LeBron James, in the abstract, and from a distance, can be rationalized and understood. At the most basic level, he exists as the active representative of an oft-discussed lineage, a time-honored tradition most fans of sport have been exposed to since they became aware of the institution itself. He is one of the great ones; one of the truly original talents of the game. The ability to name his most relevant modern predecessors — Jordan, Shaq, Kobe, Magic, Bird – has become one of the most basic tests for casual fandom in the 21st century, and in time, LeBron’s name will easily sit beside them. Even from afar, and without direct experience, the platitudes don’t lose any luster; don’t dim in the slightest. Observers can offer hyperbolic takes in flat, tired voices; resignation and reverence braided together in a bizarre knot. “He’s the greatest player of his generation,” is joined seamlessly by “the closest thing to Michael Jordan”, and very few (outside of a frayed Laker nation-state) could argue otherwise. LeBron is accepted as fact; fiat draped wholly in legitimacy. Recent history has mandated that the championship goes through him, and all interested parties — players, teams, polities and fanbases — have fallen in line. Some are able to counter him. Others are not. As a writer of the NBA, it’s a simple enough process to recite by memory. And before this year, it was just as nice to sit, watch, and appreciate.
But LeBron up close — deep in your psyche, dictating your emotions — is a different matter altogether. For LeBron isn’t just battling the opposition on the court, a group of men equal in physical stature, but far inferior in terms of collective gravitas. LeBron is also in your living room, crashing through the coffee table, trampling all over your furniture. He is in your face; his eyes wide, his nostrils flared, a wet mouthpiece barely perceptible over brilliant white teeth. As LeBron backs down a defender, easily clearing space, and in the process, creating endless options within that newly occupied space to complete his task, you, too, are uprooted; you, too, are displaced. When he shifts inevitably into kill mode — his body contorting and buckling, storming through the ramparts and taking the contact, or stopping without warning, and raising up far above the reaches of your outstretched arm, your fingers splayed — you are left with little choice but to absorb the contact and see whether your best effort from the living room was enough to stop him. Typically, neither your effort, nor the effort of the player(s) attempting to stop him were enough. All too often, the ball goes in. He lives. You die.
Certainly: it has been incredible to watch the Golden State Warriors compete in a series that I always thought would elude them. It has produced highs that have superseded We Believe many times over, established an emotional connection with a professional sports team that I never conceived could be possible. But at the same time, it has been equal parts terrifying to bear witness to a version of LeBron that, as Tom Haberstroh writes, is “unfathomable” , a horrible, beautiful amalgamation of the greatest players ever to compete in the NBA. LeBron over the last five games has been the secret weapon developed through years of bloody conflict in FreeDarko’s positional revolution; an undefinable maelstrom that has been engineered to individually defeat every player that attempts to stop him, regardless of their size, shape or conviction. The Finals, being watched by record numbers of people with each passing game, has been fully dictated by LeBron, even if the Warriors are up a single game in the series. It has been a performance that has impacted casual fans in distant markets, and terrified the denizens here in the epicenter. His onslaught captured me as a victim; once in the safety of my home, and last Sunday at Game 2. By 9 pm — a bucket list day complete, overtime and everything — I stood dumbfounded at Oracle, tucked far away in the people’s seats, uncomfortably packed with 20,000 other stunned faces sweating in cheap (but sacred) yellow shirts. I felt that LeBron had defeated me, had somehow made my own emotional defeat part of his legacy. More than a week later, the feeling that it is not the Cavaliers that must be defeated, but LeBron, himself, has not waned in the slightest.
The final is never supposed to be fun. This is a concept that carries weight in both learning and leisure; appears to be applicable in countless contexts. The final examination of a class is a stressful, dehumanizing affair; all-nighters before, furious scribbling and muttered fuck‘s during, and a sense of relieved exhaustion after. The final boss of a video game is never as fun as the game itself; random button-mashing, countless deaths, and several rage-quits when it just isn’t enjoyable anymore. At this point, I cannot say that taking the LeBron final — or, rather, watching my preferred team take the test — is a pursuit of happiness. The gnawing anxiety of the unknown, the awesome power of the inexplicable; this is the LeBron that Warriors fans have come to know intimately over the past few weeks. Perhaps more intensely and aggressively than ever, LeBron has insisted to be noticed; demanded to be respected. Fan allegiance aside, we have witnessed firsthand the incredible skillset of LeBron James; on the television, in the Arena, on shoe shelves and coming to a theater near you. It is not fun to deal with LeBron, whose arsenal is deeper than we could have ever suspected, more developed than our intelligence had let on. There is even — deep down, in a place I visited with Warriors teams in the past — a feeling of just wanting it to be over, so I can get on with life, and stop screaming at the television. It’s summer, after all; this is very late in the year to be caring so deeply about basketball.
Those who know me closest know I’d never predict what will occur tonight. No way. I am far too superstitious, and LeBron is that superstition embodied; an omen of ill portent. I am buoyed by a faith in the Warriors; in their systems, their players, their staff. I am energized by the abilities of our most valuable players — Curry and Iguodala, the native son and the prized free agent — and hoping that the lessons learned from previous series will come together when it truly matters the most. But I refuse to take my eyes off of LeBron, a talent so total, so awesome, so absolute, so complete; who continues to create new ways to make the faithful suffer, who continues to guard the gate until he is relieved from duty.
