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.
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.
Expectation can be a funny thing. In the abstract, we – in some cases, admittedly, the royal we – all expect things, whether it be the acceptance letter to a prestigious college, the big-time promotion that will finally make you feel a certain kind of comfortable or, in a more macro sense, the giant orb of light rising each morning despite all of the darkness, everywhere, all the time.
A funny thing about expectation, though – often, it doesn’t belong solely to the person on whom it is placed. That is to say, nurture makes itself apparent against nature, and whether you like it or not, you’re going to military school so that you can be a doctor. The other side of it, though, is that expectation, when set against the vast unknown, can be as powerful and as stupefying as fear. Like expectation itself, it isn’t always up to one person to decide whether to shoulder it on their own.
Few in the history of professional basketball embody the kind of paradox he does. To a certain generation of NBA fans, he represents one very distinct, dynamic kind of player; to another, ever-so-slightly generation, he represents a broken promise, an undoing not entirely or even at all his own, but a bulky set of talcum shoulders on which to rest blame nonetheless.
Potential is a fickle mistress. In the right hands, she can grant you the world, mold you into a giant, open doors where once there were merely plastered walls. Precocious potential can just as easily buckle under the conspiratorial weights of onlookers, both the hopeful and the atheistic. It takes more than a little bit of luck to successfully extract talent from potential, with many left wondering whether the pursuit is alchemical in nature. We’ve covered this before, of course, but it’s worth doubling back anyway.
When surveying the biggest stories left to contemplate during the dwindling NBA regular season, one sees quite the smorgasbord of offerings: the Golden State Warriors’ courtship of 73 victories°, Kevin Durant’s impending free agency¹ and a teammate dispute in Los Angeles that somehow pulls the double magic trick of 1) dimming the spotlight on Kobe, and 2) making Iggy Azalea a sympathetic figure. Strange days, indeed.
We can only say and think so much about basketball, however, without there being any games. Before the first tip-off of the season (Cavs/Bulls or, if you prefer, Hawks/Pistons, tonight at 8 pm), let’s spare a thought – not necessarily a prediction, though there will be more than a fair share of those – to each franchise, in alphabetical order. Some of them may be painfully obvious or extremely misguided, because I guess I don’t think about the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly enough. Anyway, best of luck to the following teams, especially the Knicks. Those dudes are gonna need it.
The mammoth All-Star break is over, and it gave way to one of the more exciting trade deadline days in recent memory. Most notably, the Phoenix Suns moved Goran Dragic, and the Oklahoma City Thunder parted ways with Reggie Jackson. There were so other many moves, however, that your team probably did something, and it was probably confusing. Let’s talk about it. Elsewhere, Zach LaVine dismantles the Slam Dunk Competition, garnering Vinsanity comparisons along the way.
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.