Where did it all go wrong? Now you ask yourself: what restaurant, effects pedal, celebrity-ish person, institution, soda, social platform update, person that you and I somehow both know, beer edition, automation technique, ideology, golf tournament, city that you never knew, or relative am I talking about?
Some people may already know that time as most of us understand it is the result of the work of an Islamic scholar; the rest of you will blame aging on him, despite Aristotle. No matter, in any case: this is about the 2021-’22 Los Angeles Lakers, eliminated from postseason play Tuesday night against (fittingly) the Phoenix Suns, and the amount of pushing a rock can possibly do against a solid-state presence before retracting against every will in its lifeless form.
What we’ve more or less known for several years spanning multiple presidential administrations is that a person, currently in his thirties and born in Ohio, is the most important and influential men’s basketball player of the past twenty years, at least. While it’s contentious to suggest that the state is the birthplace of aviation, as the state itself does, instead of aviators, which is what it is, its place as a basketball haven is beyond question.
The antecedent, however, lies in the heart of the beholder: LeBron James is, by most credible accounts, at least the second- or third-greatest basketball player ever to walk the earth. His performance in the 2015 NBA Finals, nevermind the following year, won many people over following his period of Heat villainy.
Then again, well, the guy who spearheaded the Finals win over him, as well as two more later on, put on a 37-point performance Tuesday night against a former teammate’s would-be superteam when the Golden State Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-99. That guy, Steph Curry, was (and, the hope goes, always will be) cooking.
It is the latter half of the 2021-’22 NBA regular season, and the Los Angeles Lakers sit in eighth place in the Western Conference with a 28-29 record. Big man Anthony Davis, acknowledged to be a big without allowing himself to be referred to as a center, has missed twenty games, while LeBron James, the fulcrum upon which all Lakers-based activity must depend, has incurred an apparent return of the high ankle sprain which had once befallen him.
James has taken to imploring his teammates to work harder in his absence, which seemingly grows longer at his whims. On Instagram, his beseeching increasingly includes the term “brodie,” seemingly in the pejorative. Teammate Russell Westbrook notices.
The thousand injuries of Lebrunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled – but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity.
While the world’s wealthiest men continue to do their best to disprove other, better-known examples, some truths remain universally acknowledged: parquet looks great on television; nobody will ever understand how to domesticize bears; the American education system is broken. Regardless of our individual solutions to these problems, it seems reasonable to suggest that we agree on these.
Another truth nearly universally acknowledged – and only nearly because there remains a small but growing populace, somewhere, whose entire existence seems strictly to hinge on the acceptance of counterpoints and “asking questions” when there aren’t really any interested parties in the answers, including themselves – is that Chris Paul is the Point God. On Thursday night, helming the Phoenix Suns, and staking his case in the playoffs for the first time in direct opposition to his Banana Boat buddy LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul did his work, as always, leading the Suns to a continued rise.
After all of that, Kevin Durant managed to play nine games with the Brooklyn Nets, only six of them alongside Kyrie Irving, before that team acquired another All-Star Wednesday afternoon. Joining Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, the latter of whom Jarrett Allen had finally supplanted as the Nets’ starting center this season prior to the trade, will be one James Harden, Durant’s ex-teammate, the 2018 MVP and a revolutionary offensive genius.
Of course, Harden has become as confounding a teammate as he is an actual basketball player, and his uneasy exit from Houston begs many questions, not the least for which because of the destination. The ever-prickly Durant is playing at an MVP level; Irving is essentially AWOL; Harden openly ripped the Rockets organization Tuesday night, all but forcing his team’s hand. Now, those three find themselves together, apparently at their communal behest.
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.
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.
Free agency in professional sports, in its ideal form, is the best and most prominent example of the free market at work that exists in this country. A worker earns their keep; their employer either decides that they are or are not worth the trouble, and then there are suitors everywhere lining up to give that person their just deserts. It’s deceptively simple.
Yet – and that word does a percentage of the salary cap’s worth of lifting here – it is much more deceptive than simple. The salary cap itself is one measure of inequality-via-equality; were LeBron James ever paid as much as he deserved in his career, he would likely be rivaling Gaius Appuleius Diocles at this point. Alas, at least in salary-capped leagues, the reality is thus: make what you can of what you have, and be judicious with your forecasts. A tornado doesn’t have to spring up to be destructive; if it gets you to move, it’s done enough of its job.