Many moons ago, when blogs were spots, and blogging pseudonyms were all the rage, The Diss did a weekly roundtable called Wild Guesses and Outlandish Speculation. The feature was ably carried by several of my real-life friends who were — still are, I should say — NBA fans, but wisely had no vested interest in this blogging-about-athletes thing. Turns out they were the smartest people in the room. I am grateful they took time out of their busy, functional adult lives to put their blog-pants back on, and answer these questions, which I emailed in an over-stimulated, Warriors-in-the-Finals buzz. It’s always good to get the band back together.
Kenji Spielman: I pay attention to basketball and rarely rarely watch it. I like the themes and story lines,(3 pointers and efficiency is king, will the Spurs become the Spurs again, all the teams that used to be good now suck, etc.) I just didn’t invest much WATCHING time.
John Reyes-Nguyen: Definitely still watching basketball. My #2 team, The Warriors, are in the finals!
Alex Maki: I am! Basketball is the only sport I allow myself to really invest time and energy in these days, so I have been watching most of the playoff games.
Andrew Snyder: I’m great. Just jobless and in debt after finishing grad school, but I’m in Brazil so I suppose life could be worse #LeandroBarbosaHumbleBrag. I am still watching ball, although really the draft lottery was the highlight of these playoffs so far (WHAT UP MAKI awoooooooooooooohooowwlllll).
Joe Bernardo:I’m doing great! And yes, even though my beloved Lakers have been stinking it up (there’s finally hope though!), I will always watch the NBA.
If you could use any word to describe these playoffs, what would that single word be?
Andy Cochrane: Predictable, and that’s a good thing. Like any of the other shit you can buy, Basketball at its base level is a product, and should be understood as such. It’s a carefully polished good that has many revenue streams — admission, swag, tv rights, etc. The catch is that marketing is best done when consistent. People pickup and attach to patterns. The best stores are the ones that are beaten into your head, time after time, year after year. David versus Goliath — possibly the most-used storyline in all of sports — only works if there is a Goliath. For that to happen, some team has to dominate for a good while. This is not to say that we don’t need the Davids either, but they will always be there. The league needs predictable storylines — ones that fans can love, hate, admire, and be inspired by. Luckily for us, the NBA is pretty damn good at this. You have your Cinderella story here and there, but usually the best team wins, and that’s a good thing.
The opposite is Major League Baseball. Ratings are not falling because the sport is boring (which it is, if you ask me). Ratings are falling because it is a shitshow every single year. It’s like drawing a name out of a hat. Sure, one city will be happy with a victory, but as a casual fan, who gives a shit if it just seems like random luck?
Hans Peterson: Contemporary.
Kenji Spielman: Transformational. Basketball has changed in a fundamental way. Advanced stats have finally permeated into game plans. James Harden is the poster child for playing offense in the most efficient way possible. All the teams in the conference finals were teams that understood how powerful three pointers are. Sorry Phil. You were wrong.
John Reyes-Nguyen: Unsurprising.
Symbol Lai: Predictable. It’s exciting to see teams with little playoff or final experience being contenders, but I don’t think anyone expected the Finals to be anyone other than the Warriors and Cavs.
Alex Maki: Kinda disappointing, to be honest. Maybe this is because the playoffs have largely unfolded as expected, but the Western and Eastern Conference Finals were stinkers. I am probably just bitter because none of the teams I cared for made any real noise (e.g., Spurs, Grizzlies, Wizards). I think the Finals will be a lot of fun though.
Andrew Snyder: RIPCP3. Clippers-Spurs was about as good as playoff ball gets, and despite hate watching CP3 complaining to the refs all year in new ways above and beyond the traditional Paul Pierce methods (I wonder if Doc is the real reason this happens), I was still pretty psyched to see him hit that off balance runner in Timmay’s face. I wish that we’d gotten to see the Dubs and Clips square off in the WCF, but alas, you can’t have everything in life, or even another Game 7…
Joe Bernardo: Injuries. It seems that a lot of key players got hurt or had some nagging injuries this playoffs. I wonder what would happen if KD was healthy enough to make a playoff run, or Pau Gasol didn’t get hurt in the middle of their series, or Kyle Korver, or Tony Allen, or Mike Conley, or John Wall, or Kevin Love, etc. Not to say that the current outcome would have been different, but it would have been great to see these key players compete through the whole playoffs. I just hope Klay Thompson’s or Kyrie Irving’s injuries won’t hamper them too much.
The NBA Finals features a team that has never won an NBA championship (the Cleveland Cavaliers) and one that hasn’t won one in 40 years (the Golden State Warriors). The NBA’s “Final Four” featured two additional teams similarly bereft of recent championship experience. Have we witnessed a scene-shift in the NBA?
Andy Cochrane: Is this a sly way to ask if the salary cap actually works? Gotta ask someone smarter than me for that. What do I know? I could watch the Lakers lose by 30, the Bulls pout like 6-year-olds, and James Harden not get foul calls all day and I’m positive it would never get old.
Hans Peterson: Yes. See answer number 2. The Spurs could still retool and compete next year, but the next four NBA Champions will not include the Spurs, Lakers, Bulls, Celtics, or Heat. That said, I expect repeats among this new group as well.
