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

Which brings us to your tirade against boorish, vain NBA players. All I can say is, you pay people eight-figure salaries and you get vanity. Who's got their shit together better, Kevin Garnett or Barry Bonds? Tim Duncan or Tom Cruise? Jermaine O'Neal or Ray Lewis? Peja Stojakovic, Ben Wallace, and Tracy McGrady, or three high-profile citizens from whatever sport, boardroom, or music studio you want to choose? Don't be so reactionary.

Last but not least, another reason to like the Lakers--Phil Jackson. Any North Dakota grad who embraces Zen, motivated Dennis Rodman into the finest seasons of his career, gets the likes of Jordan and Shaq to say they'll retire if they can't play for him, and is currently living in sin with the owner's daughter is okay with me.

--Britt Robson, 6:39 p.m. Tuesday, April 20

 

Yeah, I've Rooted for Shaq Over the Years, and Not Just Because He's Cross-Eyed and He's Got a Girl's Name.

 

One of my proudest achievements as an adult is having picked up a rudimentary understanding of test cricket. It's a game of surpassing, even brilliant, boringness and I dare say I'm one of only a few thousand native-born American citizens who can follow its soporific plotlines. Though it's not nearly as arcane as its bastard colonial son, baseball, it's every bit as silly. Without giving away too many of cricket's occult nuances, I would roughly compare it to an interminable round of batting practice where the pitcher can't bend his arm, the base runners only move when they feel like it, and there's scant incentive to hit anything but ground balls.

Cricket's classic "five-day test" has the serial rhythm and pacing of one of the longer Philip Glass operas, with daily tea breaks thrown in. What is most profoundly perverse (or perversely profound?) about test cricket is that a goodly number of these epic, "first-class" contests, perhaps even a majority, end in a draw--five days having passed without both sides having finished their at-bat. Talk about sport being a metaphor for life: You do the same stupid thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over (I didn't cut and paste a single word of that, by the way) and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over (O.K.: now I did) and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, and at times it feels momentous and at times you're clearly going through the motions and at the end of it all you haven't won or lost anything. You're pretty much exactly where you started.

Would I be exaggerating any to say that a five-day cricket test is more dramatic than the NBA's seven-game, first-round playoffs?

Which is to say, Steve, that I agree with you wholeheartedly that the current NBA schedule is more bloated and grotesque and essentially farcical than Liza Minelli's last few bed partners. Life is a cabaret old chum: Give the goddamn eight seed a chance for an upset in a best-of-three battle. If you need to drain the fans' teats like a BGH-treated cow, go with a best of five.

Hey, let's make a deal: I could almost stand a seven-game series that would start and finish in, say, eight or nine days. (Israel used to win wars in that amount of time!) But with the constant two-day breaks between games, the fan's enthusiasm goes from a post-game boil, to a simmer, to a slow bubble, to a...wait, did I have something on the stove? No? Hold on: They're still playing NBA basketball and I already missed the whole croquet season?Well, maybe I'll just stick my head in the oven.

To look at the question from both sides, maybe the problem is that David Stern hasn't booked in enough downtime. How about a single playoff game every December? It worked for the Lord of the Rings thrillogy, right?

On the subject of evil empires, rooting for Shaq, my friend Jon once said, is sort of like pulling for NATO. True enough. But then I pulled for NATO in Kosovo a few years back and I haven't regretted it for a moment. (Everyone likes to say that European big men are good passers, but that Milosevic really didn't want to share the rock, did he?) So yeah, I've rooted for Shaq over the years and not just because he's cross-eyed and he's got a girl's name.

In his prime--which, alas, is waning--the man could probably have gone from first to third faster than Barry Bonds. I'd probably still take him in the 40 over half the Vikings' nickel package. And his sheer scale can only be compared to certain geographical landmarks on the Western side of Continental Divide. A few of the bigger rock masses in Monument Valley come to mind. My favorite Shaq quote came from an opposing coach who reported having felt a sense of dread when he couldn't see his center standing behind the man.

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