Two teams, putting nine months of grind, exhaustive hours of coaching, film, and analysis, with rote dedication to mastering what some call a game, culminating in a determined fight to prove your team is the best in the world, while enveloped in millions of obsessive fans cheering and jeering every move, tells a story on its own. That effort, that focus, which extols basketball as an endeavor of peak physical greatness and strategic mental acuity should be what these NBA Playoffs are about.
Or do you need the storyline explained to you? I’d like to believe there are plenty of fans around the world able to watch one of the greatest Playoffs in NBA history on their own, who will allow the Game’s brilliance to shine on its own. Yet, the way some media outlets would have it, we need to be told over and over and over again the pre-fabricated storylines, written by moneymen, agents, and marketing people. Case in point: the narrative that the speedy highlight factory, who, admittedly, is a maestro around the rim, but shot less than 40% from the field this Playoffs, and only 25% from deep (though attempting over long balls 6 a game), and had half as many turnovers a game as assists, is not only the best point guard of all time, but the best player in the League. At least that’s what ESPN and TNT were selling before Derrick Rose’s exit stage left.
But I wasn’t buying. I’ll make my own decisions, thank you very much. If I want to know which point guard can dominate like no other in the League, I’m forgetting the TV commentary and replaying the Hornets-Lakers series; I’ll let my eyes tell me the truth. Even on replay, I’ll let my soul feel Chris Paul’s heart and drive to win, even if he does play on a small market team.
Being the best, apparently, is not enough. It’s location, location, location. Take Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire. Are they great players? Sure. But I don’t care any more about them because they play in Madison Square Garden than I would if they were still in Phoenix or Denver. The only reason I do care about them is because the people who think a collection of superstars without any regard for chemistry or strategy will deliver a championship are looking for a point guard to get NY to the next level, and our very own Hornets’ small cannon is number one on their list. The fact is, New York Cityites are convinced that they deserve the biggest, best, greatest of everything (well, who wouldn’t want to be a Yankee, Giant, Ranger, Knick, etc.?): without regard for the fact that Chris Paul is the personal savior of basketball in New Orleans, could be elected governor tomorrow if he retired rather than be traded to the Knicks, and is, in fact, small. Though he is the best and greatest.
Man, I can still see CP and Trevor Ariza at the podium after beating the Lakers, all smiles. That’s what it’s about. Those post-victory smiles. Still gives me chills. Yet, for some strange reason, Chris Paul, sans New York, does not appear to be part of the manufactured NBA narrative. Why?
Paul is one of the greatest point guards ever, a once in a generation talent. Yet, before the Playoffs, he had one national television appearance this year. Let that sink in. The Knicks had ten. And that was before they added ‘Melo. Ten. I don’t need to be told the storied history of the Garden, I don’t need to know how many points Kobe or Lebron scored their last time there, nor do I need to be told Willis Reed won’t be walkin’ through that door. Fuck that. I’ll watch in amazement as Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol dominate from the #8 seed. I’ll watch Darren Collison show up the presumptive, and ultimate (albeit imposter) MVP. I’ll sit, rapt, and horrified as the Hawks take revenge on a discombobulated Magic, despite one of the most impressive series performances I’ve ever seen, as Dwight Howard, even in defeat, shot 63% from the field and averaged 27-16-2 (all the more impressive considering that the small six-game sample size was twisted by his 8-8-1 performance in that Game 5 victory). Give me more Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and the baby Thunders. Because I can see the excellence in all that, in itself. On its face. The story is already written.
But that’s not good enough. I mean, we haven’t even gotten to Lebron as-I-prefer-“Viscount” James. His rise and fall is pre-scripted, and should be a TV movie any day now; or a Japanese anime. But, it’s surfeit; even “professional writers” can’t say anything about James any more without just being penned paparazzi. Some people call this hating, but I simply don’t be need to told anything about James at this point. Literally. I’ve already been told everything I need to know about him. He’s greater than any player ever, and he was MVP the day he was born. Yet, he’s never won championship. Kobe has 5. MJ 6. Bill Russell 11. So when you’re doing first name greatest last name ever calculus consider that Shaq won a championship with Kobe, Kobe won with Pau, Wade won one with Shaq, but Lebron couldn’t win even with Shaq. (P.S.: never listen to Drake. But I digress.) The narrative, though, tells us that three great players (Wade, James, Bosh) can take a roster of 2 (Haslem, Chalmers), and a cast of hangers-on, and, through Pat Riley’s force of will, win a championship. Or as Lebron predicted: eight championships. You know, more than Michael and Kobe, but less than Bill Russell. At least the man’s humble.
