The NBA Playoffs are here, and Geri Rice, 87, will be glued to her TV

Geraldine "Geri" Rice may have a name that sounds like one of the greatest football players of all time, but she's all about basketball. While she follows the UA and has had season tickets in the past, she's much more of a fan of the National Basketball Association. And with the NBA playoffs underway, she's in absolute hoops heaven.

Rice is the owner and operator of Rice Plumbing, a nice little bidness operation on North Seventh Avenue, just south of Grant Road. She puts in a full day's work, then heads home and plops down in front of her 42-inch plasma TV and chooses from the games offered by the NBA League Pass that she purchases each season. She says she watches "seven or eight games a week, sometimes more." Rice, who says she's pretty excitable, gets into the games, yelling and screaming from time to time.

This would probably be fun to witness, since Geri Rice is 87 years old.

Conrad Ramos, who works for Rice, has seen his boss in action. "She's a trip. I mean, she gets into it. She's very knowledgeable; she knows the rules, the players and the game. She's hilarious."

Conrad and his brother, Gilbert, have accompanied Rice to Suns and UA games, and he says that she's often as entertaining as what's going on in the game. "It's hard to describe," he says.

Rice, who was born in West Virginia (the home of Jerry West, whose silhouette graces the NBA logo), became a hard-core NBA fan way back in her 70s. This is somewhat odd, since she was jumping on the bandwagon just as many longtime fans were jumping off.

The league had been a huge success for a half-century. George Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers to titles in the 1950s before giving way to Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics, which dominated the league for more than a decade. The '70s saw several different teams win titles, and that led to the Golden Age of the NBA, when Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird's Boston Celtics won a combined eight of the 10 titles in the 1980s. The clash of style and personalities made for great drama and even greater basketball. Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls took over in the 1990s, but even Jordan's greatness couldn't stop the NBA from beginning its slide.

See, some marketing genius thought it would be a really neat idea to wed the NBA to the burgeoning hip-hop community. Apparently not having enough faith in its own product, the league decided to skew younger and edgier. Soon, the NBA was populated with knuckleheads and thugs. One famously tried to choke his coach to death and then later turned down a contract worth $7 million a year, saying, "I've got kids to feed."

Not surprisingly, the ratings dropped faster than a rapper's streed cred when it is learned that he went to prep school. (Yeah, I saw 8 Mile.)

Just when the NBA was about to become completely inconsequential, something surprising happened: The league dug in its heels when the players went on strike. Then it got tough on the knuckleheads, handing out very stiff suspensions for knuckleheadedness. And an influx of foreign players helped nudge the game away from its unwatchable mix of dunks and no defense. This is not to say that the white Europeans rode to the rescue. The majority of the players in the league--and most of the top and most popular players--are black, as has been the case for decades. It's a combination of factors that has led to a more watchable game in the NBA.

While the next two months (that's how long it will take to get through the playoffs) will be very enjoyable for Rice, the first-round matchup between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs will be excruciating. She loves the Suns, but the Spurs are her all-time favorites. It feels like the two teams meet in the playoffs every freakin' year, and it's always brutal.

(Before I forget, while we're on the subject of the NBA, this one guy has been e-mailing me for years because I criticized former Arizona Wildcat Gilbert Arenas for leaving school early to go to the NBA. I will state for the e-mailer's satisfaction that Arenas' doing so was probably the right thing to do for him. I've heard the arguments about, "How can you ask a 20-year-old to turn down millions of dollars?" I guess you can't, unless he is one of those handful of people for whom money is not the most important consideration. While it's naïve of me (and it sometimes doesn't work out for the athlete), I like those players who say, "I'm going to come back for one more year of college to try to win an NCAA championship before moving on to the NBA." But Arenas has done well for himself and is one of the league's leading scorers (but NOT one of its best players).

Rice wants the winner of the Suns-Spurs series to go on to win the NBA championship, but whichever team advances, she'll be glued to the screen. Is there one team she doesn't like?

"The Los Angeles Lakers. I don't like Kobe Bryant."

Apparently, she does know her basketball.

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