At some point, what you are becoming and who you are meet. Sometimes you decide the time and place of that meeting; most often, you do not. Rarely is it easy, a Craigslist handoff that satisfies both parties over a diner coffee at some halfway point. Someone is usually coming away sour. Given that who you are now, in the present, has the benefit of hindsight, it seems reasonably safe to say that who you are looks at who you were and wonders how, exactly, you are standing here, right now, like this.
Who is Paul George, now? I can tell you – anybody who watched the NBA at the beginning of the last decade can tell you – who Paul George was in 2014, which was a would-be dominant force meant to supplement the LeBron-stopping powers of Roy Hibbert and the rest of his merry band in Indiana.
Following Tuesday night’s Game 7 loss against the Denver Nuggets, however, in a series George’s current team, the Los Angeles Clippers, many observers heavily favored to win and one in which those very Clippers were up 3-1, the question becomes much more hazy: who is Paul George, and what is he going to be in terms of championship contention in the forthcoming NBA?
On Tuesday night, we received the first-ever NBA Game 7 that occurred in the month of September. The series had been a showcase for two of the league’s premier young teams, the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and specifically for those teams’ respective young guards, Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell.
Two teams, of the same juggernaut division in the same juggernaut conference, sporting a guard apiece of the modern vintage, but with a distinctly timeless flair: they are Murray and Mitchell, players who would’ve been wildly successful in any era of the NBA but are coming into their own now, in an exceedingly strange 2020. This first round series, an instant and all-time classic, certainly had the flavor of, if not necessarily “kingmaking,” then a long-awaited debutant ball. Each of them revealed parts of themselves and their respective games that are almost certain to shock and amaze for years to come.
So, as with everything showing any kind of promise under the microscope of popular opinion, we ask: Where do they go now?
Wouldn’t it be something if Michael Jordan said what he meant? Not “nice,” almost certainly, but something more than the expected, eyeroll-inducing megalomania his brand and public face have come to represent over the past forty years. He did it all because he wanted it the most; his competitiveness is lost on nearly everyone surrounding him, both teammates and opposition; the extent of his sense of humor exclusively including the very idea that he is Michael Jordan, which makes it impossible for anyone else in history to be Michael Jordan. That’s funny, to him.
If The Last Dance was supposed to prove anything, it was that Jordan’s legacy is as close to unimpeachable as that of any sports figure so far, regardless of his Machiavellian worldview. What it managed to do instead was maybe, possibly make him look worse than anyone else prominently featured. We know he doesn’t care, nor, I guess, should he.
Ensconced in a larger proposal of league reforms on which governors were to vote ahead of implementation for the NBA’s 75th anniversary in the 2021-’22 season, re-seeding seemed like the most logical and, therefore, least likely tab to fall from the docket. After all, the WNBA has been seeding playoff entrants regardless of conference for a while now.
A popular belief stemming from the Greco-Roman historian and statesman Cassius Dio is that the rise of Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, to the emperorship of Rome in 180 AD coincided with the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. Calamitous events would follow for the next three centuries, but as far as Cassius Dio was concerned, Commodus was the first guy stripping floorboard on the renovation.
Setting the tone for subsequent leaders of a similar ilk, Commodus got very into the idea of himself-as-the-kingdom, a personality cultist whose proto-fascism set the stage for his own assassination in 192. Any time you get the chance to be the marker of the end of a quasi-familial dynasty, well, I guess you have to take it.
On the non-hereditary side, reigns of power take all shapes and forms (though, if we’re being honest, if it isn’t in sports, it usually ends in assassination). Many franchises have experienced periods of stupendous success followed by tumultuous lows, but right now, the Golden State Warriors are undergoing the very worst downfall in recent memory.
Canonically, Odysseus ends up becoming immortal. He was always destined to be, of course, but depending on where you go for your Greek epic epilogues, his fate was either a bit in doubt or entirely certain after dying at the hand of his own son, Telegonus. It is less an Oedipus situation and more a Meat-Becomes-Murder ordeal as far as familicide in Greek epics goes, but you can look into it yourself if you are so inclined.
Similarly close to a place called Ithaca, Carmelo Anthony is already a Hall of Famer. He is likely also the most divisive player of his generation, a member of the venerated 2003 draft class and the only player picked in the top five of that class without an NBA championship ring. His legacy has been in question for at least half a decade. Anthony had been out of the league for over a year until Tuesday night, when, carrying an exhaustingly-explained double-zero on his back, he made his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bradley Beal, magician – Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports
Along with the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings (who have apparently revealed themselves to be frauds) and, until very recently, the Phoenix Suns (who very well may still be frauds but are enjoying a good run right now), the Washington Wizards are, historically speaking, an NBA team only ostensibly and have a history of producing the sort of spectacular assclownery typically reserved for Stefon’s nightclubs, the bum-rush for Popeyes chicken sandwiches and Congress, all of which can be set to the Benny Hill theme music without much disruption.
Continuing their rapid execution of justice against the reign of terror that the Golden State Warriors have afflicted upon the NBA for the past half-decade, the basketball gods unfortunately chose two-time MVP and paradigm-shifting genius Steph Curry as their latest victim in the Warriors’ 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
Wiry tree-man and would-be Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers left the game on Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets with what appeared to be a scary lower leg injury.
To get this out of the way up front: the NBA shrinking in the face of one nation in which it has interests – one whose interests happen to conflict with those of what the American ideal is supposed to be, mind you, as it suppresses the protests of people in Hong Kong, facing potential extradition to the mainland, where prisoners’ cases can be ignored entirely – makes the league’s put-on image of empowerment look transparently weak.
That Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sparked the current, ostensibly bipartisan discourse with a fairly innocuous tweet seems to say more about that nation, its insecurity as a world power and its desire for overwhelming power on a world stage, than it does about anyone who has anything to say about it, but the NBA is at some fault here, and commissioner Adam Silver is in an even more unique position than he was when the Donald Sterling circus unfolded five years ago.
With a deep breath – and I know it’s complicated to dig out of that tunnel, even if human rights shouldn’t be – I would like to move on to the Rockets themselves, and the fascinating approach(es) they may take this season in integrating the likes of, ehem, Russell Westbrook into their offense.