For the most part, the city of Baltimore greeted the start of the NBA season this week with indifference. With no team in town, there's no real reason for NBA fever to take over the market.
But there's one place in Baltimore where the start of NBA season is met with pandemonium far more than indifference. In fact, inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room there isn't a topic that garners more conversation.
"It brings us together," Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb told PressBox.
"We all wish we played basketball," he said. "We all had that NBA dream, thought we were going to play basketball. We just love that competition. There's a lot of talent in the NBA, especially this year with the super teams. It's going to be a great NBA season, I can't wait."
When Ravens players aren't talking to each other about the NBA, they're tweeting each other about the NBA. When they're not tweeting each other about the NBA, they're getting together to watch NBA games with each other.
"We watched all of the games [during last year's playoffs] at [safety] Tony [Jefferson]'s house," wide receiver Michael Campanaro said. "Playoffs, Finals, we had about 20, 25 guys over there. It was intense. You thought you were in the arena. Every basket, guys were just yelling."
Said safety Eric Weddle: "It was great. We're all rooting for whoever we want to win. You get a bunch of guys who are competitive and betting and all this other stuff, makes it fun."
There appears to be one clear division in the Ravens' locker room at this point. Some players are huge fans of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James; other players prefer to root against him. That debate has brought players together.
Count Campanaro on Team LeBron.
"Any time he does something great, which is most of the time," Campanaro said, “I go straight to Twitter and just hype it up, get people going and just talk trash to my teammates who don't like LeBron."
Campanaro has players such as Jefferson and safety Anthony Levine on his side as LeBron supporters. Jefferson is actually a Phoenix Suns fan (he grew up without a team in San Diego and played for a team called "The Purple Suns" as a kid), but happily jumps on the Cleveland bandwagon.
"During the playoffs, I go for the Cavs," Jefferson said. "I'm a LeBron James fan big time, so wherever he's at that's where I really go. The Cavs are really my secondary team."
On the anti-LeBron side are players such as Weddle, Webb and pass rusher Matt Judon. Webb roots against the three-time NBA champion for more historical reasons.
"I'm a Lakers fan," Webb said. "[When the Cavs play the Warriors] I like the Warriors. I grew up a Kobe [Bryant] fan, so I kind of feel you can't root for Kobe and LeBron. I made the switch to choose Kobe. So any time LeBron [plays], I'm most likely going against him. I do think Kobe was the better player than LeBron. Michael Jordan was better than Kobe, but Kobe was better than LeBron."
Even as he explained his reasoning for rooting against James, the debate fired right back up in the locker room. Wide receiver Mike Wallace heard Webb explain his Kobe/LeBron theory and barked back, "LeBron is the best to ever play the game behind Michael Jordan!" That led Webb to fire back, "He's the third-best to ever play the game! Five [rings] or three? It's simple math to me."
Yet for as much as the Kobe/LeBron debate factors into Webb's rooting interests, he says rooting against the superstar has as much to do with locker room trash talk as anything else.
"The only reason I care if he loses is so I can come in here and talk stuff to all of the LeBron fans," Webb said. "I really don't want him to lose. It's just for the argument, so I can come in here and debate with these boys."
Campanaro, a Silver Spring, Md., native, isn't just a Cavaliers fan.
"I go to Wizards games," Campanaro said. "I go to a bunch. When LeBron comes to town, for sure I'm there, but I probably make it to about eight Wizards games per year."
Other players have their own favorite teams. Cornerback Brandon Carr loves the Detroit Pistons ("their games are on the History Channel" quipped Webb). Weddle grew up rooting for the Lakers. When asked about the locker room trash talk, Weddle said, "I don't care what they think, I just say, 'Championships!' No one else can say anything."
But perhaps no other interaction could explain both the passion for and debate about the NBA in the Ravens' locker room than the one I caught between Judon and superstar pass rusher Terrell Suggs.
Judon was accused of being a "bandwagon" Warriors fans by a few of his teammates. He defended his fandom.
"The best team in the game -- they drafted very well," Judon said. "What can I say? And then they got a couple of free agents -- turns out to be one of the best players in the game."
"Were you a Warriors fan before you got to the Baltimore Ravens?" Suggs asked.
"Yes. I was," Judon barked back.
"No you weren't, you're a ... liar," Suggs said. "You were a Kevin Durant fan, and then you jumped on the bandwagon."
"I have Instagram pictures from when I was in college and they were my 2K team," Judon offered in response.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no," Suggs fired back. "I guarantee you, if we win the Super Bowl this year, Kevin Durant's going to come try to play with us. I guarantee you. Ask anybody -- I've been Team King James since 2003 'cause we class of 2003." (Indeed, both standout athletes began their pro careers in 2003.)
"For real, my real team?" Judon said. "It's the T-Wolves. I was a Timberwolves fan since Kevin Garnett was eating chicken wings on the plane. Way back when, y'know? Now we done re-upped and we about to go crazy!"
"You can't have two teams in the West!" Suggs said. "Pick a side and stay on it!"
The NBA season isn't even a week old yet.
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox