppable when he catches fire from beyond the arc. Redick and Williams have great on-court chemistry with backup center Marcin Gortat, who's as exciting a pick-and-roll finisher at that position that we have in this league ... and that's counting Howard.
And if you want to talk intangibles and chemistry, this team has them in spades. The guys are loose, have fun, have their teammates' backs ... this is a true team, from Howard all the way down to Adonal Foyle. Just watch them in the pregame layup line sometimes, when third-string point guard Anthony Johnson leads a team-wide breakdance battle, Howard throws a tomahawk jam down on Rashard Lewis' head and Lewis boosts the 6'1" Williams for a windmill dunk.
I know the idea of cheering for Carter, or Redick, or Van Gundy, or even Howard might sicken some of you. But I implore you to look beyond the individuals. Again, this is a fantastic team to watch, during the game as well as before it. And when you consider the alternatives -- the world champion Lakers, the James/Shaquille O'Neal duo in Cleveland -- well, there's no comparison. Go with the underdog.
Go with the Magic.
Looking for a contender that isn't Cleveland, Orlando, Boston or the Lakers? Look no further than Atlanta, because they have likable players, bursts of energy and the ability to transform a city, writes SB Nation's Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops.
The NBA is a superstar league, and the Hawks do not have a superstar. So if you are looking to go anti-LeBron, Wade, Kobe, even Durant, the Hawks offer you the best non-superstar team to root for. Your welcome.
But let me be clear, I love superstars. I wish the Hawks had a superstar. You do not need to adopt the Hawks as a non-violent stand against phantom foul calls for Wade. You can. It is just not necessary because the playoffs turn the Hawks into superstars. Joe Johnson does not have a superstar style even if he actually had superstar talent, but go watch this fourth quarter against Boston two years ago.
This is not nostalgia or homerism: Atlanta is a team that brings out the nastiness from the best teams, and that in turn brings out the best in the Hawks. During almost every nationally televised game the Hawks had, the announcers, at some point, said, "This game has had a playoff atmosphere throughout." Atlanta is an emotional group. This team does not win because of great defense, offense or coaching. They channel supreme talent into one or two plays of brilliance and ride that into a string of emotional runs.
In other words, this is not the boring brilliance of a Detroit Pistons' championship defense or the mundane incredibleness of the Spurs' championship offense. The Hawks are pockets of the best basketball team you will see all year within restful periods of mediocrity. They can beat anyone, and in the regular season, they will lose to anyone. But come playoff time, it is their best shot. Effort truncates the frustrating inconsistencies of those first 82 games, and I will tell you it is pretty dang fun to watch.
I know what you are thinking right now. Atlanta sounds like the underachieving redemption story you wish your team was. But the Hawks overachieved ... for the second year in a row. No one had this team winning 50 plus games and taking the third seed. They are the rare group that has grown naturally better together and remained healthy this year so the team's potential remains intact. Going into the playoffs, the Hawks still have upside.
And that is of course because of the players. When two points mean more than two points, Joe Johnson's boring game oddly becomes mesmerizing in late April. Al Horford is so enjoyable he will become your favorite player on another team when you don't want to name a superstar. Mike Bibby should have made the finals with the Kings so you can root against cheating. Jamal Crawford is a playoff virgin, and because of that, his 50 point games have been the sign of a hucker just getting his, but it would become the stuff of legends (ok maybe not legends, but at least great story lines) if a scoring outburst happened when it mattered.
And Josh Smith. Well Josh Smith was made for the all-star game, but he was born for the playoffs. You could say I am rooting for the Hawks because of Josh Smith, and that might be reason enough. The guy can be maddening. He can shoot jump shot air balls and pout his way through a quarter, but his desire to win trumps that in the playoffs. What you find stripped away is the second best athlete in the NBA. He can turn the game on a block shot. He can win a game on dunk. Actually, it is not a "can" situation; Josh does do that. Within the NBA playoffs, his game is more than just talent on display, it is "actual edge of your seat, what is going to happen next, wait why I am standing, is there someone else clapping right now in this room or am I still alone, yea I am clapping" basketball.
The negative about adopting the Hawks as your team is that it requires a real leap of faith, and that can end rather embarrassingly if you go all in. But for teams that have any chance of making the conference finals (and no, the Hawks do not have a big chance), Atlanta is the only city it would transform. You know the T-shirt stands on the corner, the dad wanting to take his son to see the start of something special, that place where, if you care about the NBA in general, you might have a new, entire city buy in.
