For the first time in three months I have become re-acquainted with a transcendent, yet fleeting, joy. 2011 has been an arduous year – marred by illness, betrayal and a celibacy so painful even the carnage of a car wreck elicits an erection. As with all other depressives and ambulatory disappointments, I buried myself in sports (including golf) to escape the pain, the NBA proved particularly helpful.
I became so invested in the recently concluded season I would have thrown myself from a bridge and into the rocky shore of the Bow River if the Lakers or the Heat won the NBA Championship. I was certain this would happen. David Stern could not possibly allow a playoffs to unfold without his paws yanking the levers to ensure a profitable outcome. Maybe he did, but this time – the first time since Chicago ran through the 1990s – I was on the right side. As my face broke into a foreign smile while LeBron James hid under the basketball for the 3rd straight game (like an obese child picked last and hoping to endure the game without drawing attention to his club feet and sweaty jowls) I ran to the computer and wrote down my thoughts on this joyous series.
Calm down everyone (the three people who read this blog). I know you think it’s Kobe Bryant, if for no other reason than you’ve been told it over and over by commentators who I’m sure do not watch games. NBA analysis operates under a hive Borg mentality – if someone had dropped a load of semen into their CPU and rolled it down a flight of stairs. They’re stupid and if one person forms an opinion (particularly if it conforms to the NBA’s wishes) the rest will follow. Because Bryant had the pleasure of playing with one of the top 3 Centers of all-time and picked up three titles with him, we have to bend the conversation to fit around the notion Kobe is a great “winner”, defender and clutch scoring (despite what the evidence says). When one throws away the championships and looks at the numbers, it becomes clear that Wade has clearly performed at a higher level the past several years. Take a look at these stats from the 2008-09 season to 2010-11:
Wade: 27.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.2 APG. 1.8 SPG, 1.2 BPG on 49% shooting
Bryant: 26.4/4.9/5.2/1.4/0.3 on 46% shooting
Bear in mind, Bryant won two championships in that period. Analysts would love you to think he won those by himself ignoring he played with 2 of the best 7 big men in the league, the best coach of all-time and the best 6th man of that period. Wade played with a squad that would not make a Canadian junior high school team. Let’s remember that when Kobe played with a similar caliber of teammate, the Lakers went 121-125 and won a total of 4 playoff games over three seasons.
For those who think I cherry-picked those numbers to discredit Kobe (who I apparently hate) because Kobe’s career numbers blow Wade’s out the water think again.
Wade: 25/6/5 on .485/.292/.769
Bryant: 25/5/5 on .454/.339/.837
2. LeBron has the maturity of a 14-year old boy who won the lottery
Why do we expect better from a man who has been coddled, protected, exploited and enabled since before he sprouted his first pube ? The media and blogosphere had a collective seizure when he told reporters he didn’t care what others thought of him because his life was better than theirs or when he took to Twitter to blame God for losing in the biggest series of his life. There is something vexing about a man who played as frightened and complacent as he did – for the second year in a row by the way – and having him turn around to say it wasn’t his fault. But when you think about it, when has anything ever been his fault. He hasn’t been held responsible for anything in 15 years so it’s normal that he continues to look for things outside of himself to blame.
3. Reverse Racism in the NBA
Much like the racial undercurrent with black quarterbacks in the NFL disguised by buzzwords such as “slow reading defenses”, “lacks focus”, “requires simplified offense” meaning he’s a dumb black man who can run fast and throw hard, the NBA labels every white player as “soft” whether they fit the bill or not. The most notable case is Dirk Nowitzki who, despite making the ’06 Finals and being cheated out of a championship by Stern and his army of referees, has been followed around by a softness tag. Most will point to the 2007 playoffs where Nowitzki played atrociously (19.7 ppg on 38% shooting) and saw his number one-seeded team ousted in six games by the Golden State Warriors. Most star players (aside from LeBron James) are awarded a bad series. Kobe (who it really looks like I’m picking on this article) has played badly himself:
- vs. Detroit Pistons 2004 NBA Finals: 22.6 PPG on 38% shooting. Lost in five.
