Usually I complain when people try to force-feed me holidays before I'm ready. I don't need to see Halloween stores popping up in September, and I'd like to at least finish digesting my turkey and stuffing before Mariah Carey starts shrieking 10 to 15 times a day on the radio about what she wants for Christmas.
This year, however, I happily made an exception. On Saturday morning I was enjoying my long Thanksgiving weekend in the traditional American fashion (sleeping in and eating leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast) when I opened up my Twitter feed to see an important announcement from NBA owners and players: The lockout was over and we were all getting the gift of basketball for Christmas!
I thought, "Screw Thanksgiving, let's skip right ahead to December 25."
After watching the two sides spin their wheels for 149 days, the news of the agreement was like a real-life Christmas miracle. If all goes according to plan, the NBA will make its triumphant return on Christmas Day with a triple-header that could get even the biggest Scrooge up and cheering. Derrick Rose and the Bulls take on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers; the Knicks and Celtics renew their rivalry in New York and the Heatles and Mavs will play a Finals rematch in Dallas! Those are the kind of gifts you can't get on Black Friday, even if you are packing pepper spray.
The news had me so jazzed I was willing to get in the Christmas spirit a few days early this year -- but not before first giving thanks for all the things I'll miss about the NBA lockout:
• An endless loop of awesomely bad basketball movies: Think you've missed the NBA? Try being a program director at NBA TV. Banned from showing any current players, the channel filled space with "Teen Wolf," the Dr. J cult classic "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" and a 1970s flick called "One on One" that features one of the worst taglines in the history of movies: "There comes a time when love stops being a ball and starts being a woman." With the lockout coming to a close, we'll never get to the scheduled flicks for December, "Air Bud," "Juwanna Mann" and "The Air Up There."
• Michael Jordan back in heavy rotation on my local sports channel: Starting in November, CSN Chicago took to showing His Airness weekly in the form of a Jordan-era Chicago Bulls game in prime time. From "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs to "The Shrug" against Portland in '92, the flashbacks to Chicago's greatest dynasty were sweet reminders Jordan is the best there ever was. Not that I needed reminding.
• Breathless reports of staggering street ball stats: All summer long, hoopheads kept their focus off what was sure to be a lengthy lockout by hyping up the performances of NBA stars in local street ball games. According to eyewitness reports, Kevin Durant all but reinvented the sport of basketball with his 66-point performance at Harlem's Rucker Park this August. Only problem? Bench-sitting Bulls scrub John Lucas III had 60 against Durant the very next night, which devalues the street ball stat just a bit.
• Following the best fish out of water tales: From Delonte West working at Regency Furniture Showroom to Metta World Peace's awkward gyrations on "Dancing With The Stars," the lockout forced a number of players into unexpected new roles. Even those who lined up jobs hooping abroad had to adjust to new leagues, teammates and languages. I'll certainly miss the opportunity to see Lamar Odom satisfying his sweet tooth with Turkish delights and taking the wifey on a date to see the national sport of yağlı güreş (oiled wrestling) on "Khloe & Lamar Take Turkey."
• Much-deserved love for mascots: I'm an unabashed mascot lover. I'll never hit up a furry convention or anything, but if there's a large, cuddly, dancing stuffed animal in my vicinity I will most assuredly be following it around until I get a hug and a photo. For the duration of the lockout teams weren't able to showcase current players on their websites, so that meant pages of features on the dance teams (no thanks) and the mascots (yes please!). I just hope Benny the Bull doesn't get lost in the archives now that basketball is back.
• Watching TV and radio talking heads scrambling to "get" hockey: Deep into November, when it still looked like the NBA season may be lost entirely, radio hosts and TV anchors who can usually skate by without acknowledging the existence of the NHL suddenly found themselves mispronouncing names like Dustin Byfuglien and Miroslav Satan and wondering why Montreal has two NHL teams. ("Wait, they've got the Canadiens AND the Habs?")
• Watching the accelerated aging of NBA beat writers: Back in July, the beat reporters covering NBA labor talks were clean shaven and bright-eyed. By the time the owners and players came to an agreement in the early hours of November 26, the few scribes still on the beat looked like a U.S. president coming off a second term. They've got under eye circles that would put Vince Vaughn to shame, and they can't remember when they last slept eight hours. With all the legal mumbo-jumbo filling their heads for months, you can expect the writers to be as rusty as the players come Christmas Day. Don't be surprised if you see headlines like "Rose refuses to negotiate with Lakers defense" and "Nowitzki takes mid-level exception to Heat trash talk."
• Lots of photos of ball players in suits: What can I say? I'm only human. Like any warm-blooded, chicken-leg lovin', lanky fella crushin' lady, I'm not above pointing out the merits of a fitted suit and a pocket square on a well-built shooting guard.
Fortunately, like most basketball fans, come Christmas Day I'll barely remember the lockout even happened. That is, until my Bulls lose the third game of a back-to-back-to-back and I use this space to bemoan the effects of a shortened schedule.