By Carmichael Dave / KHTK
As of this writing, we are well into the second round of the NBA playoffs.
The Pacers have command of their series, as do the Heat and the Spurs. The Clips/OKC series is still up for grabs.
What’s interesting to me, however, is the multiple storylines available for all remaining teams, with the exception of perhaps Portland.
Let’s break down each, rating them on how good the made-for-tv-movie would end up being if each team won the title.
Portland (Ishtar, Draft Day, Mac and Me): Portland is the least sexy, thus the lame movie comparisons. Their main stars are Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Both fine, but they don’t really jump out at you. Plus, the franchise as a whole is just kind of THERE.
Key Plotlines: A return to prominence for a team in the Pacific Northwest. Two young stars in Lillard and Aldridge. But most of all, overcoming the bust that was Greg Oden (drawing the inevitable Bowie/Jordan and Oden/Durant comparisons). Winning it all in the same year, a guy you passed on for Oden wins the MVP and gives his own personal win for the Gipper/Lou Gehrig/I guarantee you the terrorists hear me speech would be pretty cool. But still, meh.
Wizards (Wildcats, Major League, Signs): Their story won’t win any Oscars, but its still pretty damn entertaining. Nene has decided to do his once-every-four-years appearance;John Wall was actually healthy for longer than 34 minutes, and Bradley Beal is becoming the heir apparent to Ray Allen. Couple that with the fact that they drafted Otto Porter with the third pick in the draft, and it’s kinda neat.
Otto Porter has contributed slightly more than Natalie Portman to the Wiz this year. Yet they find themselves in the the elite 8.
But beyond all that, it’s the WIZARDS. They suck. Every year. The fondest memories my generation has of the Wiz are that they used to be called the Bullets, and one time Gilbert Arenas pulled a gun on like 300 people in the locker room or something. Seriously, they perennially suck. It would be nice to get a different-than-usual franchise fitted for a ring. But, this is the NBA, so no shot.
Nets (Old Yeller, Cocoon, Where the Red Fern Grows): If the Nets were to win it all, it SHOULD be an amazing story. Remember how Jason Kidd was a statue on the sidelines? Remember the blowup and reassignment of Lawrence Frank, who used to coach the coach? Remember the 1-39 start (approximately)?
That’s ancient history pallywog. These ain’t your Daddy’s Nets, or even…..well…..your Nets around December. The roster is old, and in retrospect perhaps they were saving themselves for the playoffs. Yeah.
On top of Pierce and Garnett getting another ring, and D-Will getting his first, its also the NETS. Talk about suckitude. The last few decades they’ve been on par with the Clips, except for that tiny little stretch when they were led by their current coach, and were swept aside by the Lakers back in 2002.
And hey! Jason Collins!!! C’mon, the first openly gay player in the NBA raising the trophy?? The networks would probably break at that point in an effort to find the right gay-music and gay-montage, rather than just doing the right thing and celebrating him as a player. Who cares if he’s the first openly-NBA player in the gay community?
But in the end, the movie gets a thumbs-sideways because of their uber billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. He’s weird. And the Jay-Z thing is still weird. And they changed unis and moved to Brooklyn. And they’re not the Knicks. They’re like some zombie-trendy team that happens to have the name Nets.
Pacers (Youngblood, Bloodsport, Mighty Ducks): It’s Indiana!! The spiritual home of basketball, still seemingly trying to recover from the Artest Melee after all these years. Larry Bird overseeing everything, and the unassuming Frank Vogel just being, well, all Indiana-ey. They’re great!
Paul George was once upon a time an MVP candidate. David West is the consummate pro. Lance Stephenson looks like he’s ready to take the crazy/not crazy torch from Ron-Ron. In a weird way, the Pacers seem like an Eastern Conference version of the Spurs.
And then there’s Roy Hibbert.
Charismatic. An all-star. 7 foot 2. And like that, he was gone.
Something happened to Hibbert along the way, and the next thing we knew, he was in the middle of a slump for the ages. No, this wasn’t even a slump. More of a hunch and slouch. A slunch.
I cannot remember the last time I saw a player so thoroughly disappear without one or more of the following issues:
- Throwing a game
- A family member taken hostage
The Pacers went from the best team in basketball, the team set to Beat the Heat, to near worm food. Their series with the Hawks was like a classic boxing match. The champion boxer wins round after round after round, but all of a sudden a haymaker out of nowhere threatens everything, and the champ finds himself holding on for dear life.
That’s what the Pacers did. They held off the KO punch, even though they were BADLY staggered. A Game 7 wake up from Hibbert himself was the only thing saving them from joining the Sonics in the “One seed loses to Eight seed” Hall of Shame.
Now the Pacers are up 3-1 on a Wizards team that took one in Indy, only to lose the next two home games. Hibbert seems to have found his way. A small market team, with a redeemed big man, run by Larry Bird? I’d take that storyline.
The Spurs (Count of Monte Cristo, Grapes of Wrath, Gone With The Wind):
Oh, San Antonio. You pack of oldies but goodies. The sad thing is, I’m almost 39, which is older than any of the big 3. Yet to me, it seems like they’re 100 years old a piece. Hell, Tony Parker is barely in his 30s . But yes, they’re old. And good.
The Spurs play basketball the way it should be played. Good D. Unselfish. Team first. The franchise, top to bottom, is class. They’re what the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans crow about being, except the Spurs actually do it, without caring whether you care or not.
A one team town in the middle of Texas. And they’ve had the best run in the history of the NBA. It’s hard to remember when sports talk fatties actually wondered if the Spurs dynasty ended when David Robinson retired. Yet, here we are.