One problem: the Heat aren’t a great team. They have great players, sure. And they have amassed a bunch of wins, but the Heat are a deeply flawed team. Really, it’s the same equation as the Olympic team, but with different variables. Those guys were not a great team. (Except when CP3 rolled out the second unit; but, again, I digress.) The key was they had twelve unbelievable players, at every position, and no one team could match up with that, no matter their coaching or cohesion. The Heat, however, have three great players, and despite all their talent, not enough to tie them together to make them a great team. All year, teams have proven they were beatable (including the Hornets), and the Playoffs have only exposed a horribly weak Eastern conference, where Rondo and Shaq’s injuries were the biggest keys to victory for the Heat, followed by an entirely overrated, if effective, Bulls team. Funny thing is, Stern and the League got a gift from the results: a Finals consisting of players colluding to form a superteam, with others taking pittance to make roster; against the second highest paid team in the League, paying over $20M more than most teams, to put together this übermensch team.
What greater evidence could you have that the League needs more equity? Greedy players and greedy owners are ruining parity. The League needs to level the playing field and save itself. And what better way to make that case by pointing out all the future free agents will gather in a few select cities, and that teams owned by willing-to-spend billionaires may just buy their way to a winning team. The next three highest paid teams are the Lakers, Magic, and Celtics. Remember a Finals before this year when none of these four teams were in it?. Me neither. On the flip side, Miami, New York, and Chicago are just the beginning for the talent emigration without a new CBA.
But the 2011 Finals themselves? Unbelievable. The closest Finals ever, and getting the high ratings it deserves, despite all the beat writers and TV analysts trying to tell us their stories. But the Mavs and Heat have their own stories. It’s in their eyes. Anyone who’s ever questioned Dirk Nowitski’s will to win need only look into his greyish blue hues to be rebuked. Same with Terry. You can talk about his his “jet” antics all you want, but the look in his eyes reflects the tattoo on his right bicep of the Larry O’Brien trophy.
As for James, Wade, and Bosh? Only Wade has the experience and wherewithal to understand his surroundings, but even behind the assassin-like edge in his eyes is a glimmer of entitlement. As for James, that’s the only thing. You see, he knew he’d make the NBA and be successful there (keep in mind, coming out of high school, we roughly figured DeShawn Stevenson would be the next MJ too), knew he could lead the NBA in scoring at will, get a few MVPs, and, of course, roll in the dough, er, I mean championships. You’ll excuse me if I don’t let him dictate the narrative either, and refuse to use words rhyming with “mobile” and “icahn.” Bosh, well, no hit on him, but he just doesn’t have “it.” Ask Robert Horry, Manu, or James Posey about it someday, Chris.
The media herd of sharks, not content to go into a feeding frenzy at the sight of blood, is eager to write about said blood to create the frenzy. These writers panning Lebron everywhere now were the same ones lauding him before this series. All these “analysts” were saying how Lebron had put his fourth quarter woes behind him after the Boston and Chicago series. Two series among six years of playoffs is not a reliable marker. But it fit the narrative. Create a star and tear him down. It’s bullshit. Just speak the truth from day one and you won’t have to worry about re-writing the storylines. Similarly, the lazy narrative of “whose team is it?” pervades. The question should be how can Spoelstra scheme around Wade-James-Bosh, and how has he done it? But that question requires analysis, not gossip, which makes it hard. So the major media takes a pass.
Many League people, notably the Hornets’ Hugh Weber, have panned blogs and internet media as amateurs in their basements, wearing pajamas, barely worth the word “writer.” But anyone out there who follows the games, who is connected on Twitter, and who reads enough blogs, knows that these people do a better job than 85.3% of major media, and 102.5% better job than TV analysts. Personally, I’d like to read about how the Mavs’ late-game switches to the zone impact the Heat’s iso progressions; but, I guess some people prefer “Mama, there goes that man.” Hope those people are Warriors fans.
So to those of you who have attacked the false narrative prevalent in the major media all year, and particularly now, in the Finals, my metaphorical hat is off to you ladies and gents. To the rest? Shame on you. Journalism is supposed to be about what happens, described. Imposing a forced version of that makes you no better than the people behind of the Rich, unrepresentative, Housewives of Wherever, at best; or, spitting empty rhetoric with no actual facts behind it, like Rush Limbaugh or so many “talk radio” personalities, at worst. Anyone remember the pre-game interview with David Aldridge–when he may or may not have been drunk–alleging that the Hornets were demanding a new arena and that “many coaches” around the League were complaining about the officiating against the NBA-owned Hornets? That fell into the latter category.
As for these Finals? The coaches and players of two fine teams will deliver the final chapter to the 2010-2011 season. But, if you want to skip ahead to the end, just look into Dirk’s eyes.