On Sunday, arguably the greatest player ever stepped in, hunkered down and defeated a worthy opponent, one whose run in recent months has faced heavy skepticism and much detraction. Though the favored prevailed, there was enough seeded doubt to keep things interesting. As it stood, however, the king remained the king, until further notice.
Indeed, the Los Angeles Lakers won their sixteenth NBA championship and seventeenth as a franchise since 1946, tying the Boston Celtics for the most of any franchise, with LeBron James claiming his fourth title and fourth Finals MVP. If he isn’t already there, Anthony Davis is very nearly at a point where his Hall of Fame candidacy is ensured at 27. Against the tapestry of a global pandemic and election year tensions stateside, the NBA committed to the bubble, and the Lakers committed to defense in Game 6. Sometimes, it seems, lockdowns work.
Long before it was the juice that fueled your disappointing Zoom meetings, coffee was a delight of the Arabian Peninsula. It might delight people to know that the word “coffee” is itself derived from a word originally given to a type of wine, at least in many common interpretations; what somebody saw in both was appetite suppression. Fair enough.
It might be curious, then, to learn that the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler started selling homespun coffee in the NBA bubble under the moniker Big Face Coffee. For $20 a pop, any resident of the bubble could have a taste, courtesy of a five-time NBA All-Star. Butler is one of the most notoriously hard workers in the league, and, as such, his appetite has never come into question. On Sunday night, and with a stupendous amount of help from Bam Adebayo – who, it’s worth noting, hates Butler’s pricing strategy – and company, he pushed the Miami Heat into the NBA Finals, ready to stand up to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
At some point, what you are becoming and who you are meet. Sometimes you decide the time and place of that meeting; most often, you do not. Rarely is it easy, a Craigslist handoff that satisfies both parties over a diner coffee at some halfway point. Someone is usually coming away sour. Given that who you are now, in the present, has the benefit of hindsight, it seems reasonably safe to say that who you are looks at who you were and wonders how, exactly, you are standing here, right now, like this.
Who is Paul George, now? I can tell you – anybody who watched the NBA at the beginning of the last decade can tell you – who Paul George was in 2014, which was a would-be dominant force meant to supplement the LeBron-stopping powers of Roy Hibbert and the rest of his merry band in Indiana.
Following Tuesday night’s Game 7 loss against the Denver Nuggets, however, in a series George’s current team, the Los Angeles Clippers, many observers heavily favored to win and one in which those very Clippers were up 3-1, the question becomes much more hazy: who is Paul George, and what is he going to be in terms of championship contention in the forthcoming NBA?
On Tuesday night, we received the first-ever NBA Game 7 that occurred in the month of September. The series had been a showcase for two of the league’s premier young teams, the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and specifically for those teams’ respective young guards, Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell.
Two teams, of the same juggernaut division in the same juggernaut conference, sporting a guard apiece of the modern vintage, but with a distinctly timeless flair: they are Murray and Mitchell, players who would’ve been wildly successful in any era of the NBA but are coming into their own now, in an exceedingly strange 2020. This first round series, an instant and all-time classic, certainly had the flavor of, if not necessarily “kingmaking,” then a long-awaited debutant ball. Each of them revealed parts of themselves and their respective games that are almost certain to shock and amaze for years to come.
So, as with everything showing any kind of promise under the microscope of popular opinion, we ask: Where do they go now?
Wouldn’t it be something if Michael Jordan said what he meant? Not “nice,” almost certainly, but something more than the expected, eyeroll-inducing megalomania his brand and public face have come to represent over the past forty years. He did it all because he wanted it the most; his competitiveness is lost on nearly everyone surrounding him, both teammates and opposition; the extent of his sense of humor exclusively including the very idea that he is Michael Jordan, which makes it impossible for anyone else in history to be Michael Jordan. That’s funny, to him.
If The Last Dance was supposed to prove anything, it was that Jordan’s legacy is as close to unimpeachable as that of any sports figure so far, regardless of his Machiavellian worldview. What it managed to do instead was maybe, possibly make him look worse than anyone else prominently featured. We know he doesn’t care, nor, I guess, should he.
