I turn 30 on Tuesday. Ty Lawson turns 28 on Tuesday. Coincidence? I think so, probably.
Monday: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on League Pass)
Monday marks my maiden voyage on the USS Knickerbockers, and I am excited for our first date on the balmy seas of casual fanhood. I’ve got nothing against the Knicks; like most honest, hard-working NBA fans, I think the NBA is a better place when the Knicks aren’t straight trash. Now, like the rest of us, I’ve seen my fair share of exciting Knicks starts over the last few seasons — or, at the very least, Knicks starts that don’t immediately smell like an improperly refrigerated cadaver. At the moment, the Knicks sit daintily at 2-1, and look like a precociously competent outfit. Melo is still playing his divisive brand of bully ball, but it looks functional next to his counterparts; an entertaining mix of stout, experienced veterans and spry, chipper young guns. In particular, guard Langston Galloway (13, 5, and 3 per contest) and forward Lance Thomas (11 and 3 off the bench) stand out, looking like bona fide contributors on any NBA team. I’ll be rooting hard for the ‘Bockers in this game: I’ve grown tired of Spurs hero-worship, and I’ll take any loss the East can deal to a top team west of the Rockies.
Tuesday: Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)
With both teams at 0-3, this game is more like the Orlando Tragic versus the New Orleans Pelican’ts. What a bunch of losers. Not a single win between the two of them. That’s what losers are; entities that don’t win, and these aren’t winning entities. That’s too bad, since both of these teams were thirst traps for NBA aficionados wanting to pick an unorthodox team to play the role of spoiler. For both teams, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going wrong. The Pelicans are dealing with all sorts of injuries right now, and seem to be struggling a bit with new coach Alvin Gentry’s new systems. The Magic are right there; they’ve lost all three of their games by an average of 3 points (including a 139-136 double overtime classic to the Thunder late last week). They probably will figure it out; it’s early as shit. Both teams have players I like (the Magic bench, especially, looks pretty fun), and the NBA season is too long to not have some sort of turnaround. And one of them will win on Tuesday. But right now they are LOSERS, unforgivable LOSERS. Win a game, you bottom-feeding cretins.
Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on ESPN)
The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORSversus the not-champion Los Angeles Clippers, our ornery, loquacious rivals to the south. I expect this to be NBA Shakespeare, replete with all the regular motifs that carry this drama-filled contest. The players will clutch their breasts, aggrieved and irate; they will stomp and preen in a manner that we’ve grown to recognize and appreciate. The crowd will rise and fall with the action, screaming their praise to their chosen heroes, and throwing epithets at the arbitrary villains. Perhaps this is what has made the Warriors/Clippers rivalry stand out above the rest: while there is certainly a lack of historical substance, there is a preponderance of public disdain, a group of very sensitive men. God bless them all. I will be there, wearing my replica ring, shrieking maniacally with the rest of them.
Thursday: Miami Heat at Minnesota Timberwolves (8:00 PM PST/5:00 PM EST on League Pass)
Behold the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team laden with heavy hearts yet traveling lightly: zero losses, two wins after one week of play. It’s been dynamic rookie center Karl Anthony-Towns and swashbuckling point guard Ricky Rubio in the lead, flanked ably by a varied cast of supporting contributors. It doesn’t matter what team you prefer to root for: watching Kevin Garnett jump up on the bench, flexing his muscles and howling to the rafters, after Karl Anthony-Towns completes a strong move to the basket, is pure basketball butter melting on perfectly browned toast. I can’t quite recall a team with quite the backdrop as compelling as these Wolves: tasked with nothing more than being slightly better than they were last year, yet now buffeted by a desire to be even better for a coach who would’ve been there with him, were he not, well, dead. It’s those thoughts that just help guide you back to what’s happening on the court; it’s hard to know what is going on in the heads of mourning men.
Friday: Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns (9:30 PM PST/6:30 PM EST on League Pass)
Saturday: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings (10 PM EST/7 PM PST on League Pass)
Psst. Hey. Can I tell you a secret? Cool. Here it is: the Kings/Warriors rivalry is waaaaaaaay better than the Clippers rivalry. Shut up, you always talk over me. My opinion is correct. Here’s why: the teams are closer together; separated only by about 2 hours of frustrating highway. Warriors versus Kings games have always been chippy; even during the lean years from 2006-2012, unlike the mud-sucking Clippers, who always played nondescript games against the Warriors until very recently. The Kings always play up for the Warriors, and the Warriors typically play down to the Kings (though maybe not anymore, since they are the DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPIONS), so I’m always having a minor temper tantrum while the game goes on. And at the moment, it doesn’t matter which 10 players are on the court: it’s going to be weird, hateful basketball, like it’s always been, forever and always. Now shut up, I’m watching Boogie lose his shit.