Truthfully, they deserve it. A Ray Allen dagger last year was all that stood between them and another title. The Heat seized it from the jaws of defeat, and for once the Spurs actually let up in the end.
Best power forward of all-time? Check
Best coach of all-time? Check
Best sixth man of all time? Check
Revenge factor 1000? Check
Seeing the best franchise in all of sports ride off into the sunset would be a great story, albeit a semi-boring one. But the Spurs are one of those wine-teams; their legend will only increase over time.
Heat (Wizard of Oz, Dr. Zhivago, Terms of Endearment): Now we’re getting into higher ground. There’s really not much to break down here. The three amigos. Going to with title after title after title. It’s funny; for the entire season we’ve all been paying attention to the “other” teams. But there’s Miami.
Didn’t get the top seed? No big deal.
Greatest first round ever, filled with drama everywhere? Heat sweep. Yawn.
With the possible opting-out of Lebron, who the hell knows with Wade, and who the hell cares with Bosh looming, this may be the last hurrah of the first real salary cap created dynasty. Durant aside, if the NBA started over from scratch, no one passes on King James with the top pick. That’s just the way it is.
So while we write articles about storylines and feel-good stories, there lies the Heat, like a lioness hunting a gazelle. It all makes too much sense, which is why it would almost be disappointing outside of South Florida for the Heat to prevail.
The Thunder (Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Braveheart): Memphis pushed them to the brink. If Zach Randolph doesn’t remember that he’s a dummy, and if Mike Conley isn’t on one leg, Kevin Durant may have received his MVP trophy at home. But that’s not what happened.
They ran into the Clippers, and promptly lost their first game (at home nonetheless). Then the speech of all speeches happened, and this hasn’t been the same team since.
We live in a time where athletes are prepackaged. They get sponsors who tell them what to say and how to say it. They are professionally coached. They will only sign things that are pre-approved, and they are surrounded by handlers who make sure everything is “taken care of.”
On the rare occasion we actually get a real response out of a superstar athlete, it’s either in the heat of battle in the locker room, or on Twitter. Then we all sit around and listen to the talking heads, talking about how inappropriate they are, whether they stepped over the line, and what should be done about these Thugs On Parade.
What gets missed though, is that an athlete can be “real,”and not be controversial. Kevin Durant is certainly one of the top two players in the NBA, but he doesn’t have that “superstar way.” He is quiet, humble, and unassuming. He CHOSE to stay in Oklahoma City, and has ingratiated himself to that community. He could’ve bolted for another team in a brighter market filled with ten times the endorsement deals.
He stayed put. He’s a momma’s boy, and as we learned- just wanted to be a rec league coach.
So not very long ago, in the middle of the playoffs, coming off an absolute war- we finally got to see who Kevin Durant really was: a quiet, yet forceful leader.
We watch with baited breath as a rookie with superstar potential gets drafted; we watch as he becomes an all-star, and then wonder if he’s going to make “the leap.” We saw it happen with Jordan after getting pushed around by the Celtics and then the Pistons. We saw it happen with Kobe, looking foolish and air-balling through most of the playoffs. We even saw it happen with LeBron, trying and failing to take Cleveland through the finals, and falling just short.
Did we just see Durant make “the leap” right in front of us, his mother, and his teammates? If you haven’t seen his acceptance speech, stop reading and hit up YouTube. It’s flat out real life theater. At it’s best, which is exactly why we watch sports. Everyone can identify with loving your mother, overcoming adversity, and being able to rely on others to help you up when you fall. Durant gave us an insight into his locker room that no reporter could ever accomplish.
As of this writing, OKC won their second home game, took Game 3 in LA, and blew a 16 point 4th quarter lead that would’ve put them up 3-1.
For Durant to truly ascend to the throne, he has to beat the Clippers, then the Spurs. And much like Luke Skywalker had to face and beat Darth Vader to become a Jedi (after failing on the first try), so must Durant do the same to Darth James.
Clippers (Rocky, Rudy, The Karate Kid): There are about 100 movies that would sum this storyline up. Without question, there is no better storyline than the LA Clippers winning the NBA title.
In fact, there may have never been a better storyline in NBA history.
We all know about Donald Sterling by now. That situation is far from resolved, and still looms over the team like a big fat cloud. Every other team gets asked about what happened in the 3rd on the low block. The Clipper players get asked about race and America. They get asked questions they have no business being asked, much less answering, like they are a bunch of 7-foot high flying Buddhas.
There are times in sports where outside influences unite teammates. The “Us against Them” mentality is one of the most tried and true motivators of all time. This, this horrible sickening event, is the ultimate unifier. Funny, a man who lives by a thought process designed to divide and separate, has succeeded in bringing together a group of black and white men like nothing else ever could.
Throw in the fact that oh-by-the-way, the Los Angeles Clippers are routinely considered the worst franchise in sports, not the worst in the NBA, but SPORTS.
It is flat out insane that the fact that the Clippers are good, and well coached, is a secondary storyline. But it’s true. No one cares anymore that the forever-terrible Clippers are 10 wins away from immortality.
Once in a generation a team takes on their own identity in society, where the words “We are all _________ fans” are heard. This is one of those times.
If the Los Angeles Clippers win the NBA Finals this year while their owner is exiled, their future uncertain, and God knows who accepting the Larry O’Brien trophy, it could very well be the greatest playoff story in the history of sports.
Then again, Spurs over Heat in 6.
It IS the NBA, after all.