FanPost

Rant Alert: Why Watching This Spectacular NBA Finals Upsets Me Greatly

Or, maybe more accurately, why I can't read or watch any coverage of this year's finals without being terribly disappointed and why the result (regardless of what it is) will leave me feeling empty and/or bored.

Let's start with the obvious--ESPN's NBA coverage is just unbelievably bad.  Bucher and Simmons in particular are unreadable on the subject, but nearly everyone is awful, and I can't find anything substantially better out there.  That means that I watch these Finals on mute and don't read about them or talk to many people afterward.  This is mostly the Heat's fault.  The polarizing nature of the Heat has led to some of the most obnoxious reactions to any sporting events in my memory.  It sort of makes me want to cry.

Normally, I don't mind when a team gets a healthy dose of sports hate.  I enjoy it as much as the next person when the Yankees and Lakers fail, for no valid reason, I want to spit in random Chelsea players' faces (especially John Terry), even though, in real life, I don't think I could muster up enough disdain to even yell "you suck!" at a stranger who happens to play for a team I can't stand.  Real life and sports aren't the same.  I don't feel that way about the Heat, but completely understand why other people do.  They're immensely hateable.  It makes sense to me, and is making any real conversations about basketball difficult.  As soon as you mention anyone who plays for the Heat (or Derrick Rose), hyperbole and psychological dissections inevitably take place and the whole point of the conversation is gone.  You aren't talking about basketball anymore, you're talking about fandom.  And all that is usually fine, I tend to love those sorts of conversations, but here's the problem--this is probably the most interesting time to watch basketball ever.  Or at least close to it.

There's the obvious reason for this--superstars and so-called superstars teaming up--and for me, a secondary reason: the real deal superstars we do have defy what we want a superstar to be, which is super interesting in its own right.  If you asked me who the three best players in the NBA are right now, without hesitation, I'd tell you LeBron, Dwight and CP3.  This makes this year's playoffs a bad time to be me.  LeBron no-showed in Game 4.  Dwight got eliminated by a crappy Hawks team.  CP3 only gets six games to remind people just how great he is, and then, a week later, we can't talk about him because his supporting cast isn't anywhere near good enough to help him through to the promised land.  On top of all that, all of these guys fail the media's testicles test.  We don't think of them as crunch time scorers (not players, scoring is all the counts in the clutch), and therefore, they must be called failures.  I'm not going to bother talking about the notion of clutch here, because what's way more interesting to me is the fact that these guys are all role-players gone wild.  

CP3 is a lights out three point shooter and an incredible floor general.  But he's never going to score like Durant does.  Howard is one of the best defensive players I've ever seen, runs the floor and would be an absolute monster if they ever pair him with a pick and roll point guard.  But he's never going to perfect his own Dream Shake (and as a result, when he's singlehandedly keeping the Magic in games against Atlanta, Bill Simmons will derisively point out that Shaq would have scored 60 a game on them).  And then there's LeBron.  LeBron gets ridiculed for being Scottie Pippen, which he sort of is, as long as you threw plenty of Magic Johnson into that Scottie mold.  If in, say, the year 2000, you asked people how good of a player a "Scottie meets Magic" hybrid would be, you'd have to assume that people would say that he'd be one of the best players ever to lace 'em up.  And LeBron still might be, but we're too busy dwelling on that stupid parade the Heat threw before the season started and complaining that he's not MJ.  I don't see why we should even want another MJ, Scottie meets Magic is a pretty damn amazing to watch player, and I don't necessarily think that having a guy as good as Mike is the best thing for the league.  Having breathtaking to watch, imperfect superstars is way more fun.  And of course, a seven foot scoring dynamo is one game away from winning this year's Finals MVP.

Dallas isn't as good as Miami.  I don't know many people who would argue the contrary, but they shot the lights out in what could prove to be the series deciding game, and picked up two of the most bizarre Finals wins I can remember.  The Heat should have swept the Mavs, but LeBron decided that Game 4 wasn't important, and in Game 2, the whole team decided that a 17 point lead meant that the game was over, and decided to throw a "wind the clock down and shoot bad jumpers" party.  Those parties suck.  Credit to the Mavs for winning those games and showing the determination necessary to beat a superior opponent, and it's certainly made this series way more fun to watch than I expected it to be, so in that sense I'm glad.  But in another sense, watching this Finals has left me with the feeling that no matter who wins, I lose.  The Heat are the better story, have the sort of superstar that I love to root for and I like watching them play more than the Mavs, so I guess, superficially I want them to win, but in the back of my mind, I know that they could rattle off 4 in a row and usher in an abrupt end to this dramatic, tense, incredible era of basketball.  And if the Mavs win, I'll have to hear about why LeBron sucks and will never win a title (even though, on that Heat team, he's bound to win a couple), and why anyone who thinks he's great is an idiot.  I guess the best case scenario for me is for the Heat to win, then Dwight and CP3 team up somewhere in the west and give me amazing finals to watch for years to come.  Somehow, I don't see that happening, and I'm stuck with the sinking feeling that this high water moment for my NBA viewing life is about to wash my little barrel over Niagara Falls.  Oh well, it's been a great ride.

EDIT:  Quick addition, what creeps me out most about the reactions to the Heat is the schadenfreude.  I can't remember a time when people were so gleeful about a team's failures.  I've always hated the Lakers, and in the elimination blowouts against Dallas, and the Celts in '08, I was thrilled to watch it happen, but after the game, I wasn't delighted that they blew it.  Usually the feeling was more like relief than anything else, and I was usually just as excited about watching someone else succeed (moreso with the Celts, where I may or may not have gotten misty eyed during the "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE" interview).  The worst thing about the Heat is that they're probably going to turn LeBron James into the biggest "What if?" in the history of the sport.  They gave us a glimpse of what he could be at his best (a distributor and defensive monster with enough scoring juice to carry a team in a lot of games, but works best with an elite scorer), while preventing him from reaching that potential (Wade is just too ball-dominant for LeBron to reach his peak as a distributor, and Bosh is keeping him from playing the smallball point-forward spot that he should be).  So, while I'm disappointed that I won't see the ultimate LeBron James, most of the world is thrilled that he's failing to reach his potential.  I hate that.

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