Sunday: Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks (3:30 PM EST/12:30 PM PST on League Pass)
Alright, yeah. I get it. “Lakers versus Knicks on a Sunday? Who are you, ABC?” Sure. It’s a simpleton’s choice, I know. Low hanging fruit. Lowest common denominator basketball. But goddammit, I’m 30 now. I can still believe that Kobe Bryant will engineer a 50-point classic on the Garden floor. I can still dream that the greatest individual performer since Jordan can get me out of my seat. But fuck, neither me, nor him are getting any younger. And truth be told, most of the other games suck that day.
Today marks the one week anniversary of the death of Flip Saunders, the beloved ideologue of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Once the death was announced, I, like many diffuse scribes dotting the landscape, wanted to write something to commemorate the man and his memory, but were unable to, due to either physical or emotional distance from the subject. This is not the case for Zachary Bennett, who provides a very complete and reverential look at the life and times of Phillip “Flip” Saunders. Bennett access both primary and secondary sources to paint a picture of a pure basketball man; a late-comer to Minnesota who fell in love with the life he created for himself in the Upper Midwest. Bennett did an excellent job eulogizing Saunders in this piece, and those interested in reading an encapsulation of a full life cut far too short should give this piece a look.
I turn 30 this upcoming week, and this season marks my fifth season “covering” NBA basketball (from the comfort of my couch). I don’t often think wistfully about my early basketblogging days — like 26-year-old Mr. Conlin, I was the same age when I started banging out basketball words on the keyboard — but reading this piece in The Classical did get me thinking about those halcyon days of youth. Conlin presents a 6-part treatise on his affection for the sport. One of the sections definitely jump-started an “early blogging days” montage in my mind. Conlin is worth quoting at length:
Even if basketball has no idea that I exist, it still provides a small modicum of meaning to my life. Being an NBA hyper-fan provides for a sense of camaraderie, on the blogosphere and on Twitter. I can connect with people that share my passion in a way that loyal consumers to other products cannot. If the compulsive part of my brain had become obsessed with the idea of owning a Toyota or eating Frosted Flakes every morning, my life would be very different.
But entertainment is a communal experience. Everybody’s morning bowl of Frosted Flakes is different, as is every commute to work in a Rav-4. But when I watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals, I know that everyone else is watching the same Game 6 of the NBA Finals. I can surrender my agency and let the experience wash over me. So even if basketball doesn’t know that I exist, I know that basketball exists, other people know that basketball exists and, by extensinon, other people are able to know that I exist as a person who loves basketball.
These shared experiences come to define who we are as a community, playoff deciders as well as the regular season minutiae. Sometimes, the latter matters even more: Millions upon millions of people were watching Game 6 of the Finals last year, but how many people watched Russell Westbrook put up a 49-15-10 and lead Oklahoma City to an overtime win on that random Wednesday night in March? The smaller the group gets, the more special those memories feel in retrospect. The more exclusive a group gets, the more significant it becomes to be included.
Though I would not deign to privilege the experiences of this consumer group as opposed to other ones, Conlin’s piece does accurately portray the emotions of the twitterpated NBA fan, losing themselves to the beauty of the product. All of Conlin’s small treatises bear some relevance to all of us NBA fans. It is great that The Classical still exists to feature work like this; sorely missing in the cookie-cutter world of NBA analysis.
I have thoughts, obviously, about Thabo Sefolosha, and about the role police brutality has played in the presentation of the basketball product. Someday, I will compile those thoughts, and offer some sort of argument about how to contextualize the assault of Thabo Sefolosha at the hands of the NYPD. But for now, it is important for us all to read every word of Sefolosha’s account, and take note of three aspects. First, Sefolosha calls the incident “police brutality,” and based upon his words, and the accompanying cell phone videos, he is absolutely correct. Second, we must understand how much trauma and psychological damage the police exacted in this incident, not just on Thabo, but on all parties that night. Finally, we should take note that the National Basketball Players Association — the union that ostensibly protects the lives and livelihoods of the players — is not mentioned once in this piece. I fear attention will turn away from this now that basketball has started again, and Sefolosha is on his way back to playing. But this is hardly over; the police will not ever let it end.
