Everyone has said it (repeatedly), so it must be true.
These NBA playoffs have been boring. The worst in years, even.
Somewhere I picture Steph Curry or LeBron James starring as General Maximus from the movie Gladiator: “Are you not entertained? Are. You. Not. Entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
Is it really the fault of the Warriors and Cavs that they’re that much better than everyone else? Should we hold it against them that they’ve stuffed the rest of the NBA teams into their personal wood chippers and macerated them into mulch?
Look, I get it. Everyone – including this guy – prefers shootouts to blowouts. It’s really what we’re used to when it comes to the NBA. The adage reminds us: It’s the NBA – everyone makes a run.
Late-game theatrics are the NBA’s thing. For years, they’ve cornered the market on marketing the corner 3-pointer in crunch time. These guys do more in a fraction of a second than some athletes do in nine whole innings. (Hey, I adore baseball, but you’ve got to admit the sport features a fair amount of standing around.)
As sports fans, I fear that we’ve become desensitized to greatness. We’ve become so spoiled, so programmed, that the only acceptable entertainment is the exceptionally close game. Anything less than a 3-pointer at the buzzer is a 3-yawner and a snoozer.
It’s time for a course correction. What Cleveland and Golden State have accomplished in this postseason – amassing a 24-1 combined record with 17 double-digit victories – is worthy of awe and wonder, not dismissive apathy. We should never become so close-minded as sports fans that we fail to appreciate the greatest in the world living up to their potential. Domination does not have to equal hibernation.
Yet we refuse to give these guys their due. I read a quote from former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe that summed it up rather eloquently: “LeBron James could walk on water, and you know what you guys will say? ‘He’s only walking on water because he can’t swim.’”
Undoubtedly, LeBron is held to a ridiculously high standard. Nobody said you had to like him – though there is much to admire about the man – but at least respect his game. Nobody in professional sports history started his career surrounded by more hype (Sports Illustrated used him as cover subject in high school, accompanied by the headline, “The Chosen One”), and yet you could make a rather convincing case that he’s lived up to it.
James has appeared in seven straight NBA Finals. He has accumulated more than 28,000 points, 7,700 rebounds and 7,400 assists, and he’s still “only” 32. In Cleveland’s clinching win over Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, he passed none other than Michael Jordan as the NBA’s top playoff scorer in history.
Yet it’s more fashionable to knock him than applaud him. Yeah, well, he has lost in the Finals four times, the naysayers say. To that, I’d remind that he has won the same number of titles as Larry Bird. OK, but he ran off to Miami and formed a superteam, the critics cry. In response, I wail, OK, but he came back home to Cleveland and turned a lottery team into a world champ.
Speaking of superteams, Golden State is the current gold standard. They’ve won 84 percent of their games over the past three seasons. A team that won a league-record 73 games in the 2016 season went out last summer and added a former MVP in his prime in Kevin Durant.
I know how that plays. Ho-hum. The rich get richer. True enough – but it’s OK to stop every now and then and marvel at those riches.
When Steph Curry is yo-yoing the rock between hapless matador defenders, when Klay Thompson and KD are bottoming out shots from the concession stand, when Javale McGee is bypassing his occasional oops plays for the more inspiring alley-oops, when Draymond Green is barking and biting like a junkyard dog, the Warriors are a wonder to behold. They play beautiful basketball, and shouldn’t have to apologize – as Durant sheepishly proffered during one press conference – that they play it better than everyone else.
Cleveland has been the Scottie to Golden State’s MJ in these playoffs. The Whistler’s Mother to the Warriors’ Mona Lisa – an only slightly less impressive masterpiece. You may say that their 25-point blowouts lack beauty, but that’s more of an indictment of your surface-level assessment of what constitutes beauty. Watching Kyrie Irving’s deft dribbling (it’s almost as if he honed his handle on a flat earth), Kevin Love’s pinpoint outlet passing, LeBron’s patented chasedown swats, there is much to savor.
There is nothing wrong with pining for hotly-contested, late-game drama. It’s a perfectly normal, natural thing.
But when the sublime bores us to tears, perhaps we’re crying for the wrong reasons.