I’m trying to fall in love again.

Not with any long-lost lover, or any female for that matter. No, I’m trying to fall in love again with the NBA.

Trying to love professional basketball again is like trying to love a girl who’s done you wrong. She cheated and stole everything you had while still telling you how much she liked you. But now you see she has changed and you want her back.

When I first fell in love with the NBA, it was at the best time possible. I was young, na?ve and growing up in Chicago. Just telling you where I grew up should give you an understanding of my relationship with the NBA.

As a grade school-aged child, I was enamored with the Chicago Bulls — what was there not to love? They had the greatest player that will ever live, plus a great supporting cast. Even moms jumped on the Dennis Rodman bandwagon despite his cross-dressing and dating Madonna (I don’t know which is more disgusting).

This era was not just good for the Bulls — it was a great time to be a NBA fan. While Michael Jordan dominated in Chicago, so many other great players made the league competitive and fun to watch. There was nothing better than watching the Bulls against the Knicks in the mid-’90s. Every game was hard fought and emotions flared. Spike Lee was consistently on his feet while Scottie Pippen and John Starks almost got in fistfights on a constant basis.

But, as the 20th century came to an end, so did the “Space Jam” era of the NBA. The stars I had grown up to love were retiring or falling from greatness. As the Bulls were dismantled following their sixth championship in eight years, a new era of basketball fell on Chicago. An era of poor draft picks, relying on young talent before they were mature to play in the NBA (Tyson Chandler and Eddie Curry) and bad trades (Elton Brand), made it hard to follow the team I was enamored with in my pre-teenage days.

The beginning of the 21st century brought about a new era of the NBA. It was a time when teams relied on teenagers to carry their teams. A time when the league developed its “thug” mentality that it has since been trying to shed and, because of its new style, lost a lot of fans like myself. Of course, it did not help that my favorite team had become the bottom dwellers of the Eastern Conference.

But, then something happened. Suddenly a new crop of stars began to emerge, ones that tried to dispel the thug mentality and actually brought some fun back to the game. Kobe Bryant, who had been in the league for a number of years, began coming into his own and finally had a team of his own with the departure of Shaquille O’Neil to Miami. A high school phenomenon named LeBron James was drafted by Cleveland and became what seemed heir-apparent to commercial empire Michael Jordan had vacated six years before. Other guys like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul started making the NBA fun to watch again.

Watching the high-flying play of Bryant, James and Howard made the NBA more appealing to me. The actual play of the game, with the sloppy defense and the quick shot decisions, would make UW head coach Bo Ryan lose sleep for a week. But I was becoming intrigued.

Fast forward to last weekend. I was watching game five of the Bulls-Celtics series and I was amazed by the athleticism some of the younger athletes have. Derrick Rose, who was named NBA Rookie of the Year, is playing like a four-year veteran, something the Bulls have previously been unable to do with their young places. The Celtics’ Rajon Rondo is averaging almost a triple-double a night in the playoffs — which is almost unprecedented — while leading a team full of veterans.

What even surprised me more, however, was how dynamic some of the big men have become. In college, Glen “Big Baby” Davis was no more than a post player. But as a pro, he has developed a 15-foot jumper. The same goes with his former teammate Tyrus Thomas.

While I am not completely sold on the NBA yet, there is still hope. As teams keep fostering quality players and the parity between teams grow, the NBA will become interesting and, maybe, like Harry’s love for Sally, we will someday fall in love again.

Ben is a senior majoring in journalism and history. Think the NBA is improving? E-mail him at [email protected]