The Celtics might look old, but they've been to the mountain top before. Jeff Clark from SB Nation's Celtics Blog says this might be their last shot at getting back there.
You should root for the Celtics because this could very well be the last time this team has a shot with this core group of players.
The next decade could very well be dominated by LeBron (wherever he lands), Wade, Durant and the other young stars of the league. But anyone who grew up watching basketball in the 2000's knows full well how special the Big Three are. Kevin Garnett was a freak and dominant force who suffered through year after year in Minnesota without the proper pieces around him to take the next step. Ray Allen might just go down as the greatest shooter ever, but wasn't able to shoot his teams to a title. Paul Pierce stuck with the team that drafted him for his whole career. They all came together like Voltron and finally won a title in 2008. They were robbed of an encore in 2009 when KG went down late in the season.
This could very well be their last shot. One last run for glory for the Big Three. Ray is a free agent this offseason and nobody is quite sure if he'll be back. KG and Pierce have been running hot and cold from playing through various minor injuries this year. It is only a matter of time before they transition to "veteran role player" status. Sooner or later the reigns of this team are going to be handed over to Rondo to see how far he can take them. It could be as early as next year.
But don't count them out yet. These old guys still have some spring left in their step. They've had a very uneven regular season (in particular since Christmas) but they showed early in the year that they can still be dominant when healthy. By all accounts, they are as healthy as they are going to be headed in to the playoffs. If they play the type of defense they have become known for, they can beat anyone.
Root for Paul Pierce to take his place among the greats of Celtic past. Root for Ray Allen to convince the Celtics to let him retire in Boston and break Reggie Miller's three-point record there. Root for Kevin Garnett to win the title again so he can try to top his "anything's possiblllllllllllllllllllle" howl with something even more over the top. Root for the Celtics so the new stars can see that defense still does win championships.
A new dawn is ready to break for the NBA. This offseason could usher in some seismic shifts to the balance of power. But before that happens, lets put a cap on this era by watching the old guard go out on top.
Lower-seeded teams rarely win first-round series, but the Heat have a good chance because they have Dwyane Wade and they're playing the Celtics. SB Nation's Heat blog Peninsula Is Mightier says this is why you should root for them.
This year's version of the Heat is a great example of a team growing together by battling through adversity. The majority of the season was an inconsistent mess where very skilled players weren't able to string together a solid stretch of games. Since the month of March, though, the Heat have been one of the hottest teams in the league due to them finally finding a rotation that really works.
So the point of this is to convince you to root for the Heat in the playoffs. I feel that if you are going to choose D-Wade and company you should know the situation is. Miami was bounced from Round 1 last year in 7-games against Atlanta. The goal for this year (in my eyes) is to get to Round 2.
Rooting for the Heat gives you the unique position to pull for an underdog that has a lot of talent. Here is a brief overview of what's been going on in Heat-land:
Udonis Haslem has been playing out of his mind and should be in contention for Sixth Man of the Year. Michael Beasley has had his moments but overall has left Miami fans wanting more. Carlos Arroyo has been a pleasant surprise at the starting PG position after the supreme disappointment of Rafer Alston.
Quentin Richardson is having one the best, well-rounded years of his career. He still can hit the outside shot but his rebounding, low post game and defense have surprised some considering the way he'd been playing the last couple years. I also cant say enough about the year that Jermaine O'Neal is having; shooting over 50 percent and blocking shots like he was back in Indiana.
Ok, there is the low down on what's been going on for the Heat. Now the question is, 'Why should I root for Miami?' Considering that the main (and most realistic) goal is to get through the first round of the Playoffs, right there you have the "underdog" factor working for you.
The Heat, of course, are playing the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. This is a matchup against a team that beat Miami every time they played this year, though all the games were quite close. The main issue in that series is the Heat having issues defending good point guards, and Rajon Rondo is pretty darn good. But it's still a very winnable series, considering how the Celtics have looked recently.
Miami is probably the best ‘underdog' team out there...so if you are looking to root for a team that could pull off some big upsets and has some really fun players to watch (Wade, Beasley), then throw on some red and black and join the Heat Nation!
The Milwaukee Bucks will play without their best player, but there are still plenty of reasons to cheer for them. SB Nation's Bucks blog Brew Hoop gives you those reasons.
