Hate the Playoffs, Love the Game?

God created the world in six days, so why does it take eight weeks to pick an NBA champion: A City Pages dialogue

--Britt Robson, 5:07 p.m. Tuesday, April 20

 

Let's Talk About Why Every Responsible Citizen Should Despise the Lakers P>

 

Britt, I'm not really saying that the season is meaningless and the playoffs meaningful--I'm saying, at root, thatone of them needs paring due to their combined, overwrought totality. And you provide the best possible evidence for that conclusion in your very next sentence: "There are fewer upsets in the NBA playoff series than in any other team sport."

Then, if so much about the playoffs is so pro forma, why are so fucking many teams in the playoffs to begin with? You've tacitly admitted that half of them are there solely to give the playoff-worthy teams someone to play in a superfluous-but-lucrative first round.

But enough of that wrangling. Let's talk about why every responsible citizen should despise the Lakers. Pro basketball is the most vulnerable sport there is when it comes to the boorish, vain celebrity antics of athletes--because individuals have a greater impact on the fate of a basketball team than of a baseball or football team. The celebrifying that goes on in the NBA may be the same as in the NFL or the major leagues from the standpoint of a Nike executive or a fan, but the fact remains that one or two guys with their heads on wrong can do way more to screw up an NBA team than it can in other sport.

What I'm circling around to saying here is that it's pretty fucking galling to watch two of the top three or four players in the whole league spoiling what ought to be an epic run of championships by going at each other in a celebrity cutting contest. I think Kobe Bryant is a self-centered jerk who will probably never get over himself sufficiently to lead a championship team. But you can't give Shaq a pass on the Lakers' chemistry troubles. It takes two to dance this kind of waltz for so long.

I even find myself wondering if Shaq might not relish sending Kobe away on a losing note, and winning next year without him. He can't be that petty, though--right?

--Steve Perry, 5:37 p.m. Tuesday, April 20

 

You Pay People Eight-Figure Salaries and You Get Vanity

 

Okay, if you're arguing that the regular season should be 65-70 games, or, better yet, a playoff round be removed by paring back the eligible teams from 16 to 8, I'm for it. But we all know it won't happen because it means less revenue. This isn't a problem limited to basketball, though. The NFL has jumped from 12 to 16 games (and expanded their playoffs), MLB has swollen from 154 games to 162 (and expanded their playoffs); hey, even the college ranks have increased their regular and playoff season menus. Surprise surprise, money talks in big-time sports.

I don't despise the Lakers. I think Kobe is a spoiled kid (albeit marvelously talented) who has never faced real, humbling adversity on the basketball court, in large part because he has gotten to play alongside Shaq. But I do feel good about giving Shaq a "free pass" because I think he's really matured over the years and I don't really think he's "part of the problem." I remember when Shaq was in Orlando and in the NBA finals against Houston, the Rockets management was so secure in the knowledge that Hakeem Olajuwon would dominate Shaq that they played Disney's "A Small World After All" on the PA system before the player announcements for Game One. (BTW, the Rockets swept that series.) I remember when Shaq was royally criticized for not concentrating on his game 365 days a year, having the gall to appear in movies and cut a rap record--terrible moves artistically, but certainly nothing to begrudge a kid in 20s for seizing when he had the opportunity. Besides, Shaq did steadily work on his game, most notably his passing, his footwork, and his defense, and three rings later, the critics were quiet. Because he exists in the celebrity bubble, Shaq does get his share of inane media questions and controversies, and I think his response to them has shown a great deal of humor, with a proper degree of absurdity thrown in to reveal his intelligence. They don't call him the Big Aristotle for nothin'.

Shaq was rightfully ripped for letting his body go some and then getting injured last season, probably costing the Lakers a fourth straight crown. But name me another player of his body type that hasn't battled nagging injuries--he could have been Stanley Roberts. Or Bill Walton, a notorious pothead who was forgiven his chronic foot injuries because he had one great season and is now allowed to reveal himself as the league's biggest blowhard with his courtside commentary. As for the ongoing Kobe-Shaq circus, that's almost all Kobe's petulance. You don't hear coach Phil Jackson--whose job it is to know and motivate his team--ripping Shaq but he does call out Kobe on a regular basis. When Shaq hits the news, it's because he's become tired of Kobe's antics, or is sick of getting hacked more than any other NBA player. (His customary, ongoing complaints in this area had begun to be ignored, so he thoughtfully dropped a couple of f-bombs into live microphones to get everyone's attention.) About the only thing I don't like about Shaq is his law and order fetishism, which is the opposite of vain, in some respects.

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