- vs. Boston Celtics 2008 NBA Finals: 25.6 PPG on 40% shooting. Lost in six.
But because Bryant has spent upwards of 20 hours perfecting his “playoff grimace” we consider him a fierce competitor.
4. The 2011 Playoffs were the first in a decade not to be rigged
Since I began watching basketball seriously, David Stern has had his hands in every relevant series. At any point one of the more lucrative NBA teams were in danger of losing to a small market team the refs would begin making odd phantom calls, allowing LeBron to take as many steps as needed to reach the rim, no-calls, scoreboards being run off or frozen depending on the situation Some of the more egregious offenders:
- The Lakers against Sacramento in ’02 and Portland in ’00
- Miami against Dallas in the ’06 Finals
- Cleveland vs. the Wizards for two straight years, vs. Orlando in the ’09 ECF, basically any series LeBron has played in
- Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee in the ’01 ECF
Stern’s influence loomed like a spectre you could feel but never see. You knew the Lakers were going to make the Finals and that LeBron or Boston would meet them. It was pointless to watch. Is it surprising that in the first unrigged year we had a relatively fresh last couple rounds?
5. I like watching unpleasant people fail
I won’t lie to you all and say I like LeBron. As a matter of fact I dislike him as much as anyone I’ve never met. Wade, I respect, but it turns out that throughout these playoffs, he’s kind of a douche too. These two are like the Sweet Valley High sisters. They bring out the worst in each other. It’s like having two kids who are tolerable apart but once together they bring out each other’s worse, most petty traits. I wanted them to fail. Sure, I like Dallas mildly, I respect Dirk, think he is one of the most underrated players in the media’s eyes due to his skin and terrible interview skills, but my true desire was to see Miami fail. They represent a lot of what I don’t like about the league: the gloating when out in front and the subsequent indignation once their premature cockiness turns around to bite them in the ass; scrubs like Mario Chalmers talking trash while his team is losing. This new breed of player I can’t get behind. Whiny, self-absorbed, self-entitled, half cocky half insecure, front running , flopping players make up a big portion of the league and I want them to fail. What kind of person does that make me?
6. Chris Bosh has become one of the most underrated players in the NBA
While LeBron played so poorly I often thought I had been ensnared in Skip Bayless’ wet dream – a Andy Kaufman-esque absurdity – Bosh, All-Star, part-time gay model and sensitive, was the most dependable Heat player on the floor. Whereas, Wade and LeBron’s games are uneven (brilliance followed up by inexplicable erraticism) Bosh played consistently good at all times, hitting some key shots in the series. Naturally, Wade and Bron actively tried to keep the ball out of his hands. You would think that with LeBron swinging the ball to anyone in a white jersey, that several would have landed in Bosh’s hands. And you’d be wrong. Throughout the season, Bosh went from All-Star, double-double machine to soft outcast who did not belong in the rarefied sphere of James and Wade. Check his stats. Though he plays uninvolved, frightened and seemingly allergic to any contact, he was a big reason they escaped the previous two rounds so comfortably. He destroyed Boozer and alternated between terrified (when Garnett was on him) to dominant (when Doc inexplicable tossed out one of the 5 worst players in the NBA, Jeff Green).
7. LeBron James doesn’t have the basketball skillset to be great
Quick; tell me how many times you’ve seen LeBron execute a crossover. Or pull up for a jumpshot when the lane was clogged. A spin move? A behind the back dribble? How many times has he set up on the block when defended by a 40-year-old man, six inches shorter and 60 lbs lighter? It’s a trick question. Never because LeBron doesn’t know how to execute any of these moves. He’s a singular talent driving to the rim, although I find it a crime to the game of basketball when forced to watch 48 minutes of him ducking his head like a bull and bulldozing into the lane, his off hand pushing his defender out of the way, before taking five steps and for an easy layup. It’s the most baffling thing that a man with very few basketball skills is so athletic and strong that he has won two MVP awards without them. What happens when he decides to work on it? I have an erection just thinking about how good he could be.