Why root for the Bucks? Why not root for the Bucks?
Sure, you could point out that the Bucks have had a hard enough time getting the attention of people in Wisconsin over the past few years--attendance was down again slightly this year, and they may never have the curb appeal of the Packers and Brewers. But in the span of just six months, the Bucks have morphed from expected bottom-feeders to the surprise package of the NBA regular season (sorry Thunder). And it's not just what they've done -- 46 wins, the 2nd best defense in the league -- but how they've done it. Overcoming injury, playing a scrappy, relentless style, blowing away everyone's expectations in the process--there's a lot to love here.
Let's break out the bold font and count some of the ways:
We're from Milwaukee. What did Milwaukee ever do to anyone? Seriously, we're friendly, lovable Midwesterners who aren't from Chicago. That alone should win us plenty of points with the casual fan. And we know a bit about angst and futility. Aside from the incredible '71 title team and the '57 Braves team that nobody I know remembers, we haven't exactly had much to celebrate in Brew City (I'll conveniently ignore that Packer championship for these purposes). Heck, the '82 Brewer team that lost in the World Series still gets talked about like they won something, which sort of underscores our desperation. Things have been even bleaker on the hoops front, as the Bucks' 46 wins this year marked just the second time since 1991 that the franchise won more than 42 games. So jump on the bandwagon, or at least down a few beers with us. We're just excited to be vaguely relevant again.
And I promise if we ever win anything, we won't be total dicks about it. Honest.
Our best player just suffered a horrifying injury, so we're pretty much screwed either way. You've seen it. I've seen it. I definitely don't want to see it again. But the reality is that losing Andrew Bogut for the season means that it's pretty much impossible for the Bucks to win a seven game series against Atlanta. Who knows, maybe John Hammond can pull off a last-second acquisition of Teen Wolf or something, but I'm trying to be realistic here. Which hurts, because adding John Salmons at the trade deadline had made an already-frisky looking club look downright formidable throughout most of March. The Bucks had won 18 of 24 games when Bogut went down, and while they managed to win four of six to close the season it's pretty obvious this club sans Bogut is going to have a major challenge competing with the Hawks' physicality.
And oh by the way, did I mention we used to have this guy named Mike Redd? As if the Bogut thing wasn't enough, the Bucks had already been coping with the loss of Redd to a torn ACL for the second straight year--and he had been a shell of his former self before he went down in January.
Scrappiness is way more likable than talent. You've got a wide choice of cliches to describe the Bucks: hard-working, scrappy, relentless, intense, lunchpail, blue collar, hard-nosed. Why aren't these guys selling pickup trucks? Tea Party or Democrat, you can't help but tip your hat to Scott Skiles' bunch, even if their brick-laying offense will also make you want to cover your eyes with that same hat at times. Even John Salmons -- who's inherited Tracy McGrady's title as "best player who looks half asleep most of the time" -- works his tail off on both ends, and I haven't even mentioned the resurrection projects of Luke Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas. Each of them plays a remarkably important role on the Bucks, which is at once both fantastic and extremely frightening.
We have Brandon Jennings, and we have no idea what he's going to do next. In truth, Jennings' management of the offense has been about a million times more consistent than anyone expected. Yet he's also one of the streakiest guys in the league, capable of scoring 55 one night and bricking his way into oblivion the next (is it good when Tony Gwynn's had batting averages better than your point guard's field goal percentage?). With Bogut out, all eyes will be on the rookie to show what he's got in the playoffs, and what I love most about the kid is that he can't wait for this. Call him brash, arrogant, whatever--just don't call him boring.
The playoffs are uncharted territory for the Charlotte Bobcats. SB Nation's Bobcats blog Rufus On Fire asks you to come aboard now before the bandwagon grows.
Your favorite team didn't make the NBA playoffs. My condolences. Is that how we do this? My favorite team, the Charlotte Bobcats, have never played in the postseason, so I'm unfamiliar with this side of the conversation.
If you haven't watched the Bobcats this year, you might wonder how in the world they managed to get into the playoffs without a go-to scorer. Sure, Stephen Jackson takes a ton of shots, and Gerald Wallace is a runaway train on the break, but neither of those guys are anyone's idea of an elite scorer. On top of that, wasn't Larry Brown last seen trying to play Stephon Marbury alongside Steve Francis?
Ignore the negative connotations of the preceding and trust me: you'll love them.
