There's Really No Reason Anyone But the Most Devout Followers of the Game Should Pay the Slightest Attention to the NBA Prior to March or So, Is There?
This involves an old argument between hardcore and casual NBA fans, so let me put it briefly.
I tend to agree with those folks who contend that playing an 82-game regular season schedule for the privilege of joining more than half of the league in the three-month playoff season (which I've heard more than one commentator, including ex-Wolves color guy Trent Tucker, refer to as the "real" season) is the most creative scam in professional sports, and likewise the most tedious. I have friends who actually mock me if I allude to watching an NBA game in the first half of the season, before mid-January or so.
I realize that on one level, what I'm describing here is no more or less than the Maginot line between serious and casual fans. And certainly there's room for fans on both sides of that line.
But there's an added wrinkle this year with the potential to make the long NBA season look like not only a bad joke but a practically inexcusable one. Of course I'm talking about the Lakers. If they can spend an entire season underachieving--fighting and preening like spurned candidates for homecoming queen--and then turn it on and ace the playoffs, then there's really no reason anyone but the most devout followers of the game should pay the slightest attention to the NBA prior to March or so, is there? Aren't Shaq and Kobe and the rest the league's worst nightmare now?
I Don't Know What Kind of NBA Calvinism You're Endorsing Here, But Isn't the Deathbed Conversion a Central Tenet of American Mythology?
While your argument is not without merit, Steve, I frankly resent some of its less charitable implications about our nature. For instance, I've been underachieving for nearly two decades now in practically every field of human endeavor. Should I be forced to accept that lowly condition as the permanent state of things? I don't know what kind of NBA Calvinism you're endorsing here, but isn't the deathbed conversion a central tenet of American mythology? I think it's been firmly fixed in our political sphere that the term "youthful indiscretions" now applies to any event before one starts receiving an AARP discount.
To wit: Let the Lakers come to Jesus in their own time. Or as Phil Jackson might have it, let them escape the samsara of the regular season on their own time.
Before I start sounding like George Will pontificating on the Jeffersonian underpinnings of the infield-fly rule, I'm going to drag this argument down from the vertiginous altitude of the upper bleachers to the court itself. The Lakers will not be the NBA champions of the calendar year 2004. (They're not going to be the NBA champions in 2005 or 2006, either, but I'll save that Tiresias routine for another tragicomedy.) I've watched something like five out of eight quarters from the Houston series, and here's what I'm seeing:
1. The vaunted triangle offense is missing at least two points. Maybe three. Enough words have been wasted on Kobe's bizarre performance in his team's horrid non-showdown with Sacramento. I won't pretend to understand who's proving what to whom. Here's my best conjecture. Allen Iverson has found some kind of Malkovich portal into Kobe's head, and he's taken up residence there. Maybe he's got a weekly rate.
Here's another theory: While the country remains on alert-level magenta, Tom Ridge has secretly tipped off Kobe that there's a grenade contained somewhere in the ball and he's got to throw the pumpkin in the air within three seconds of catching it.
All I know for sure is that Iverson-cum-Kobe has been heaving up some shots that look familiar from my third grade days in youth-league, when the basket looked about six feet too high. When the shots drop (37 pts. against Portland at season's end; 36 against Houston last night), the Lakers look like a credible outfit with a ball hog. (see, the 2001 Sixers.) When they don't, the Lakers resemble an admittedly more gifted version of my third-grade youth league team. Or the 2004 Sixers.
2. The Glove, at this stage in his career, could best be described as a rather loose mitten. Maybe even a soft muff. I like the fact that Steve Francis is widely called Stevie by TV's ball-talkers (no idea what his friends call him, but I've got a hunch it's a good deal less cuddly). The nickname reminds me of some of Stevie Wonder's early Motown hits, which after generations of AM radio play, continue to really stir the soul, don't they? And yet I think one could safely say that Stevie Francis is never going to stir anyone's soul. Maybe he could stir a drink with a twizzle stick; perhaps a can of paint. And the fact that Stevie can sign, seal, and deliver on the Lakers front court to the tune of a triple-double does not bode well for the yellow-bellies.
3. On the subject of correspondence that is signed, sealed and delivered, I've never written a valentine to the Mailman. All I will say, then, is that I'd rejoice in seeing him retire without a ring on his finger. Call if spite if you must. I may not subscribe to strict Calvinism, but no just god likes a craven opportunist. If Malone were meant to win, it would have happened in the Mormon Jerusalem.