A funny thing happened Saturday night: I turned on the TV and there wasn’t an NBA game. Does that mean the Finals are over? Fury and I couldn’t stand to watch after the Hollywood Heat took a 3-games-to-1 lead in the series.
OK, maybe we did watch. We just wish we hadn’t … or that the outcome had been different. Then again, perhaps I’m speaking out of turn. We’re about to find out as TV and Fury rehash the end of the NBA season.
TV: Even before the final horn sounded, LeBron James was being heralded as a changed man, both as a player and a person. He helped perpetuate this in a post-game interview, saying that playing angry and losing in the Finals last year was humbling and inspired him to grow. A few hours later, he wore to a club a shirt adorned with a giant picture of his own face …
And this is my problem with LeBron and myself.
I was a LeBron fan during his time in Cleveland (so much as anyone who has never bought a ticket to see him play or purchased any merchandise can claim to be a fan). But he turned me off with The Decision – the TV show part, not the decision to sign with another team – and then turned me against him with The Celebration. His actions struck me as more insulting than innocently arrogant. I’m not going to rejoin the King James Club now that he has won a title, even though it’s apparent he genuinely did change (for the better) his approach to championship-level contests. Instead, I’m now in the corner of Thunder star Kevin Durant. Why? Because I love his unique game, his professionalism and his demeanor. Wait. What?
On one hand, I believe that athletes should be lauded for their performances rather than their beliefs; in the TMZ Era, we know enough to know that they’re as flawed as the rest of us. Frankly, it’s highly unlikely Michael Jordan would be as revered as he is if he had been around in the 24-hour news cycle. So it’s hypocritical to like Durant in part because he seems virtuous, while despising LeBron for taking a different approach. Yet I can’t … quite … bring myself … to put … down … that … idea.
Perhaps it’s acceptable to, say, admire the approach that Durant appears to take to his craft without putting him on an unrealistic pedestal.
FURY: I think it took until the Heat actually won the title before I knew exactly what I feared before they won it. The overreaction. It started with Jon Barry on the ESPN postgame. To be fair, I shouldn’t take Jon Barry’s proclamations seriously. But still. He babbled about how LeBron’s ring now meant he was basically an equal with Michael Jordan. This led Magic Johnson to say, no, he wasn’t, and then Magic added that Kobe Bryant wasn’t close to Jordan either. By the time the Finals actually ended I was fine with LeBron winning a title. He is amazing. He did dominate. He looked happy. The Heat earned the title. But in today’s world, everything has to be exaggerated, when players are struggling and when they’re dominating. And with the Heat’s victory, we had to talk about LeBron’s place in history and whether he’s better than Kobe (historically; no one doubts who’s better today), Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt, everyone. Let LeBron enjoy his title, let the Heat enjoy theirs. Let’s appreciate their victory for what it is.
On a side note, this brings up the dreaded – and hated – Michael Jordan argument. Why must everything still be compared to him? How did we denigrate players before Jordan won a title in 1991? What did we say before we could say, “Yeah, but he’s no Jordan?” Or did we appreciate players for what they were, not what they were not (Hoosiers). Instead of appreciating LeBron, Wade, Durant, Kobe and everyone else who’s come along since Jordan evolved from great player to terrible executive, we compare them to a guy who, as incredible as he was, actually did have some flaws.
Then again … Jordan never lost two Finals.
Also, TV…can you erase the podcast where I confidently said Thunder in 6? Thanks.
TV: Barry also overreacted against the Heat earlier, saying during the Celtics series that they didn’t have championship intangibles.
As a working journalist, I’m not going to excuse the hyperbole – it’s short-sighted, at best. But I do sort of understand why it happens. Folks are required to feed the beast that is the 24-hour news cycle, leaving them with basically two options: Dissect the hell out of a game and risk drowning viewers/readers in Xs and Os or spin things forward and react to both possible outcomes. The best track is probably somewhere in the middle.
Getting back to the series itself, I’m of the mind that James plus Wade was pretty much equal to Durant plus Westbrook. The difference was the supporting cast. Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller (SoDak in the house) had monster games in consecutive outings, while OKC didn’t get a single above-average performance after what James Harden did in Game 1 – not coincidentally, its only win of the series. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosa each had star-caliber stretches against San Antonio and were unable to duplicate that against the Heat.