So now you know they play a connoisseur's brand of basketball. But there's one more big reason to root for the Bobcats. Basically, because of the ugly Hornets divorce, native Charlotteans tend not to have embraced this team. No matter what, we'll probably have to wait for today's children to grow up as Bobcats fans before the team truly takes hold in the region and begins to challenge the Panthers for pro sports primacy.
There's room on the bandwagon, and I'm begging, so I'm not choosy; even if the Cats are your second, or third, or fourth favorite team, come aboard. Because Bobcats fans are so few and far between, we're inherently welcoming. No other fan base can say the same, so no other fan base will take you in so readily. Join us, even if only for the playoffs.
The Chicago Bulls slipped into the playoffs, but you can still root for them. SB Nation's Bulls blog Blog a Bull tells you why you should.
I won't lie. If this was a pitch for you NBA orphans to follow the Bulls during the regular season, I'd have quite the tough task. The team is, by its very definition, average: 41-41 in each of the past two seasons. There's a roster they want to turn over, a coach they don't want (and occasionally shove) and a GM who's a puppet of a VP that wanted to quit. Finally, there's the specter of ownership looming over all of us with the fear that keeping themselves entertaining, yet average, is the true mark of profitability (of which the Chicago Bulls are a dynasty).
But you wouldn't have to worry about that: this is but one series (until we shock the world), and against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Known to some as the best team in the league featuring its best player, but to most as an insufferable group that embodies preening entitlement. Should you go into this series hating the Cavs more than liking the Bulls? Not exactly, but that works too.
And it's not like the Bulls don't have aspects of their team to root for on their own merit. Derrick Rose is one of the more electrifying players in the league, and there is intrigue in every game he plays to see what he's yet to unleash on the NBA. An athletic freak at the position which dominates the ball the most, Rose will be a part of nearly everything good that happens with the Bulls.
There's also the inherent awesome that occurs every time Joakim Noah suits up. You know the phrase describing the type of player that "you hate when he's on the other team, but you love on your team"? That's Joakim Noah! And you can now have him on your team if you become a Bulls fan. Though I like him so much that I can't even see how one would hate him on another team. He may be odd-looking, and display some histrionics when on the court, but it's not the type of shenanigans that are cries for attention (like that of a certain Cavalier), but the emotions of someone who loves to win and gives his all to do so. And it's your chance to learn that it's not just effort and energy with Noah: he has skills (superlative skills for a center) and has made himself one of the more valuable young players in the league.
There are other fun little things about being a Bulls fan in this series, like Brad Miller's old-man game, Taj Gibson's old-man game (though he's a rookie), watching Vinny coach, ripping on Kirk 'Kurt' Hinrich in BlogaBull game threads ... but it is basically Rose and Noah.
And hatred of the Cavs.
The NBA Playoffs are, in my mind, the best event in professional sports, because it's your one event that really displays the best basketball in the world. March Madness is wonderful and exciting, but the NBA Playoffs is where true greatness is showcased. The best players in the world go at it for as many as seven games every round, and once the grind is over, there is no doubt that the team that survives is the best of the best.
But there's also a problem if you're not a fan of any team. Who do you root for? Because this is sports, you have to pick some team to get behind in order to enhance your enjoyment of the spectacle. It makes the whole thing more fun, and who knows, maybe it makes you a permanent fan.
With that in mind, we at SB Nation are going to help you decide who you should root for in the playoffs. All day today and tomorrow, our various team bloggers will pitch their teams to you, trying to get you to join their fanbase. Yes, even the Lakers. Today, we'll go through the Eastern Conference teams, and tomorrow, we'll do the West. Here's a schedule for you to reference.
9 a.m.: Chicago Bulls
10 a.m.: Charlotte Bobcats
11 a.m.: Milwaukee Bucks
Noon: Miami Heat
1 p.m.: Boston Celtics
2 p.m.: Atlanta Hawks
3 p.m.: Orlando Magic
4 p.m.: Cleveland Cavaliers
9 a.m.: Oklahoma City Thunder
10 a.m.: San Antonio Spurs
11 a.m.: Portland Trail Blazers
Noon: Utah Jazz
1 p.m.: Denver Nuggets
2 p.m.: Phoenix Suns
3 p.m.: Dallas Mavericks
4 p.m.: Los Angeles Lakers
Happy NBA Playoffs Day!
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