I have long questioned the legitimacy of calling the annual winner of the NBA Finals the “World Champions.”
No, I’m not naive enough to think that there is a team from China or France or any of the six populated continents that could have beaten either the Heat (or the Thunder, for that matter) in a best-of-seven series. However, for a league with 29 teams in the United States and one in Canada, with the majority of the players being American, it seems presumptive to declare a team of 12 individuals in America the “World Champions.”
Declaring a team or individuals “World Champions” should be left to competitions such as the World Cup and the Olympics, where teams from throughout the globe can vie for the title.
Still, for the first time ever during this year’s NBA Finals, I really understood that the NBA is a global game.
On vacation to the British Virgin Island of Tortola, my family watched the first half of the deciding Game 5 at a local sports bar called “Captain Mulligan’s.”
There were half a dozen flat panel TVs with the game on throughout the open-air bar. But what makes Mulligan’s stand out from its competition (as if there are that many choices of sports bars on Tortola) is the monster projection screen that turns it into a personal movie theater.
There we were, four American tourists along with over one-hundred and twenty of our closest BVI natives and locals.
I was very eager to find out if the locals favored Miami or OKC, and I figured they would support the Heat because of the proximity between Florida and the Caribbean. LeBron’s highlight reel-worthy slam early in the game to put Miami up 2-0 confirmed my hypothesis.
Of course, as the game went on some alcohol may have taken their cheering to the next level, but most of the locals were genuinely excited about the game and were hooting and hollering along with a lone whistle-blower for every play that favored the eventual 2012 NBA Champs.
And then there was the sole Oklahoma City Thunder fan.
After every single play he would stand up and run fifteen or twenty feet while taunting the Miami fans to no avail, whether it was about D-Wade’s two early fouls or Kevin Durant hitting an open jumper. Even when the Thunder would get burned on a fast break, the one-man army would get back up stronger the next time.
Initially I wasn’t sure if the locals were speaking English or some form of island dialect, but then I heard one amongst a table of Heat fans tell the beret-wearing Thunder fan to “Seet yo azz down.”
We were among the first thirty or forty people at the bar, and by the time I looked around mid-first quarter, every picnic bench seat was filled. A few Americans (either locals or tourists) had strolled in, but the majority of the people there were natives of Tortola.
And that’s when I realized that this was more than just a television product that America could horde within the limits of the continental U.S.
The biggest game of the NBA season drew a maximum capacity crowd at a bar in the West Indies.
This was no cruise ship hub where Americans could stay in tune with their sports from back home–these were bartenders, waiters and waitresses, retail employees, most of whom were born on the British Virgin Islands, have lived there their entire lives, and have never set a foot in the United States … yet they were some of the NBA’s biggest fans last Thursday.
And it was not just men who were camping out for the night to see LeBron & Co. win the Heat’s first title since 2006. There was a pretty equal 50/50 split between men and women, and the women there were some of the most vocal at Mulligan’s.
After OKC coach Scott Brooks called a timeout to stop a Miami Heat run that blew the game open, my dad and I looked over to see my mom sound asleep across the picnic bench. My sister was managing to have her nose in a book despite the incessant cheering.
As much as we were enjoying the venue for watching the NBA Finals, sadly the female half of our family were the only two people at Mulligan’s who were not enjoying themselves or the game. So we made one last run through the obstacle course of people to the parking lot and had to find out the result the next morning on the Internet.
While I do not regret missing the fanfare that presumably ensued after the Heat won the title, I was thrilled to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching the NBA Finals with people thousands of miles away from either team’s arena, in a country where basketball is as much a part of the culture as full moon parties and driving on the left side of the road — both of which make Tortola very different than the U.S.
But it’s great to see a game like basketball highlight the similarities and push the differences aside. That’s why basketball has become truly a global game, and the NBA is truly a global league.