First of all: Hello. How are you doing? Are you safe and sound? Do you have what you need, or know how to get what you need in responsible fashion? Have you acclimated to the sounds of sirens happening all around you, or at least to the dull murmur of people performatively reacting to those and other things that will never affect them personally on television? Cool and good < A phrase you may or may not use when looking at anything happening in the United States of America in response to a literal plague befalling those of us lucky enough to inhabit the land of hope and dreams.
Keeping in mind how much all of that is relentlessly destroying us, particularly how much money people accumulate who don’t particularly seem to have any utility for it beyond “Hey I have more money than you do lol,” and also ahead of a particularly enticing documentary premier on behalf of Mickey and friends Sunday night – The Last Dance, an unprecedentedly in-depth look into the 1997-’98 Chicago Bulls season – let’s talk about Michael Jordan’s house in Chicago.
Taking a concept to its ideological extreme can be a perilous exercise: first, one must fully concoct an actionable conviction, one that finds pros outweighing cons; then, after experimenting with the idea, one must attempt to put it into practice and – the hardest part – convince others that this pursuit is, in fact, worth investigating, in the hopes that an audience sees its potential, wildly glorious benefits and agrees that it is, at the very least, worth a shot.
Ideas like this tend to provoke the “hard sell” label, and they allow detractors to seize upon various nooks and crannies in order to mock the ideation and its true believers. To buy all the way in, one must steel themselves for the possibility of a very public humiliation, often in the mouths of bad actors and those who could never regress to the norm for lack of having ever deviated from it. Somehow especially content with the median, these people envy middle managers and the people who ride the coattails of people who actually possess half-decent beliefs, for they themselves believe only in what they see, not in what may be.
When they traded starting center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks in a multi-team deal that netted them the coveted Robert Covington at this year’s trade deadline, the Houston Rockets bought all the way into an idea that head coach Mike D’Antoni pioneered over a decade ago yet was unable to fully realize before various factors ended his tenure with the Phoenix Suns. Now, with none other than Russell Westbrook as their nominal center on offense, Houston is making the bet that running teams into the ground can overcome any, uh, shortcomings they may otherwise have.
I didn’t sleep much more than half an hour this past Saturday night; after a not-altogether late but nevertheless busy night, as happens to people who are increasingly willing to talk about it, I was awake most of Sunday morning, thinking of dreadful things, people I’ve wronged, anxiety I’ve caused and the places I can go to where I know that, no matter what, I will be safe. It just so happened that, on the evening prior, current Los Angeles Laker LeBron James passed arguably the quintessential Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant, to move into third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Kobe Bryant never stopped. He was the basketball embodiment of Clipse’s “Grindin’,” and, as ESPN’s Bomani Jones pointed out on Monday, a distillation of what would become the NBA’s #RANGZ culture. The gifs prove it; the track record is undeniable. That, of course, isn’t the whole story, but we have now missed out on what would paint a complete picture of Kobe, who passed away Sunday morning along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna, at the age of 41.
Ensconced in a larger proposal of league reforms on which governors were to vote ahead of implementation for the NBA’s 75th anniversary in the 2021-’22 season, re-seeding seemed like the most logical and, therefore, least likely tab to fall from the docket. After all, the WNBA has been seeding playoff entrants regardless of conference for a while now.
Looking at where basketball, particularly NBA basketball, was in 2010 likely would not have given you much insight into what the sport would look like at the turn of the following decade. Sure, LeBron James was the reigning MVP, with three more to follow. Yes, the Spurs would go on to make the playoffs in every year of the 2010s, just as they had in the aughts. The Lakers are, of course, one of the best teams in the league. And, of course, the Kings, Knicks and Warriors are three of the worst teams in the NBA.
But as in life, basketball constantly shows its capacity for change, no matter the source of inspiration nor drive. What began with the Celtics shooing LeBron off the floor in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and into the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club for the kickoff of the player empowerment movement has resulted in, among innumerable other things, Ray Allen’s greatest betrayal, the assembly of perhaps the greatest team in NBA history and definitely the greatest mercenary season from a single player ever.
It would be impossible to remember everything, but here are a few notes from each year, both league-related and otherwise.