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.
“Rover, Red Rover” – Arthur Leipzig
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.
At a time reported to be 7:30 pm Eastern but which will probably be sometime shortly thereafter, the 2019 NBA Draft will begin tonight. That means that, for the devoted, a tweet, or text of a tweet, from Adrian Wojnarowski will pop across their phone screens, sometime between 7:28 and 7:30, informing the masses what we’ve all known since before the Anthony Davis trade, before the All-Star Game, before Christmas: that Zion Williamson of Duke will be the #1 overall pick.
That he is presumably going to New Orleans is the karmic injustice befitting a team that wasted Davis’ first seven years in the league but which new general manager David Griffin is already turning toward the future. If Zion happens to be the key to open that particular sarcophagus, alongside the newly-acquired Lakers tweens, then the Pelicans will be raising hurricanes, toasting the next decade of success.
If he’s caught in the right place at the wrong time, however, then the draft gods will have proven infallible once again. That’s the beauty and sorrow of any professional sports draft, but this year, and this one, feels especially momentous.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Spanish Armada, that enduring example of royalist hubris in which King Philip II of Spain attempted to brandish the world’s greatest navy in 1588 before his ex-sister-in-law, England’s Queen Elizabeth I, in an invasion of her country but wound up embarrassing himself when that navy failed to defeat its opponents as it wound a curious route around the British Isles. England readily disposed of Spain, and a family feud had turned into an international conflict. Habsburgs, amirite?
Except, well, that’s not quite how that went. More central to the collapse of the Spanish navy seems to have been the weather, especially in the Bay of Biscay. It had essentially dilly-dallied its way into misfortune, the Grande y Felicísima Armada, and England had been prepared enough to take advantage of a weakened fleet at that time.
What you don’t often hear about is the English counter-Armada of 1589, a more catastrophic defeat for the aggressors. The original Armada, while a shocking defeat and failure for Spain, did not noticeably loosen Philip’s grasp on the Spanish crown, nor did the counter-Armada force Elizabeth into ceding control of the English Channel or her advantageous trade relations with the Netherlands. Eventually, there was a peace treaty, and that was that.
I found myself in a rather unfamiliar position on Monday night, one with which eggs the world over are, or at least affect being, familiar. I was laughing at the absurdity of something I’d read on the internet and should’ve been upset about, not my preferred state by any means but a go-to coping mechanism for the daily nuisances-cum-societal atrocities which inhabit most of our lives. All this during a mostly delightful World Cup, no less.
After a whirlwind first two days of NBA free agency, the dust seemed to have settled for the night when, like a child inadvertently popping your balloon, Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania, the next-gen Adrian Wojnarowski, broke the news that broke the camel’s back: free agent center DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player late of the New Orleans Pelicans and currently undergoing rehab for a torn Achilles tendon, had signed with the Golden State Warriors for one year at the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.3 million. All hell hasn’t broken loose; it’s ripped the door off and is eating it out of amusement.
David Richard/USA Today Sports
One timeout was all that separated the Cleveland Cavaliers from potentially, vitally making this a series. We were so close. We were as close to Heaven as we’ll ever be. But JR Smith had other ideas.
Somewhere between Chris Paul’s hamstring injury in Game 5 and their dubious, NBA playoff-record streak of 27 consecutive missed three-pointers in the second half of Game 7, the Houston Rockets lost the best chance any team was going to have of felling the Golden State Warriors. It was foolish for any of us to doubt them – not that all of us did, mind you, but some did – and now, the team which stands to define a generation sits four wins away from its second straight title and third championship in four years.
The proposition was always thus: beat the Warriors, a team with four current All-Stars, five probably Hall of Famers and a wealth of role players to fill in the gaps, four times in seven tries. Even after the Rockets won 65 games, grabbing the top seed and home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, it was never a real possibility that Golden State would lose until and unless such a catastrophe actually happened.
After going down 3-2 and entering halftime of both Games 6 and 7 down by double-digits, Golden State calmly and mechanically worked its way back, outscoring Houston 64-25 and 58-38 over each game’s second half, respectively. As always, the Warriors were able to turn to all of their other stars if one didn’t shine so brightly. That didn’t turn out to be a problem.
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship Bounty, 29 April 1789 – Robert Dodd (1790)
You remember the switch, don’t you? Consider it flipped. Riding a fully-engaged LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers ripped the doors off the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 on Monday night, completing another sweep against a team which hasn’t beaten them in the playoffs since 2016. In a rather pedestrian performance, James chipped in a mere 29 points to go along with 11 assists and eight rebounds. It was certainly his worst game of the series, and the Cavs won by 35.
It took a surprising seven-game first round series against the Indiana Pacers to really light a fire under him, but since the candle’s been burning, he has been his typical forceful self. What finally clicked against the Raptors wasn’t just LeBron riding the high of his clutch Pacers series form. Instead, as LeBron was great, so, too, were his teammates. Better late than never.
The switch exists. I’m telling you right now because, for the second time in my life, I was lucky enough to see the man at the helm in person, and at 33 years young, he was as commanding of attention as he was in command of the game, and when he needed to, LeBron James turned the volume all the way up and told your parents to mind their Ps and Qs. Last Sunday, in Brooklyn, I saw the switch in action.
It isn’t that he isn’t great all the time – he is, and he has been for the overwhelming majority of his breathlessly Hall of Fame career – but to watch him have to be, with his still-gelling team nervously jetting and firing around him in an effort to show that yes, we’re good enough, please stay, adds another layer to an almost unquantifiable NBA experience.
Here is something that I do not imagine will come as any great shock to you, dearest reader: I am not at all knowledgeable in an overwhelming majority of the facets of figure skating. I know the equipment – a sheet of ice, a pair of skates and a warm-blooded person of distinct nationality in a skintight representation of an eighteenth century romance novel – I know a handful of names – Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, Nancy Kerrigan, Nancy Kerrigan’s problematic attacker who now has her own movie, for some reason – and far fewer but non-zero number of jump names, like the triple axel and the Salchow, and that’s where it ends.
But on Thursday night, as happens every four years, I took in the sport in all its glory, as the men’s short program from Pyeongchang hit primetime. Expecting to see the crowning of two-time American champion and team bronze medalist Nathan Chen, or the pyrotechnic flair and on-camera joyous irreverence to which we’ve grown accustomed over the past two weeks from fellow American Adam Rippon, I was instead treated to the comeback performance of the quadrennial and a Winnie the Pooh hailstorm.