Steinberg: Taking in an NBA game

I sat on the floor for the Clipper-Laker game at Staples Center in seats right next to the Lakers bench on April 7. What a revelation.

The NBA we experience on television and in higher seats is perceived very differently than courtside. It highlighted how many varying ways there are to enjoy spectator sport involvement — and they all carry advantages. I first experienced this at NFL games. When I stood on the sidelines toward the end of the game it was overwhelming.

Nothing prepares one for the enormous size, power and speed of the players.

Actually seeing and hearing the force of each collision brings the reality of pro football home. It is a traffic accident on every play.

Any time I heard fans talking about a player's lack of toughness I imagined an ordinary person standing up to that pounding for just one play.

Television makes 7-foot basketball players appear as somewhat tall and 6-4 players appear like midgets. They are all tall. Really, really tall.

I realized the first time I represented NBA players what adjustments they need to make in navigating the world, fitting under a doorway, finding clothes, sleeping on a hotel bed or fitting into a car. Sitting or standing next to them restores real life proportionality and perspective. It is a game of giants.

Another myth has players just going through the motions, motivated only by the money. The Lakers bench applauded every basket, welcomed every player back to the bench, even though they were seriously behind for most of the game. When Kobe rested he sat right next to me and he was focused and intense — eye of the warrior. He played almost every minute and was passionate throughout.

The coaches and trainers were vocal and engaged. Players complained about officiating and other players' actions on virtually every play.

Caron Butler of the Clippers was especially dramatic and animated. Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Lakers made frequent pleas to the referee on our side as he paced the sidelines. He was emphatic. But instead of the drama a viewer assumes occurs, the referee laughed.

It was clear how well the players, coaches and referees knew each other and how ritualistic these same arguments had become.

I had read that Chris Paul of the Clippers was class president at his high school and in his spare time was engrossed in planning their class reunion. His leadership style was evident. We could hear him talking non-stop throughout the entire game.

The players are much more vocal and verbally interactive in trying to position and set plays than is evident on television.

The thought that basketball is a non-contact sport is disabused immediately from those seats. The collision of giant bodies under the basket is constant. Elbows swing, players are bumped and pushed to the ground.

Unlike football players, all those blows are landing directly on unprotected bodies. How any player's nose stays unbroken is unclear.

What became immediately apparent is how much younger, more energetic and athletic the Clippers were than the Lakers. They could beat Laker players to the ball and were equipped to play a much faster pace.

I root for both teams. I have never understood why fans from one geographical region need to choose the Dodgers over the Angels if they are lucky enough to have access to both.

I grew up with Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor pictures hanging over my bed. I have been dazzled by the acrobatics of Blake Griffin and the mastery of Chris Paul. Embarrassment of riches.

So Sunday was hoops schizophrenia. Both teams needed the win, couldn't solve it that way, just had to take in the experience.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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