Kenji Spielman: The scene shift has not been from traditional powers to the sad sack franchises of the past. It has been from teams that are stuck with old methodology in scouting and game planning to teams that use all the tools available to them to find players and play to their strengths. As soon as teams like the Knicks and Lakers start taking advanced metrics seriously and actually dump some money into their applications they will move back toward being contenders.
John Reyes-Nguyen: It seems like there’s been a shift. There seems to be a shift of talent towards teams in smaller markets. The Jazz, Bucks, T-Wolves, Pelicans are all up and coming teams and appear to be on track to be legit playoff teams.
Symbol Lai: At least for the Cavs, it doesn’t feel like an enormous shift even though they haven’t won a championship. They have LeBron and so their success this year feels like an extension of his dominance as an individual player. He carried the market with him.
Alex Maki: Well, I wouldn’t quite call it a scene shift. The Warriors definitely contribute to that narrative, and they went from fun and interesting last year to a powerhouse this year. So, that has been a shift. But another LeBron Eastern Conference team in the finals isn’t actually a scene shift, it just happens to be the Cavs this year. And given how the Hawks and Rockets didn’t really show up in their series, I wouldn’t read too much into them yet. The West largely looked like it did last year (minus the Thunder-Pelicans swap), and the East largely did, as least as far as relevant teams are concerned. I think in 2-3 years it will feel like things have changed, but I’m not sure this year is the one to declare that.
Andrew Snyder: Depends if you count LeBron carrying another crappy supporting cast to the NBA finals in a weak Eastern Conference as a scene-shift or not. Sounds more like *Back to The Future 4: Revenge of Boobie Gibson* to me.
Joe Bernardo: Not really. NBA championships are usually won in dynastic spurts because it’s much harder to break up a winning team than in other sports. Was it a great scene-shift when the Spurs won in 1999 or when the Heat won in 2006? In a way yes, because they were newcomers to the championship club, but overall no because with the subsequent rings San Antonio and Miami won, critics were still complaining that only a handful of teams have won the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Warriors and/or Cavs will be just be another team in a short line of NBA dynasties since I predict they both will be competing for the next few years.
Homer Question of the Week: what should we make of Stephen Curry? Just another specimen in a long line of top-notch 21st century point guards, or transcendent talent?
Andy Cochrane: Everybody (ed. note: everyone is just Jacob) relax. Let’s [revisit this] in 5 years when he’s won a half dozen different trophies and still doing his thing. Unbelievable to watch right now? Yes. Lots of potential? Yes. Transcendent? Not even close.
Hans Peterson: Both. Stephen Curry is an amazing player. There is an abundance of very, very good point guards in the league right now, although all very different players. Stephen probably the most unique. In my eyes, Stephen Curry deserved the MVP. I do think his very rare combination of devastating shooting and incredible ball skills are particularly well-suited to the present game and will inspire a generation of others. However, he’s not the best player in the world (Lebron). I also don’t know that Stephen Curry is better than, for example, Chris Paul. I don’t know that he will really have a better career than Paul (he’ll certainly win more, but I would argue without hesitation that his current team is much better than any assembled around Paul). I suspect he will be immensely successful. He will probably have multiple top 5 MVP votes. But I don’t think he will get better than he was this year, and I think the best player in the world mantle is likely to go straight from LeBron to Davis and he will live in that annual 2nd-5th best player debates for a few years (ala Paul). I will add the one possible disclaimer that I’m not convinced he may, in fact, still be a bit more injury prone than some. Let us hope this isn’t a Derrick Rose peak that will not be replicated due to injuries.
Kenji Spielman: Steph Curry is breaking basketball. Teams know that three pointers hurt them when the other team makes them. But a contested three point shot is generally a shot you want the other team to take, because they are hard to make. Especially one that is a pull up shot off the dribble. But Steph Curry MAKES those shots at a very high rate. That is a very difficult thing to deal with. Transcendent? Probably not, as others will likely follow. But that does make him transformational, which is some pretty heavy shit as well.
John Reyes-Nguyen: I don’t know if he’s a transcendent talent, but he is at the top of the point guard list. His shooting is out of this world.
Symbol Lai: I think it takes more years of legendary play to be considered “transcendent” though I think he is definitely on pace. He (and by extension his family) is certainly “transcendently likable” across all NBA crowds.
Alex Maki: I think Steph Curry is up near the top of that list at the moment. Give him another MVP and a couple of championships, in addition to a handful of other strong playoff appearances, and I would put him on the transcendent talent list. But, he is still young and relatively light on experience. I think he’ll make it, but isn’t there yet by a long shot.
Andrew Snyder: Steph is the best shooter I have ever watched. I can only imagine it’s what Larry Bird was like when I was too young to watch basketball. Sometimes when I watch Steph make a couple 3′s in a row, I start fantasizing about the “on fire” mode in NBA Jam and how fun it would also be to see NBA Jam animate Andrew Bogut’s forearm shivers and all around dirty play.
Joe Bernardo: He may be a transcendent player, but I think it’s still too early to tell at this point. I think his biggest challenge will be longevity.
Your prediction, please.
Andy Cochrane: LeBron is hungry. Cavs in 6.