Why not? Because NBA teams historically build up to a title run, advancing a round further each year. (And, yes, there are exceptions.) In the end, things turned out the way many thought they would at the start of the lockout-shortened season: OKC proved to be a year away and the Heat earned the title that seemed inevitable.
FURY: James Harden just dribbled the ball of his foot again.
Harden’s performance was the most shocking of the series and probably the most important. Really, LeBron did what he’s done since about 2006 as far as the numbers go (with exceptions like last year’s Finals). Wade – perhaps the most annoying player in the NBA at this point, what with his whining, constant collapsing on every call and subtly dirty tactics – wasn’t what he was in 2006 but is still outstanding. Bosh played solid defense. Battier, Chalmers and Miller had some ridiculous games but you do expect role players at some point to perform above expectations. But Harden was simply terrible. This year people talked about him being a max contract guy. Now? After the indecision, the bricks, the turnovers, the charges, the foul trouble and the unkempt beard that’s charming when you’re playing well but unhygienic and creepy when you’re not? He might still be a max contract guy but it might be one of those deals where people go, “Can you believe this guy makes that much money?” Maybe he just had his one bad series and he will become a true superstar. But if he had played up to expectations, I think OKC wins.
And you’re right about it going the way many predicted months ago. It’s sort of remarkable that by the time the Finals rolled around the Heat had somehow transformed into an underdog. Not a lovable one, but still an underdog. And that’s pretty ridiculous, but is perhaps one reason that, as the series wore on, you saw more people giving some love to the Heat.
TV, on Twitter you had some complaints about officiating, I believe, at certain points of the series, complaints that had you calling out the entire NBA. Care to elaborate?
TV: I won’t be subject to any sort of fine and/or mob hit, will I? Does David Stern rule over the blog world?
Three of the four Miami wins came down to the last minute, meaning a play here or there may have determined the game. Let me preface this by saying that Miami was without question the more clutch team in addition to getting more out of its supporting cast. However, OKC had several really tough calls go against it in those nip-and-tuck contests, to the point where it at least made you wonder if the veteran team was getting the benefit of the doubt, one of the many long-standing conspiracies regarding the NBA.
Of note, the botched goaltending that gave two points to Miami (not only was the shot tipped by Durant on its way up, it was arguably under the rim when Ibaka touched it.) There was another non-foul call that really bothered me, but it escapes my feeble mind at this point. (How’s that for making a strong case?) Foul calls – like Durant not being sent to the line late in Game 2 and then being forced to sit on a play with less contact that turned Game 3 – are one thing. But you have to get the other stuff right. If we can all see a clear mistake on TV with a simple replay, you better get it right on the floor … even if that means instituting a replay. Maybe you make more plays reviewable in the Finals than during the rest of the season.
Don’t get me wrong: NBA officials have borderline impossible jobs. Players are bigger and faster than ever yet the court size hasn’t changed. As reader Rich Jensen pointed out, maybe it’s time to add a fourth official (provided he or she is good, of course). At the moment, the NBA has fewer officials per player than the three other major sports.
Again, that didn’t decide the series, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the Thunder might have forced the series back to OKC if even just a couple plays were called differently.
FURY: And the flagrant foul call on Fisher in the final game was perhaps the worst call in basketball outside of anything involving the 1972 Gold Medal game. It was close to being a charge. Instead a flagrant. Now, it was already a 14-point game at that point and the result inevitable but that was bad. As was the no-call in Game 2 and Durant’s fouls in Game 3.
One of the big takeaways from the series is that we could see this same matchup next year and the year after. Who will challenge either team next season? The Bulls have to wait for Derrick Rose to return. Indiana is still a nice team without a superstar. The Celtics will probably bring back their Big 3 and they’ll struggle at some point and then get hot and everyone will think they can win it all again and they’ll win a playoff series and then eventually crumble. And in the West? The Spurs will be good again but if they couldn’t beat the Thunder this year, what will it be like next season? The Lakers? Only if they somehow land Deron Williams. Same with the Mavs. Grizzlies underachieved this season. Clippers need another stud.
The good news is these were entertaining Finals, even if the final result disappointed everyone outside of the white-shirted bandwagoners in Miami.
So we’ll probably be back here next year, recapping another Thunder-Heat meteorological Finals.
And I just have a feeling about that series. Thunder in 6.