Before I begin, let me just say: Kris does the damn work, man. He’s the man who will search through newspaper archives to find secondary sources describing a mid-season knee injury from the 1980s, or will stay up late making tables lining up his analysis subject with other similar specimens. In this way, his work is truly interdisciplinary: it anchors itself with the air-tight specter of statistical analysis, but becomes truly expansive and illustrative through dynamic inner (and external) dialogue and discussion. With that praise in mind, I highly encourage you to read this sort of career check-in with Anthony Davis, who is beginning his fourth season as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Kris’s nuanced analysis jumps around many different analytical areas, and settles, essentially, on this conclusion: while it is clear that Anthony Davis, statistically speaking, has the chops to mix it up with some of the greatest all-time players, there are still important reservations about a history of ticky-tacky injuries, and a pattern of slow restarts after Davis is re-integrated into a lineup following a moderate absence. Kris is a friend and a colleague, and I’ll never utter an ill word about him or his work. It is truly a pleasure to be doing no-money blogging with Mr. Fenrich; he is truly a Diss Guy.
Finally, let’s drop by Pattern of Basketball, to take a look into the brilliant, beautiful mind of Jonathan Tjarks. Though you can get your delicious filling of Mr. Tjarks at several other outlets, my preferred location is Pattern of Basketball, his personal blog. Reading Pattern of Basketball is like looking at the notebook of a basketball scientist; excitedly scribbling down observations, offering potential explanations for the various phenomena under study at that particular moment. Tjarks’ thoughts draw from many different sources and traditions, and as a result, we always are left with a fair, nuanced analysis on whatever basketball event is currently piquing Mr. Tjarks’ attention. These bullet-point thoughts on the Magic versus Thunder early-season classic from earlier this week illustrate the strength of the blog: informed looks at players, sets, rotations and skills, as well as supplementary thoughts on how particular NBA outfits affect the fan experience. I try and check in with The Pattern of Basketball a few times a week; it is a very valuable resource for NBA and basketblogging fans everywhere.
Tonight, at around 7:30 PM, at 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland, California, the Golden State Warriors will receive their championship rings. The rings will be impressive; it is likely that those who own them will cherish them more than many other items, activities, or individuals in their lives. As they consider this fact — yes, for at least one of these players, that ring will mean more than the birth of a child, or the death of a parent — a public address announcer will invite them to raise their heads as a banner is hoisted towards the rafters of Oracle Arena. This, too, will be an exciting moment. For both the ring and the banner carry considerable symbolic power: they allow the Warriors — and all who pledge allegiance to the brand, those who ascribe to whatever definition of fanhood that best suits them — to finally assume the role of reigning champions of the league. When the banner finally reaches the top of the massive concrete structure, all associated parties — thousands of fans, dressed head to toe in regalia only reserved for those who have won the postseason tournament, sweating and cussing and slapping hands with anyone in sight – will roar their delight, and scream their approval. It will be a jubilation only felt once; a fleeting sweetness that will stimulate the taste buds of those lucky enough to get a small bite. It is a pleasure that will be distinct, and a flavor that will never be experienced again. 7:30 post-meridian will be delicious in every possible respect.
Because in my mind, and within this diffuse network of individuals connected by their love of professional basketball, the championship ring carries the power to transcend logical analysis; to leapfrog all of our conventional understandings about the sport. For the fanbase lucky enough to claim it, the ring serves as the ultimate trump card, a non-expiring ticket out of hell. With the ring comes a permanent smirk, the corners of one’s mouth turned up sneeringly, eyes forever aflame with contempt for lesser opponents. With the ring comes an ability to sucker punch statistics and shank historical trends with rusty, homemade knives. Well-crafted analyses can be rejected with a simple point to the ring finger – count the ring, bitch! – and even the most docile challenges to authority are soundly quelled. No, there will be no questioning the ring; at least not while the ring holders are within vicinity. It doesn’t matter which team wasn’t played, or which players weren’t playing. All that matters is were the 16 wins from April to June. All that matters is that ring.
At least, until about 7:43 PM this evening, roughly 13 minutes after the coronation concludes. After that, the experience of getting the ring will only be of importance to the Warriors fans. Once the pyrotechnics are powered down, and the players avert their eyes from the new banner, the athletes will fall into formation, and begin to do what we have counted on them to do for as long as any of us can recall. The players will be busy playing, engaging in all the activities that are associated with playing: dribbling, jumping, passing, leaping, falling, flopping and fouling, all for our enjoyment. The fans, meanwhile, will be busy being fans, and doing all the activities that are associated with being fans: sitting, eating, drinking, staring at screens, going to games, arguing, bickering, tweeting and bleating. Warriors fans, however, will be steadfastly focused on the ring: its shape and weight, its carat and cost, and how to best go about getting as many of them as we can.