Hans Peterson: I don’t really think the Warriors are ready. There is almost no comparable example of a team making a leap like this and carrying it all the way through to a championship in one season. But in this particular year, I think they avoided several serious playoff hurdles (the Spurs, the Clippers, healthy Tony Allen and Mike Conley), and they have just been so much better this year than even the full strength Cavs, that I have to think they are going to find a way to get past such a broken down version. If the Cavs win, that is a real game-changer in the LeBron discussion. That makes him the clear 1b to Jordan’s 1a in my lifetime of basketball. But I don’t think he has enough to beat such a well-rounded and deep team.
Kenji Spielman: Warriors in 6. Warriors win first two at home. LeBron gets hot and the Cavs follow. Dubs win a tight one to take a 3-1 lead. Then, in game 5 Lebron does LeBron things and drags the Cavs to victory in Cali. This is going to be an amazing game. Game 6 will be a bit of a letdown, the Warriors bounce back and win fairly handily in game 6 in Cleveland.
John Reyes-Nguyen: Warriors in 7.
Symbol Lai: Warriors in 6.
Alex Maki: Warriors in 5, with a slight chance Cavs push it to 6. The Warrior are deep, and, depending on how health Irving is, match up well with the Cavs at pretty much every position (except the Lebron position).
Andrew Snyder: Warriors in 7. LeBron averages a triple double.
Joe Bernardo: Warriors in 5. Jerry West, please come back to the Lakers!
Stan Greenberg, loyal biological father of the last 29-and-a-half-years, came over to my shit-box apartment tonight to watch the game, and per his custom, he missed the opening tip, and the entirety of the first quarter. It wasn’t a big deal, since it never really is, for either of us. It’s a shrugging, insignificant sort of tardiness; one that has been informed by a lifetime of showing up to 9:00 morning meetings at 9:06, or picking up kids from school a cool 35-to-45 minutes after the final bell rang. I think I’d get grumpy about having to wait, and he was always apologetic, and that was it. No big deal, really. And no big deal, as far as watching basketball was concerned. Though my father and I have watched NBA ball on several occasions, I cannot recall a time he watched the tip of the game with me, even if we were in the same domicile, perhaps even the same room. Quietly, my father has perfected the art sauntering into the game just after the first conclusion of the first quarter; with the action fully afoot, boasting a plot growing deeper in developments, with an audience waiting to see what exactly will transpire. Even in this game — totally unlike any other game in either of our Warriors-focused lifetimes — my father could not make tip. True to form, he came in with about 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, with the Warriors struggling to get their offense going, and his son standing alone in his living room, holding 2013 Warriors playoff towel, wearing a Steph Curry jersey that has absorbed too many chip crumbs and beer driblets over the course of its life. “It’s not going well,” I said ruefully, not really offering a greeting. “I know,” he answered, not returning a greeting that never arrived, “I was listening on the radio.”
Watching basketball was never really a past time; not like the other pre-packaged American tales of father-son bonding that involve sports. Neither my father nor I were athletes, and neither of us played organized basketball — organized anything, really — for a school team. My dad was a star debater. I, myself, was a decathlete; an academic decathlete. If my father had athletic feats he wanted to relive vicariously through me, he never let me know; just as well, considering that I was anything but an athlete, and until my teenage years, a fan of televised sports. I, a raw, bespectacled mini afro-puffed blob of preteen angst, had no motivation to seek out sports on the television. My parents — bespectacled themselves, though that’s beside the point — somewhat set the tone. The one exception seemed to be the Warriors, which as far as I could tell, were the only sports team that got consistent airplay in my house after Michael Jordan retired from my mother’s once-beloved Chicago Bulls. During the late nineties and early aughts, from late fall until early spring, Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett provided rollicking commentary for a high-octane team of perennial fuck-ups. The Warriors would play on the kitchen television while we ate dinner, and when my father and I were in the same room after the meal, we would crowd around the small screen, shake our heads, and laugh. Occasionally there’d be discussion; an attempt at critical analysis that often concluded with a head-shake, and a “my god, the fucking Warriors.” At that point, we’d both wander away from the game, and without warning, the Warriors would be getting blown out to an empty room, the cheap kitchen television croaking out an aria of irrelevance while the Greenberg family busied themselves in other rooms.
So there must not have been much for my father to say as he saw me standing in my apartment, pacing about an unkempt, ubiquitously ripe living room (something has gone dreadfully awry in my fridge), shouting at the top of my lungs whenever the Warriors made a basket. There probably wasn’t much to say at all. What do you say to a first-world flack fullyunhinged; a barely functioning adult tightly wrapped in the proceedings of handsomely-paid millionaires, planning all aspects of his non-professional life around the nightly games of an annual postseason tournament? What exactly do you say to a fellow who has decided to place every pressing matter on hold while his favorite basketball team steadily works through the process of winning 16 games. What is there to talk about with a person who has committed to going to the NBA Finals at any cost, given that Finals trips happen about as often as Halley’s comet? That is a person who no longer is behaving rationally; who has become too wrapped up in a drama that doesn’t really involve them, if it really can be called a drama at all.
