Courtesy of •LX•
OK. So I’m watching game four of the Finals. Actually I’m watching the opening graphics and admiring the beautifully rendered golden lettering, and trying hard to make my brain not pay attention to the grammatical error that it represents (Finals is plural but there is only one single final series which is being referenced). Who needs to speak english properly when you’re looking at the big imprinted stamp of greatness that happens as “the Finals” rolls off the tongue and shines so brilliantly in hi-def? And so I’m allowing myself to be hypnotized in order to feel a sense of expectation.
Still - the league’s image seems tarnished to me. I mean ok it’s wonderful that people are sitting down to watch this renewal of big-time franchises. But I fear that the interest-level only masks what might be deteriorating below the surface.
First of all the league seems oblivious to the need of putting the best product on the court. They wait about a week to get “the Finals” finally started towards true finality, with the Thursday night TV slot given the utmost precedence. Then they get two days off before the next best TV night. And then they get a single off-day to travel through three time zones and be ready for game three! Thanks so much NBA, for allowing me to watch Kobe and Gasol clanking on a dozen freethrows. D’Ya think maybe they had some tired legs? That excuse works pretty good for the Celtics level of play in general. You’ve got the latest American Idol singing the Anthem while looking like he’s already sporting a bad combover, which makes the combover a hip trend rather than just a sad necessity I suppose, but I’m not buying into it, and I can’t stomach the D-League game that followed and have it defined as in any way glamorous, even if it happens right there among the ghosts of Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant. That game was as tired as another Hulk movie, and still with no good way to explain how he keeps his pants from bursting their stitches and shredding just like the shirt. Why not just make the Hulk transform properly into one huge green naked figure, while keeping his private bits teeny and completely inoffensive? It works with the whole backstory - not only did the radiation make him volatile, but it also shrunk his most precious of organs as if it were a tumor. And there you have another opportunity to increase the dude’s incredible rage - the sheer invisibility of his raging hard-ons. But no - the pants somehow stretch out to cover more than Larry Bird’s short shorts ever did. We will have to just look past the stupidity of that. And of course no - the scheduling of “the Finals” will continue to serve TV execs instead of fans of the game.
Then you have to look at how these are just not great teams. Great historic franchises, undoubtedly. But the gap between these teams and the Raptors
is not large enough to inspire awe. Maybe that’s a good thing for the prospects of Raptor success. Maybe they can improve from within like the Lakers did, and then add a good Gasol-like piece to take them to the top. And maybe that climb to the top is not so far off with the West clearly falling back some, and the East not really looking overwhelming yet (if the Hawks get the chance to erase only one embarrassing loss and somehow make it a win, Beantown gets burned to the ground after the first round instead of after winning “the Finals”). But I can’t be all that happy about it. At this time of year I want to see at least one team that can claim true greatness. This series doesn’t measure up to almost every Western Conference final series of the past decade. And sure the East-West matchups following all of those stunk, but at least it was due to greatness if only with one team. Is it better that this one has all the buzz, maybe precisely because neither team can claim greatness? This year I’ll say ok, sure, but don’t let it be the start of a pattern.
Then again, can any team arrive at greatness when the style of play really bought into by everyone, is all about mucking things up, packing the paint and letting out-of-rhythm shots fly in bulk? There simply is no place for greatness. I can’t imagine Kareem being able to find enough space to unleash his impossible-to-defend skyhook with the crowds of defenders that gather in the paint now. Shots from the elbow are the new high-percentage alternative to points-in-the-paint. Doc Rivers was lamenting the missed layups that lead to disastrous results in the first quarter last night. It wasn’t the misses that were such an obvious problem. It was the attempts in the first place. Unless they come in transition layups are no longer gimmes, and both of these teams are here at the top, because they can defend in transition, so mostly forget those layups of the gimme variety altogether. They are usually rushed in cramped quarters. Low percentage plays. The Celtics needed to start hitting some of those longer range shots that they were going to be able to get. That’s been the story of the entire playoffs. Look at all the 20-point leads, and the many 20-point swings to even the score. It’s all been about just hitting shots. We all hate it when Sam Mitchell says it, but it’s true. They gotta hit shots. Any team in the league. Then they might be able to find enough room to drive through three defenders with a player like a Kobe or Pierce, and the low percentage plays around the rim might become trips to the line. And sure enough it happens last night - they hit a few shots - and though it doesn’t come about in a great way, it does take place in historic fashion, and the Lakers lost. The Lakers lost! A great coach like the zen-man allowed that to happen. Actually the nature of the game in 2008 allowed that to happen. So how can I really complain?
The Hulk is still wearing pants isn’t he? “The Finals” is still not english. So I will complain in spite of my joy. I just want the kids who were able to stay up all night to witness that comeback and fall in love with the game, to carry an image of the league in their heads that is worth it lasting a few more decades. Can you build on this Mr. Stern and somehow allow for a few great plays to transpire during the greatest of the games that the league can lay claim to? Can you make the idiots at GM feel embarassed for using “the Finals” as a means of trying to sell those mammoths-on-wheels to poor bastards facing 5 bucks-a-gallon? I mean can the games be that good that they deserve at least girls in bikinis rubbing their bodies all over Yukon Denali’s?
We all need to move forward together into a new age. The league needs a new image like GM needs cars that run on carbon dioxide. All the hype on Kobe is not enough. The split screen promo with Magic and Larry, while nice in a nostalgic way, is not enough. Mr. Stern is not going to be able to get these two teams in “the Finals” that many more times, I hope. And if he does then he should at least be honest and have split screens with Jerry West and Kevin McHale fumbling through their script. “Rivalries never die. Only cities where nobody wants to watch a game die. They slowly wither and die.” Or give us the ultimate split screen with Donaghy and Bavetta. “Rivalries never die - thanks to us - and a few mobsters.” You might as well Mr. Stern, because eventually all the ugliness is going to show through.