It's that time of year, when hardcore basketball fans yelp in glee at the specter of eight months of uninterrupted hoops. It is also the time of year when those not in love with pro basketball remind us that championships aren't won in October and that the general American sports audience doesn't give the NBA a ton of attention until football winds down.
You know what I'm talking about. Comments like this:
Can't believe it's already just two months until the NBA starts mattering.— Barry Petchesky (@barryap1) October 27, 2015
I don't mean to pick on Deadspin's Barry Petchesky, who is a cool dude. This just happens to be a perfect embodiment of the whole "the NBA season doesn't really start until Christmas" sentiment you'll hear intermittently for the next two months (assuming you converse with any non-NBA maniacs). And it's really just so ridiculous, because, if anything, the NBA "matters" far less in January than it does in the opening weeks.
By January of last season, most of the key storylines that "mattered" had already been determined. The Hawks were running away with the East and the Cavaliers were stumbling before early January trades for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. The Warriors were looking like an all-time great team, and a few other rising powers in the West (the Clippers, Rockets and Blazers) were jockeying with the old stalwarts (San Antonio, Memphis) for seeding.
The bottom of the East was already a catastrophe -- the Knicks had already given up, for example -- and the race for the West's No. 8 was already at fever pitch. Anthony Davis had already made the world speak in tongues. The Thunder were broken but fighting. The Kings had already imploded. The promising Suns were on the rocks due to rotational drama.
This isn't to say important changes didn't occur in January, February, March and April. (Some key items: the whole Rondo situation blew up on Dallas and fueled Boston's run, the Jazz got immeasurably better by losing Enes Kanter, Cleveland came around and Russell Westbrook revealed himself as an android sent from the future to destroy the sport.) But we can largely tell the story of a regular season based off of the first month of the season. The major storylines reveal themselves quickly. That early narrative is refined and shaped by the subsequent 60 games (and anything that happens in between). But the threads of the final story were borne in October and November.
You can ignore the first two months of the NBA season. You can tune in on Christmas, peek at the standings and maybe read a primer from a fine sports website such as SBNation.com on what you missed. But ... what's the point in tuning in at that point? If what happens in November doesn't matter, nothing that happens in January really matters. Just wait for the playoffs. Or better yet, wait for the Finals in June. Or hell, wait for an elimination game in the Finals.
If you don't actually enjoy watching pro basketball, there's no sense in even tuning in at all: Wikipedia can provide you a perfectly cromulent summary of the stuff that matters, like, I guess, who won the title in how many games? Or, who won the MVP? I guess that's the stuff that matters to people who dismiss the first two months of the season.
The truth is that the NBA doesn't actually matter at all in the grand scheme. We're talking about sports. We're talking about a game. How basketball matters is a wholly personal thing. Why do you care? There are no wrong answers. If you find joy in the sport and its very best athletes, then every game matters because every game present the opportunity for joy!
If you care deeply about the stories a season tells, and follow it like a preferred TV series, then you can skip scenes here and there if you want. (Or you can devour every game and still read recaps and discussions about what you saw and what's next. It's up to you!) If you only want to be able to understand what's happening at a water cooler/Twitter jokes level, enough to stay conversant in the American sporting culture, then taking a hard pass on actual games until Christmas meets your needs perfectly well. If you don't like watching basketball, that's perfectly fine. To you, the NBA will never matter.
To some of us addicts, the NBA always matters. To some of us casual followers, the NBA won't matter until teams start getting eliminated. To some of us who dislike basketball, the NBA will never matter. It's all relative. That tweet up top can be fixed with this in mind just by adding two words: "Can't believe it's only two months until the NBA starts mattering to me."