While the Warriors conquered the Western Conference, basketball came up surprisingly little. It’s always been easy to watch the Warriors with Stan. My father and I chatted about his parents — both dead; neither would’ve cared the Warriors beat the Rockets — and whether the Baby Boomers would last as long as the Greatest Generation (dad thinks the Boomers will be felled early by bad diets). We discussed when we were going to go camping this summer, and whether we’d have time between my dad’s busy work schedule, and my busy NBA Finals schedule. When Klay Thompson committed his fifth foul, and Andre Iguodala missed four free throws in the final three minutes, he watched me pace back and forth, mutter-cussing to no one but myself. With each perceived injustice from the referees, he tolerated my epithets; my crude assessments of their character and acumen. He grumbled loudly when I forgot to hit “mute” on the remote control (“I have issues with background noise,” he kvetched, “oy, commercials.”). And when the excitement prompted a – gasp! – high-five from typically-stoic Stan, he marveled that you could connect on every contrived hand-slap if you just stare at the other person’s elbow. It was an excellent night of sport-watching with my father; a past-time that I didn’t even realize that we had.
Stan Greenberg, loyal biological father of 29-and-a-half-years, stayed until the end of the game, and not much beyond that. The Warriors won; their 79th of the season. We both watched as gilded confetti drifted lazily down from the concrete bulwarks of Oracle Arena; as a roaring, yellow crowd rolled and pitched like a massive frigate in a storm. My phone started buzzing with notifications and texts; with people excited, congratulating, marveling over what had just occurred. He offered me a hug, and I returned it; that stilted hug that adult fathers and sons share and perfect over time; short, meaningful, probably a bit heavy on back-patting. “Come watch a game over at the house,” he suggested, to which I offered a guttural non-reply. Even though my parents live less than ten minutes away, the distance feels much greater, the older I get; the more wrapped up I get in other people’s affairs. There is something inviting about watching at least one Finals game on the television in a kitchen. I say that I’ll think about it. But before he goes, a final request:
“Hey dad,” I said, my hips already gyrating, my arms already starting to move, a shit-eating grin on my face, “get a picture of me celebrating.”
Over the last few weeks, this picture, and others like it, have become strangely unnerving. Perhaps I’m the only one who feels it, but it’s there, tugging on my pants, whining like a hungry puppy. One doesn’t really need a caption to explain the image, and certainly any Warriors fan over the age of 16 should be able to immediately contextualize what they’re seeing: Baron Davis, the conquering hero of the 2006-07 Golden State Warriors; a 42-40 squad that managed to unseat the mighty Dallas Mavericks, who themselves had finished 67-15 that year, based mostly on the efforts of then-MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Until recently, this picture — and other pictures from that emotionally intense playoff run — were instant endorphin-rushes; a surefire smile on an otherwise gloomy day. But now, to current fans of the Golden State Warriors, this picture, and really, any mention of that team — perhaps the only .500 squad to be awarded a nickname, We Believe, that has endured for years past its projected shelf-life for relevance — elicits pointed stares, pursed lips, and self-conscious throat-clearing. During the closing seconds of what was the team’s 65th win, color commentator Jim Barnett commented that he was trying not to become anxious that this team could potentially finish with the same record as that ill-fated Mavericks team. “I’m trying to let it go,” he said with nervous laughter on his lips, but darker thoughts on his mind. And after his team secured their 67th win — and, thus, matching that potentially inauspicious record — head coach Steve Kerr pointedly extinguished a question wondering if he talked much about the We Believe team with his current group, and whether that history had any affect on the team. “No,” Kerr said firmly, “[that team] has nothing to do with anything.”
And Kerr is correct: a Warriors team from 2007 doesn’t have much to say to a Warriors team from 2015. Eight years is an eternity in the NBA; the only individuals who stay connected to a team more than eight years typically are the fans themselves. But Kerr’s terseness speaks to another point: perhaps more so than any other “new money” team in recent memory, the Warriors have a history that is marked by a serious dearth of regal memories to draw from, or relevant experiences to lean on. The teams that are now brushed-off as “the old Warriors” were, until quite recently, just the Warriors. Stephen Curry, not only the most valued player on the team, but likely the most valued player in the entire league, is also the only current member of the Warriors to have ever been draped in the colors and garments of a regime that had neither the skill nor the luck of the current administration. In many ways, he is the only meaningful relic from that torturous era of Warriors history, an era that saw only five winning teams over 21 seasons of play, a period that could only boast four all-star selections, three all-NBA selections, three postseason berths, and, until this season, a single division championship. Indeed, when looking at a professional history that is equal parts bleak and barren, that 2007 team appears as a faded jewel on a tarnished crown, perched firmly upon the head of an uneasy king.
