Over a week later, the question everyone was asking before the playoffs is now one that continues to lurk: what becomes of these Brooklyn Nets? Steve Nash’s team has lit itself aflame once again, but who threw the match? They, of the highly touted scoring tandem, once briefly of a threatening trifecta that no team could think about stopping, could shudder? They could seek fate?
A 116-112 Boston Celtics win on Monday night sent the Nets packing. While they were busy making love with their egos, Ime Udoka was leading his continually resurgent squad to a sweep over a team many once considered to be NBA Finals favorites. It’s worth asking of this iteration of the team: do they seek fate, or does fate become them?
Nothing about him was easy. It can’t have been, even for a guy whose parents were a professional basketball player and a handball player. From being born in the shadow of the Soviet Bloc a decade before the Wall fell to a draft night trade between two NBA franchises of, at the time, ill repute, the odds weren’t exactly in Dirk Nowitzki’s favor. By 1998, enough European players had met their hype with a whisper that the grossly unfair stereotypes about continental players being soft were well-established.
But Dirk is no stereotype. Instead, he became an archetype, not just for the brand of player that succeeds at the highest level but for the exact kind of player every franchise seeks in 2019. Dirk’s game is an aesthetic pleasure, an easygoing kind of joy for the viewer that is frustratingly difficult to replicate. His combination of size, skill and shooting turned a maligned team into a contender and, eventually, into a champion. Even with his retirement, we have already begun to see the descendants he begat.
“’Aye, verily this is the hound of a man that has died in a far land. If he were but in form and in action such as he was when Odysseus left him and went to Troy, thou wouldest soon be amazed at seeing his speed and his strength.
No creature that he started in the depths of the thick wood could escape him, and in tracking, too, he was keen of scent. But now he is in evil plight, and his master has perished far from his native land'” – Homer, The Odyssey, book 17, lines 314-319
On Tuesday night, another season of New York Rangers hockey came to an end. It was fairly unceremonious, at least as far as Rangers hockey goes; the aging goalie did what he could, abandoned by a similarly aging blue line and all the scoring talent of fake bands in prestige television shows, propped up as a way to make money for the protagonist, whomever s/he is and whatever their motivation. Entertainment is what it is, but hockey, also, is what it is. Both of these things, and neither of them, define the present-day Rangers.
It happens every so often: out of the inbounds pass, someone, whether Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway or another person whose legal job description is “playing basketball,” will jog up the court, turn, see a 7’3″ Latvian who can’t legally drink in the United States and hurl a pass in his general direction above the crest of the three-point line, like someone lazily tossing a frisbee forehand. Upon surveying his amicably deserted surroundings, the young giant will hoist a shot, hold his still developing form and, much to the delight of damn near anyone who is lucky enough to be present no matter the arena, watch his effort sail through the rim, as easily as depositing a letter in a mailbox.
After months of agonizing anticipation, during which we filled time with other allegedly important sporting events and Mad Men binges on Netflix, the 2014-’15 NBA regular season begins tonight. A three-game slate eases us back into basketball this evening, and there are many important questions surrounding each team, the answers to which will dictate the course of the season. How will the new-look Cavaliers fit together? For how much longer will Rajon Rondo remain a Boston Celtic? When will Kevin Durant return from injury, and what will he look like? [Insert literally anything] Derrick Rose? What about Kawhi Leonard’s contract situation and “the Spurs way”? Is the triangle a total crock of grade-A bull fertilizer, spread below the floor of Madison Square Garden ahead of the stadium’s demolition and the subsequent establishment of an actual garden in its place?
All that, we will know in due time. What we won’t know is what we don’t think about. Let’s take a moment to consider the impossible, that which could never conceivably happen in today’s National Basketball Association. Then let’s never think about any of these things again.
Let’s talk about the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge is staking his claim as the best power forward in the game. Blake Griffin, meanwhile, is shakily maintaining his throne after a disappointing first game against the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul’s family lineage indicates a history of assistance, but the fourth quarter is when he takes it all upon himself. The Mavs are stressing out the usually unflappable Spurs, whose now 38-year-old anchor must take more responsibility. Wizards gonna Wiz, and Grizzlies gonna Grizz. The Hawks are up on the toast of the East, the Indiana Pacers, and their defensive master has more in common with Russell Stover than Bill Russell. The Thunder are not dominating as usual. Even the Bobcats are pushing the mighty Heat, with Al Jefferson trying to do his best Willis Reed impersonation. This is the first round of the NBA playoffs. Does it get any better than this?
The Philadelphia 76ers are bad, and not in the Michael Jackson/Shaft way. The Sixers are now historically horrendous, on an NBA record-tying 26-game losing streak, but fans in the Illadelph are not publicly chastising Michael Carter-Williams or staging protests against Sam Hinkie outside the Wells Fargo Center. While they hang their heads in public, as in the picture above, the 76ers are smirking in private, the prospect of a too-bright future potentially awaiting. Elsewhere, Swaggy P is the victim of hubris, as so often happens, and don’t sleep on Dirk should the Mavs make the playoffs.
Division-by-division we go, with the emphasis of this edition placed on the Southwest Division, one of the most competitive in the league. Will the Big Fundamental tutor Kawhi Leonard in the nuances of the Spurs’ culture of excellence? James Harden’s development will continue, but how will Houston gel following the Dwightmare? Is Dirk finished (and what will Mark Cuban do now, if that is the case)? Will Anthony Davis ever manscape his trademarked unibrow? Is Marc Gasol finally – finally – the BEST Gasol? TwH addresses these questions and more.