At the present moment, the NBA lacks a strong villain, and the Warriors could happily occupy that space. Beneath the Warriors’ sharply adolescent exteriors — baby-faced behemoths with scraggly peach fuzz, looking light and lithe as they play out of position — there has always been a cold cunning; a unique joy in ruining one’s day. It was a role modeled by Mark Jackson and perfected by Steve Kerr, an arc that first took flight when the mighty Mavericks fell in 2007, and gracefully landed as the clock expired in Quicken Loans Arena on that glorious night in mid-June. Long the team most preferred by casual fans due to their freewheeling on-court attitude, their laser-precise shooting and their ubiquitously swift pace, the Warriors have undergone a unique metamorphosis; a team that will slit throats with flair and panache, a team that will entertain your loved ones at your own funeral.
Championship defenders do not remain crowd favorites. We’ve already started to seen this happen; begun to perceive of the status shift. The populace at large have fallen behind the San Antonio Spurs, and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers — teams who, at times in the modern era, have been labeled as “bad guys.” The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers — frequently mentioned as teams that could’ve unseated the Warriors — are looked at as legitimate threats to undo what has been done. Even in the hodge-podge Eastern conference, the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat look to be retooled and retrofitted; ready to face the Warriors head on, and challenge their legitimacy. And perhaps they will: perhaps this celebration will be short and stilted, compromised before it even begins.
But those are concerns for others. Tonight — at least until 7:43 post-merdian — our focus is on the ring: what it means, what it bestows, and what it allows us to conceive and behold. Tonight, for a few brilliant moments, the grumbling will cease, and the doubt will fade into the pastel colors of the early evening. The ring will be adorned, and the banner will be raised. And the crowd will roar; they will roar because it is what they have earned, and for at least 13 brilliant minutes, neither person, place nor thing can take that away from them.
And we won’t be giving it up, because in about nine months, we’ll be winning it all again.
Hello. Welcome to Games of the Week for the 2015-2016 NBA season. Dedicated friends of the program (that is, my mom) know that these are my first Games of the Week in 18 months. I don’t quite remember how to do this, and have spent the last four months staggering around the flat lands, celebrating an unlikely championship. I will be playing my way into shape over the course of the next several months. Your patience is appreciated. Thank you in advance.
Monday: No Games Scheduled
In this, the last full day of the offseason, before your loved ones are systematically neglected, and your life goals are left to fend for themselves, I challenge you to try and knock as many items off that prickly to-do list as you can. These tasks have grown important, for tomorrow brings NBA basketball — the great slayer of time, the great destroyer of agency — and, as in every year prior, most of your dreams will go unrealized because you’ll be watching basketball. You must use Monday for good, not evil. Run 50 miles. Pay off two credit cards. Call your parents. Clean the fridge. Join your alumni association. Do those things, and more. Take those little accomplishments, and hold them aloft for all to see. Because, come Tuesday, you shall be rendered stationary; nothing more than a lump of flesh, a fading blip on the radar.
Tuesday: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on TNT)
On opening night, the NBA usually gives us a pleasurable kick in the butt with a high profile doubleheader on TNT, featuring well-watched teams and appointment-television players. This year is no different; D-Rose’s Bulls and LeBron’s Cavs lead off the night in the east, while the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans take on Steph and the Warriors in the nightcap. But then there’s also that other game that night, the one that just isn’t cool enough to make it onto the main stage. This game operates like a third eye strangely placed on a forehead, or a bizarre third arm erupting from an otherwise unblemished abdomen: what the hell are we supposed to do with this thing? My friends, we watch this game. We watch it, and by watching it, we love it and provide it with unconditional care. Come in, Pistons versus Hawks. Get in here, Al Horford. You too, Reggie Jackson. You both are welcome in this home. You both get seats at the table.
Wednesday: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets (8 PM EST/5 PM PST on League Pass)
Admittedly, I am rather dialed out at the moment, and am only now starting to acquaint myself with some of the newer talents that others have been salivating over for the past few months. Among those new succulent treats is Emmanuel Mudiay, point guard elect for the Denver Nuggets. My only encounter with him thus far has been what I’ve seen in preseason games, and it is clear that he will be very good upon arrival. I am interested to see how Mudiay conducts himself in this contest, as he will be matched up against Ty Lawson, the former Nuggets point guard whose downfall and departure predated — and in many ways, predicted — Mudiay’s arrival and ascendance. It is certainly a compelling contest; a delightful early test in the earliest phase of a career which I will observe with keen, continuous interest. Indeed, my mouth is very moist.
