Game 3 thoughts here. I haven’t posted my feelings on game 1 and 2 but those are sooo last week. So let’s get on with my feelings on the series thus far.
– its been fascinating to see the public clamor over a Lebron James vs. Kevin Durant Finals when it’s merely a subplot. It’s a subplot to the bigger picture of Lebron’s career which includes validating his greatness with championship trophies that he promised the citizens of Miami the moment the “big 3” came. James is the biggest star and the villain once again in his third trip to the Finals and second in the black and red of the Miami Heat uniform. This is his second consecutive trip to the Finals and yet he by himself has earned the Yankee treatment: anything short of a championship trophy would be a failure. The pressure put on his shoulders makes us, those hoping Lebron fulfills his destiny- Star Wars style- the ridiculously overbearing parent who chides his child whenever he does something wrong. Who ridicules him when he misses a key free throw in the late stages. Who scream obscenities at him when he passes the ball to a teammate who is surprised by the pass because of his own expectation of Lebron. It’s a fascinating case study on the way we root for the best players in the game.
It’s interesting personally for me, who grew up bitter during Michael’s spectacular run through the NBA Finals during the 90’s because he made it his personal mission in life to eliminate the Knicks. Little did I know that he made it his mission in life to destroy everyone who stood in his way.
As I grew up and got older my feelings about Jordan changed. Age had brought me wisdom I suppose but it brought me perspective. My eyes were more open to the other Jordan. The brand. The shoes. The sheer greatness that I had witnessed and never got to relish because when you’re young you don’t appreciate shit unless your team wins. I couldn’t like Jordan. My blue and orange blood wouldn’t allow it. Of course that wisdom hasn’t allowed me to appreciate Pat Riley after he left since he continues to stick it to the Knicks even a decade later.
But now I look at Lebron and see a lot of the animus and bias I had when watching Jordan come to fruition in the shape of Lebron James. Yes, his story is far different from the glorified Michael Jordan years, but the NBA is still the same: market the heck out of the biggest star. Hope he makes good decisions and leverage the player’s greatness to global branding profits. More than any other sport: basketball markets the crap out of its players and makes no apology off profiting from that. The lesson here: we’re gonna make money off you, if you want to make money you’re more than welcome to.
And alot of the financial cache translates to on court favoritism. Though it was said in jest, the Jordan rules were very real. Ask Byron Russell how much of Jordan’s game 6 final shot in a Bulls uniform was push off and how much was good basketball move. Much of it is still alive in Lebron. He is now the financial cash cow that the league exploits and in turn allows to play under a different set of rules.
To say the referee missed the call standing five feet away in game 2 would be tough enough but throughout the playoffs the instances of favoritism are too numerous to mention. The argument then becomes: isn’t that what is supposed to happen? Shouldn’t superstars get favoritism anyway? Yes, but then how do you reconcile Kevin Durants foul woes? My favorite response is: Durant hasn’t paid his dues. Why? Because he’s 23? Is he pledging a fraternity? Is he climbing the corporate ladder? Perhaps he is. Maybe this is his rite of passage. Durant is only going to enter his prime in 4 years which should also begin Lebron’s decline. A perfect passing of the refereeing baton and the NBA’s full scale global push.
So this series isn’t just Lebron vs Durant, it’s the NBA doing what it does best: putting its star in a position to shine; he need merely to take the baton and run with it.
– The biggest loser here is Russell Westbrook. The Heat’s biggest problem these last two years has been its inability to figure out its power chart. Lebron came to Wade’s team. Lebron is the better player so why isn’t he the defacto leader? So I found Dwayne Wade’s admission that he was in fact deferring to Lebron as a calculated moment of catharsis. No superstar of Wade’s ilk admits that without there being some deeper motive behind it. And usually it’s organizationally endorsed. It tells me more about Lebron and how sensitive he is to the question than anything.
So why is Westbrook the loser? Because he wants to be the man. He is physically gifted enough to be fooled into thinking he could be the man. But it’s so clear that Kevin Durant is the man. Westbrook is in a lose lose situation. Shoot and miss and feel the wrath of a fan base that ONLY wants you to pass to the other guy. Shoot and make it and the fans are just happy they got away with it. It’s a thankless job for one of the game’s brightest young stars.
It will be interesting how deep the emotional scar will be if the Thunder lose this series. This is clearly Kevin Durant’s team and their success will ultimately be at his feet while it’s failure will be laid at the footstool of the point guard who refuses to subjugate himself to the amazing powers of Kevin Durant. How long will Westbrook carry the baggage of being a lackey? Will he yearn to be the man somewhere? He’s been playing good sport for a while now but it’s clear he wants to be the hero and who knows if sometime in the future it leads to discord and a request to be traded. Its not inconceivable.
Remember also that James Harden emerged as a better secondary option than Westbrook who is miscast as a point guard. The looming decision of whether to sign Harden to an extension could mean that Westbrook has to take a backseat even more.
Which is why as important as this championship is for the future of the Miami Heat, it could be equally important to the future of the Thunder.
– Scotty Brooks rejecting a 3 year $11 million extension seems bizarre given Sam Presti’s ability to get the best deal at the end of the day. The gears in my brain started working and I put Phil Jackson’s recent comments regarding the Knicks and rejuvenation his chance to re enter the fray as a coach. His penchant for entering already established teams is well known. What about the triangle for OKC? It’s a nice thought but lets be honest: Phil would have to take a pay cut to come to OKC. I don’t see Presti handing out a contract upwards of $40 million to a coach approaching 80 but we know Phil’s ability of handling egos and managing young talent and bringing it all together to win a championship. Apart from the Laker job, I can’t see any other job catching his interest. Miami makes sense purely from a basketball point of view but he and Pat Riley don’t seem be a good fit. Riley would take over that team before Phil ever came to town.
I believe he had real interest in the Knick job but given James Dolans lack of common sense being a huge deterrent to winning championships rather than box office I believe Phil will stay away. I think it was in poor taste for Jackson, not to say what he said but to say it the way he did. Calling them clumsy seems more like a personal attack on the regime than the players. Saying Carmelo is a ball stopper or that Amar’e and he don’t fit are not moments of epiphany for Knick fans. This is something we painfully found out despite suspending our common sense over a season. Thats just sour grapes over the Knicks not even giving uncle Phil a courtesy call. That was admittedly dumb on the Knicks part but my suspicion is that the Knicks went cheap and refused to give Phil his money. The cheap shot may be Phil’s way of further driving up his price and letting the Knicks know: thanks but no thanks. Which is what he could’ve done from the beginning but…..