Kerr is correct. Each moment stands unique in time; connected to events in the past, and pivotal for events to occur in the future. But the moment that Kerr and his team are living in — 67-15, the top seed in the tournament, and facing the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday afternoon — is a unique one, previously unknown to the franchise, and all the individuals connected to it. This season has been an exercise in identity-building; on constructing a history that has never existed. There has been heavy focus on the 1975 championship team, the only title-winning team since the Warriors moved to the Bay Area in the mid-60′s. And though there is healthy respect for that team, they are not a known commodity among Warriors fans, at least those under the age of 50. Certainly Al Attles is highly regarded, at least among those who have been schooled in his importance to the game. But Rick Barry, that team’s greatest player, is a reviled figure among younger fans, a cocky, racist relic from a clunky past. Names like Clifford Ray, Jeff Mullins, Jamaal Wilkes and Butch Beard do not have the brand recognition of later Warriors like Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, Latrell Sprewell and Baron Davis, players who never won championships, and made their NBA finals appearances with different teams. No, Warriors fans today, light on experience with meaningful basketball, had their teeth cut on the Run-TMC, We Believe, and until this year, the Mark Jackson-led squads of 2013 and 2014: exciting, competitive outfits that, even though they found themselves lucky on occasion, were never meant to win anything, and for the most part, never ever did. Those were the teams that became canonized among the countless other seasons of forgettable basketball; 48 minutes of hell, in a much different context. But now, on the eve of what most say has become a championship-or-bust season, those teams have fallen back, ready to be forgotten.
From every arena, and nearly every analyst, there has been an intense focus on the newness of this team, a team that seems to represent modernism in professional basketball. The Warriors themselves play a game fortified by the armor of modern analytics, with a group of players and coaches perfectly built to implement a radically new system. Within the fan base — and, like any fan base suddenly bestowed with relevance — there is a quasi-fascist movement to weed out those who are labeled as “bandwagoners”, more discerning consumers who only recently started spending money on the team, and expose them as Johnny-come-lately’s to the cause (as if choosing not to support a vastly inferior product is an act deserving of shame). All of it speaks to the moment the team, and those connected to it, finds itself in. There has not been a time when the Warriors were favored to win a single series, let alone four consecutive series. There has not been a time when match-ups in the second and third rounds mattered, simply because the Warriors were not expected to be participating in those rounds. There has not been a point in getting excited for a player on the team, because that player certainly was going to get injured, or get traded to a new team, where he would start to perform on a larger stage. Every inclination is to find something knowable, understandable, and predictable. But the lexicon doesn’t have a term for how the Warriors –and by extension, their fans — are feeling; an emotion that can appear as anxiety, smugness, insufferability, doubt, and, most often, happiness; pure unbridled happiness that what is happening is happening while we’re watching; while we’re present and engaged.
If everything goes right, by the end of June, the We Believe team will no longer have relevance. Their accomplishment will be rendered minor, nearly meaningless. The names from that team — Baron, Captain Jack, J-Rich, Al and Nellie — will inspire small smiles, and nothing more. If those names are still meaningful come the end of the playoffs, something went wrong; the team that all assume are best positioned to win the entire thing failed to do so. Whether that will happen or not really can’t be ascertained yet. But simply looking at Baron, waving his hands as a crowd that didn’t know they had it in them rages mightily in the background, is enough to make me feel as nervous as I do excited for whatever might come tomorrow.
I have always been an interested observer of the Chicago Bulls, and this season has frankly been more interesting than the two seasons preceding this one. Most of that interest has centered around the return of Derrick Rose to nightly action, but several other storylines have taken center stage over the past few weeks. The vast majority of these narratives have revolved around the Bulls’ strange inconsistencies this season: a defensive decline, rumblings about Thibs’ long-term future, and the inability to resemble the same team from one game to the next. One individual, and aspect, that hasn’t been focused on is the team’s vaunted offseason signing: Pau Gasol. Kevin Ferrigan takes something of a radical stand, and makes a convincing argument that the signing of Gasol — just voted as the Eastern conference starter at center — has been the root of most of the team’s evils. Ferrigan’s argument hones in on Gasol’s defensive inadequacies, as well as the fact that his presence has forced previous anchors like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to redefine his role. Although I don’t watch enough Bulls basketball to agree one way or another, Ferrigan provides a compelling argument that’s worth thinking about, at the very least. Rest assured, I’ll be watching the Bulls’ big man with keen interest for the rest of the season.
There isn’t really a proper way to annotate this satirical piece by Alex Siquig, a friend of the program and fellow Warriors fan living on the East Coast. It transcends just about anything that’s been written about either the Warriors or NBA basketball this season; a romping, panoply on 24-hour news culture and the inane storylines that pepper both sports and political journalism. I could dive deep into how Siquig’s tongue-in-cheek turns of phrase — comparing the Warriors past history to “the global South” made me laugh and cry at the same time — but instead, I will let Siquig’s fictional words of a fictional Frances McDormand summarize everything that needs to be said:
If you were to put a small gun with a silencer to my head my ultimate answer would be contender. Certainly there are caveats, many and more in fact. It’s a fool’s whimsy to peer into the future, except in the most superficial and insincere ways, which is not to say I condemn such excercises out of hand, just that we should understand in the midst of this debate that whatever we say will have absolutely no permanence, indeed no meaning, as early as tomorrow. The future is not a straight line. I see all sorts of alternate timelines, devastating catastrophic nightmare worlds, featuring apocalyptic circumstances; I can see a demoralizing losing streak culminating in a panic trade. David Lee could very well be the sacrificial lamb in the vein of Danny Granger, and end up cast off into some dark starless night for cap relief. But who’s to say he wasn’t the super-sub glue that held the whole mess together. Do you recall our roundtable on the Indiana Pacers last season? All of you said contender without breaking a sweat, except for Nancy, who mostly talked about the golf-cart fatality she was on about at that time. Now look at you. Back at this futile guessing game, this target practice against the fates. Contender or pretender? Before the trade deadline, before even the All-Star break? You’ve truly called us all here to ask if the Golden State Warriors, a basketball team, can win a championship this very season and expect us to answer? Might as well ask us to describe the nape of a cloud’s neck, or the particular and peculiar violence of a kind man. But that’s the beauty of this thing isn’t it? This thing we all love so much we can hardly fucking stand it. This caring is a prison, but like a Norwegian prison, one of comfort and dignity, made for quiet reflection and the tension of deeper truths. Are the Warriors contenders? Hell if I know, my friends, and hell if I care. But I’ll tell you this. They are beautiful. They are just beautiful.
