Better late than never

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Because of my Latino family’s religious-like devotion to soccer, I grew up with an indifferent perspective toward basketball. My lack of interest in the sport continued throughout my teenage years because I was terrible on the court: I couldn’t shoot if my life depended on it, I dribbled as if I had two left feet and was petting a cat at the same time, and worst of all, I would always get my fingers jammed when I attempted to get rebounds.

My initial experiences with basketball occurred during the early 2000s.  I recall my classmates constantly talking about the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship seasons from 2000-02. Throughout these years, I rarely thought about Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, two of the most well-known players in the NBA and the Lakers’ biggest stars. Instead, my mind was focused on the rising Los Angeles Galaxy and the team’s first-ever MLS Cup final victory in 2002, after years of having to settle as runner-up.

When the Lakers became back-to-back champions from 2009-10, my close friend, a rabid Lakers fan, often talked about how the Lakers had set the world on fire with their impressive performances on the court. He would also explain how he thought Bryant was possibly the best basketball player since Michael Jordan. I would simply listen to him rant, waiting for him to shut up so that we could crack some jokes about something I cared about.

Oddly enough, my interest in basketball didn’t begin to increase until LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. Before he joined the Heat, I was unaware that he was one of the best basketball players in the NBA. The hype surrounding James was so immense that I couldn’t help but take notice and actually care about his career more than I ever did about Bryant’s.

King James — as I like to call him to annoy my friends — compelled me to at least tune into the NBA Playoffs during his tenure with the Heat. Although I still didn’t know very much about the sport, I was able to understand that James was good. Like, really good.

When he left the Heat to rejoin his hometown’s Cleveland Cavaliers last year, I actually cared. I had gotten accustomed to associating him with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. I was intrigued to see if he would have success with the Cavaliers similar to what he had experienced in Miami.

Although I watched only a few games during the 2014-15 season, I couldn’t help but take notice of the Golden State Warriors’ impressive regular-season results. Just like I couldn’t help but care about James during his time with the Heat, the hype surrounding the Splash Brothers — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — caught my attention. I was intrigued to see if Curry and Thompson could help lead the Warriors to the NBA Finals.

Seeing people in the area wear their Warriors gear caused me to feel excited to be living a few miles away from the Oracle Arena. For the first time in my life, I wanted to watch a live professional basketball game. Whenever I’d pass by the Oracle, I often thought about how much fun it would be to watch the Warriors put on a show for spectators.

During this season’s NBA Finals, I found myself wanting to watch the series. I was even bummed out when I missed out on some of the games’ quarters. During my evening class, I constantly checked my phone to keep up with the score — something I never did back home in Southern California when the Lakers were on top of the world. I realized that for the first time in my life, I truly cared about basketball.

Since the end of last month, I’ve been keeping up with NBA news more closely than ever before. I still haven’t chosen a particular team to passionately follow. Despite the 30-minute drive from Los Angeles to my hometown, I can certainly say I won’t follow the Lakers like the rest of my friends back home. A yellow-and-purple color scheme simply doesn’t catch my eye. I’m more of a white, blue and gold type of guy. It’ll probably take me a while to choose a team to follow and get up to speed with the NBA’s proceedings, but my interest is now there — something I could never say before.

Manny Flores is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].