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“Salieri pours poison into Mozart’s glass,” Mikhail Vrubel

The popular perception of Antonio Salieri, if the stage and film versions of Amadeus are to be believed, is that he was the unforgiving rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the man who championed the Austrian composer publicly while attempting to derail his career privately, like a southbound A train without a supportive governor for assistance. The film, of course, used poetic license to an extreme in the cases of both Salieri and Mozart, suggesting that, while there was some sense of rivalry, there was also a begrudging respect, manifested in the fact that Salieri conducted a handful of Mozart’s works both while the composer was alive and afterward.

A physical specimen of uncommon stature, even by 2017 standards, Russell Westbrook is not the prototypical NBA player. He stands at a modest 6’3” and weighs an everyman-esque 200 pounds[1], yet he in his 6’3”, 200-pound frame has done more in an athletic context, pound for pound, than perhaps anyone else (a) not playing upper echelon European soccer, (b) not an NFL quarter- or halfback, if that counts, or (c) named Allen Iverson[2]. On Monday night, for his efforts this past season, one which was forgotten in June but will never, ever be forgotten, Westbrook was awarded this season’s Most Valuable Player.

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Triple Self-Portrait, Norman Rockwell (1960)

Today marks the beginning of the NBA playoffs, a most glorious time of the year when the basketball is noticeably better. In a season full of downright certainty underpinned by complete uncertainty, these playoffs are going to shock and surprise us in ways we can’t even imagine, because they almost universally do. Can’t hold anything back now, and all that.

For just a brief moment, however, it seems fitting to gaze back with awe on one of the more improbable regular seasons we are ever likely to see, one full of jaw-dropping individual performances. Specifically, and with the utmost respect, it is my duty to inform you that, unless you are one of the members of the media yet to reveal their MVP vote via a longform column explaining why you didn’t pick any of the other candidates instead, nobody cares about your choice for this year’s NBA MVP.

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Courtesy of the author

With Andre Roberson closing quickly, Brook Lopez launches a three, early in the shot clock but with enough space to give it a chance. The ball clanks off the front of the rim, kisses the backboard and falls into the left hand of professional basketball’s most perplexing genius, to rapturous applause from what should be a hostile crowd. It is the latter’s tenth rebound of the night, and after adding two more, combined with his 25 points and 19 assists, the intensely focused scientist sits, his team all but guaranteed a victory they would soon officially claim, his 33rd triple-double of the season secure.

Thunder doesn’t only happen when it’s raining. It was in the middle of March, in the midst of an overhyped blizzard, that the Brodie came to Brooklyn.

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Warner Bros.

Yesterday, the NBA officially announced Wardell Stephen Curry II as the MVP, and rightfully so. With the possible exception of Russell Westbrook during the second half of the season, nobody was more consistently electrifying than Curry, whose barrages of three-pointers and Vine-worthy displays of ankle-breaking handles impelled the Warriors to a league-best 67 wins. Curry’s play leaves you gasping for air, wondering if the sun rises simply to shine on the scrawny kid from Charlotte and his band of audacious musketeers.

Instead, however, I want to talk about another product of North Carolina, an injured point guard who never so much inspires gasps as he does head-nodding. He is the smartest on-court player in the league, perhaps its best backcourt defender, as polarizing as he is mesmerizing. On one leg, he may have just ended the greatest sports dynasty of the last two decades (“may have,” only because nothing is certain in San Antonio’s Fountain of Youth, and that sentence could’ve been written anytime from 2006-2013, with any number of slayers replacing Paul). The time has come to lavish praise, begrudgingly if you must, on Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards in history.

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Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today

As far as measures of retribution are concerned, this NBA Finals went off without a hitch. The Heat lost to the heat before losing to the Spurs. Which one was more impactful will be Twitter fodder for months to come, though the answer is truly (painfully?) obvious. Tim Duncan re-asserted his claim as the best player of his generation, as well as his astute normcore brilliance. Kawhi Leonard has become the Duncan to Duncan’s David Robinson, hopefully. LeBron James has some serious pondering ahead of him. Basketball is fun.

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2014 NBA Finals - Game Four

This is Kawhi Leonard’s world. We’re just living in it.

In an NBA Finals that was supposed to be dominated by the Big Three, Tim Duncan’s potential farewell, Gregg Popovich’s in-game interviews and Pat Riley’s slicked back hair, there has been a runaway star in a player who seems to want to be anything but. Kawhi Leonard is the soft-spoken, three-pointer-making, slam-dunking phenom who is leading the San Antonio Spurs against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

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LeBronTP

We’ve finally made it. After all the hubbub surrounding the playoffs, the near-upsets of the first round and the predictable Conference Finals matchups, we are finally at the NBA Finals. Vince Carter sent us back a decade in his playoff performances, but he + Dirk  the second round. The Wiz kids did what they could to throw the East into oblivion, but the Pacers stood up when they needed to do so. Try as he might, Kevin Durant is still second-best (in his own conference!). The San Antonio Spurs machine continues to crank out tiki-taka victories. The Miami Heat have the world’s best player and a bunch of pretty decent complements. Lo and behold, it’s a rematch of the 2013 Finals, when we saw the scariest basketball player on the planet for a brief spell.

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Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

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.

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