This piece is beautiful, too. Very, very beautiful.
I enjoyed this somewhat open-ended piece by Seth Partnow on what he terms “fundamentalism,” defined as “the ability to perform basic tasks competently, shooting, passing, pivoting, screening and to do so quickly in sequence.” In the piece, Partnow points us to the interesting balance that makes NBA basketball so unique: the ability for those with the soundest fundamental skills to improvise, and “color outside the lines.” Partnow is correct: the most marketable parts of NBA basketball are more focused on aesthetic brilliance than sound fundamentalism. Yet, it is only when these fundamentals are mastered that individual brilliance can rise to the surface; those who fail are suddenly living life too dangerously. “For players in good grace, the misses, turnovers and lapses are ignored,” writes Partnow. “For those on the other side of the ledger, all that is noted is the wildness, with no consideration over whether that Westbrookian mad dash to the basket is not much different than Manu Ginobili whizzing a seemingly impossible pass into the 4th row.” These are interesting thoughts, and worth your time.
(Good afternoon! My name is Corbin. I write Games of the Week. That’s my name right there. This week, so I could spend as much time as I can watching and blogging about precious, precious basketball, I am mashing up Games of the Week with a liveblogging of the Celtics-Warriors game from 1/25/14.)
MONDAY: ORLANDO at MEMPHIS 8PM EAST, 5PM WEST
Brandon Bass, a Celtic of note, catches the ball at the foul line after a pick and roll doesn’t go anywhere. He drives on Harrison Barnes, gets to the rim, Igoudola comes to double, he rises to shoot, gets stripped by Iggy, yells “OHHWEE!” as if to say “Oh, wee! Ref, do you not hear my oh wee, I am trying to tell you that I have bean fouled!” If you are looking for this kind of stunted frustration in the form of a whole game, watch Orlando spend 48 minutes trying to score on Memphis. It will be a rough game.
TUESDAY: BULLS AT WARRIORS 7:30 WEST, 10:30 EAST
Klay Thompson gets the ball with Evan Turner in front of him above the three point line. He drives right past him and lays it in at the rim. Brad Stevens, a coach who is technically in pursuit of the playoffs (Look it up!) who encourages his team to play a grinding, slow style to reduce possessions and increase the chance that they will luck into wins, calls a timeout, because he is disgusted with the defense or something. Disgust is bad word. He doesn’t seem like a man who is overtaken by disgust very often. If he found a worm in Peanut Butter, he would probably say “Oh, this is not good I better not finish this peanut butter. Thankfully, I have a garbage can, and throw this jar into that can will help me remember not to eat it.” A man with his possessed self confidence would probably watch Warriors vs. Bulls: no frills, nothing fancy, just a solid basketball matchup that should provide for a good game. It’s probably on a little late for him. He tries to have a glass of warm milk at around nine, nine-thirty, and he is going to need to lay off to stay awake.
WEDNESDAY: WIZARDS AT SUNS: 7:30 WEST, 10:30 EAST
Steph Curry has the ball at half court. He throws a one-handed desperation heave. “The quarter is over,” you think, “It is time for halftime, when the men on TV with natural hair, that is their original hair, will talk about the matchup.” But then: a shock and a surprise! He was fouled! Three free throws! If you’re looking for some more surprises, they will come to you in a box with a boy when you watch Washington at Phoenix. Johnny Wall, dribbling one way, SWITCHES, and dribbles the other way, he gets to the rim, so fast, I never saw it coming, he dunks the ball, oh my, I wasn’t sure a man could dunk a ball like that, I am shocked, please, hand me my fan.
THURSDAY: BUCKS at MAGIC: 7:00 EAST, 4:00 WEST
Oh, look, the Third Quarter has started. I was away from the game, watching the end of Bucks-Spurs. The Score Was Tight, But It Turned Out The Foul Game Was Just Starting. I was very disappointed. I wanted to see the Bucks do some damage, bag themselves a big one, a big “Deer,” if you will. Evan Turner gets the ball. Draymond Green has switched onto him. “Turnover city,” I think. “We are in a car, and it is driving to turnover city, and I am not talking about the world capital of pastry production, I am talking about a basketball turnover, because if Evan Turner tries to do something right here, he will absolutely turn the ball over.” But, then, he bails, and throws a high arcing and risky pass to Brandon Bass, who is underneath the rim and flanked by Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. He manages to get the ball. He rises up. He yells again. But this time, he gets the foul. Klay Thompson, with his third of the evening. If you’re looking to take a risk, I recommend you gamble your time on Milwaukee and Orlando’s matchup. Sure, Orlando is not very good. BUT, Miluakee has the amazing power to make pretty much any game compelling. If it’s not “Too Close,” it’s “A weirdly entertaining performance from Bayless” or “Giannis, showing a new power, a hidden power, an unknown power that, if it comes out completely, will threatening to break basketball forever.” When it comes up red, which is the good result of gambling, it pays 300 to 1.