Thursday: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on TNT)
Fair warning: I will be gleefully beating the funeral drum (do they have funeral drums? Please bring drums to my funeral) for the Mavericks all season. I shall be prancing about the aisles, cackling at the weepy mourners, pah-rum-pum-pum-pumming on my bitchin’ funeral drum the entire time. Because, my friends, the Mavericks are dead: it’s an open casket affair, and we’re all invited to take a nice, long look. For the first time this millennium, there is ample doubt that the Mavericks will finish top eight in the west. And while most analysts point to DeAndre Jordan’s spurning of the Mavericks this offseason as the most destructive palpitation, it really has been a slow decline, observable since Mark Cuban tried to nickel-and-dime his way back to the top of the NBA. While the Mavericks have done much to save money over time — including a pay cut for Dirk Nowitzki, who will give that franchise legitimacy and prestige long after he retires — it hasn’t translated to much more than fleeting playoff runs and endless reshuffling of the deck. Now here we stand: Deron Williams looks sad, Chandler Parson looks doughy, Tyson Chandler looks weird in Phoenix purple, and Dirk looks old. Look at death; smell the decomposition. Pa rum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum.
Friday: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets (9:30 PM EST/6:30 PM PST on League Pass)
The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS taking on the not-NBA-champion Houston Rockets, who gave the Dubs a hearty effort in the Western conference finals last season. Of course, the normal storylines will prop up this game: whether James Harden deserved to be MVP over Stephen Curry last season, whether the newly fortified Rockets can land the first punch on a clearly confident, but quietly wounded Warriors squad. Truth be told, this is but one grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it game in a firing squad of a first week. The Warriors play the Pelicans on Tuesday, the Rockets on Friday, the Pelicans again on Saturday, and wrap it all up with the Grizzlies on Monday. As soon as the schedule came out, I started going a little verkakte over this first week of stern-ass games. I can’t wait to see what a 2-2 (or, shit, maybe even a 1-3) stretch does for my completely wrecked digestive system. I still have heartburn from the Finals, I keep waiting for it to go away, but it remains, brazenly undeterred.
Saturday: Golden State Warriors versus New Orleans Pelicans (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on NBA TV)
Yes, there is a big, beautiful NBA world out there, but I have been separated from my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS for four months, so you will forgive me for choosing to feature them twice in this lightly-read column. In this secondary Homer Game, the boys meet up — again, for the second time that week — with the Pelicans. Of course, the Warriors already are dealing with perhaps the costliest injury of this early season: head coach Steve Kerr, who continues to recover from back surgery. And, even more of course (of which course, exactly, I am not so sure), the Pelicans are now steered by Alvin Gentry, who served as associate head coach for the Dubs last year, and who was hired as head man in New Orleans just before the NBA Finals started. The indication is that Kerr will not be rushing back any time soon — nor should he, the diagnosis sounds terrible — and that Luke Walton will remain the interim head coach in the meantime. I do love me some Luke Walton, and feel he will become a very excellent head coach over time. But, in this moment of fan vulnerability, I am missing Alvin Gentry far more intensely than I thought I would.
Sunday: Atlanta Hawks at Charlotte Hornets (2 PM EST/11 AM PST on League Pass)
I’m not sure what sort of mitzvah I did to deserve this, but we’re getting a Hangover Game in the first week of the NBA season! Alright! For the new readers, the Hangover Game is the Sunday morning game meant to help you detox from whatever dumb shit you did the night before, primarily through intensive basketball background noise therapy. As you lay in bed wondering how many pickle backs you slung back last night, allow the squeaky sneakers of some handsomely-paid basketball men help you fall back into a spinning, deeply morose sleep. Let the droning announcers cradle you lovingly as you dry heave until 3 PM. It doesn’t even really matter who plays in a Hangover Game. It matters even less who wins the Hangover Game. What matters is that it’s there; sugar coated like an Advil, sweet and satisfying like an ice cold Gatorade. Adam Silver’s NBA truly is a Garden of Eden and a glittering land of opportunity to reinforce every single shitty life habit you have cultivated the last 30 years. Don’t worry, I’ve cultivated them as well.
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.”