FRIDAY: ROCKETS at CELTICS: 7:30 EAST, 4:30 WEST
“Draymond is having a tough three-point shooting night. He is one-of-six.” So say the Warriors’ announcers, when Draymond Green bricks an open three pointer after a pass from Andrew Bogut. Houston at Boston will be this front rimmed jumper, manifested into a whole game. The Celtics’ customary slow pace meets James Harden, The Foul Hunter (A television series about James Harden poaching in National Parks.) will make for a start and stop affair that will bore anyone who watches it to tears, thud, right against the rim of your mind. At least Stevens, a numbers man, probably won’t go in for hacking Dwight.
SATURDAY: THUNDER AT GRIZZLIES: 8:00 EAST, 5:00 WEST
Steph Curry cuts down the lane, sheds Phil Pressy, gets the ball from David Lee, and two hand dunks on a wide open rim. Tyler Zeller could have made it a contest, but he was slow to rotate off Lee after the pass. You could see Zeller’s who body seize and jump into action when he realize what happened, like Juliet opening her eyes and seeing Romeo drinking poison. For another matchup of star-crossed lovers that will certainly end with one or two of them committing suicide, OKC and Memhpis is the only game to watch.
Sullinger charges into Bogut. A turnover is, in a way, a refusal to take a shot. Much in the same way, I refuse to recommend either of the games that are on today. MAYBE there is a scenario where Wade scores 35 and makes Celtics fans angry, and that could be a lot of fun. But I am not going to bank on that.
When I was entering the 9th grade the school district I attended shifted the boundaries of which school students would attend. I lived right on the boundary of both, so I had a choice (sort of): go to the new school on the bus, or stay at the school I attended the last two years and find my own way there. Bad as it was being in junior high, this was a doomsday scenario. The new school was different; it was more… rural. I found that out the first day as a group of the largest 9th graders I had ever scene, clad in wranglers and cowboy boots, locked arms and yelled “STAMPEDE!,” before they began barreling down the hall, trampling anything in their path. I survived by barely slinking into the alcove of a classroom doorway.
A little young, and very underdeveloped for my grade, I had always had to survive on the outskirts of junior high school. When I moved to the new school, I couldn’t do that. I was one of the new kids that had invaded their school, and I suffered through half a year of humiliation at the hands of bullies in my choir class (taking that class was my first mistake). Every time the teacher turned her back, they would start in. Punching me in the face just hard enough to make my head ring, but not enough to cause an outburst; just overt enough so that everyone above me (I sat in the front row, by assignment) could see it. I took the half-year break to get out of the class, and was able to avoid those kids for the rest of the year, but the damage was done.
To this day, bullying makes my blood boil. So, it was when I woke up to see what Blake Griffin had done to a member of his training staff. The Vine has made its rounds. The staffer dutifully attends to the giant athlete, kneeling in front of him on the Clippers bench to wrap his war-torn leg. Then the hulking Griffin takes the opportunity to exploit the precarious position of the therapist by palming the back of his head, like a basketball, and forcefully guide it toward his crotch, as if to guide the physio to fellate the star athlete. As the physio pulls away Griffin turns and laughs jovially, then points to another player and says “Did you see that?” The most lenient description would call it bullying, at its worst, sexual harassment.
The reaction on Twitter was what you would expect; a mix of horror and the minimizing crowd of “oh, it was just a joke.” I expect that one could only take the latter view if one had never experienced that kind of “joking” before. I understood it completely. The domineering Griffin humiliated the physio ON NATIONAL TELEVISION, and it’s nothing new for him. There’s a reason he is such a polarizing figure in the NBA. Loved for his soaring exhibitions of athleticism, but reviled for his petulant attitude and constant bullying. Whether it’s in his nature or if he’s a product of the constant headlines of yet another player “destroyed,” “killed,” or “posterized,” by one of his thunderous dunks, it has become a part of his public persona.
I doubt anyone reading this knows what type of relationship Griffin has with the member of his team’s training staff. I would hope it is a very good one, for Griffin’s sake. If it’s a bond of friendship then Griffin should be ashamed of himself, and go out of his way to make amends publicly and privately. If it’s more of a professional one, than he needs to make the same amends and re-evaluate his interactions with other human beings. In the age of Vine, Twitter, Instagram, and every other method of recording video we all have to be a little warier of what we do in the public arena. Especially if said public arena is an NBA arena filled with 40,000 people, and many hundreds of thousands more watching on television. There is simply no excuse for this behavior.
For those of us who have dealt with these types of situations, seeing something like this over and over induces cringes, and feelings of sympathy. Perhaps it was as innocent as some claim it to be, but the fact of the matter is that a man in a position of power took advantage of a man performing a job that already appears submissive, and that is an extreme breach of trust. Hopefully Griffin does the truly manly thing and apologizes for his conduct, and learns a lesson for the future.
Editor’s Note: Dustin LaMarr’s work appears at SLC Dunk. This is his first contribution to The Diss.