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?
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.
Let me begin by saying this, a sequence of phrases I never expected to type or read sequentially: this Martin Luther King Day will live in NBA Twitter infamy for the foreseeable future. It may rival Banana Boat Day as *the* definitive day in the cultural zeitgeist for many fans, being that it involved several more teams, as well as more star players, than that one did.
Respect in sports is personal, as subjective a concept as can be. People respect seeming effortlessness, as in the case of Steph Curry’s cocksure 35-foot bombs under duress. Those same people may value in the same measure the distinct work ethic required to reach Curry’s dominance in the first place. Earning respect takes a variety of forms – achieving an objective preeminence helps, but so does fighting on behalf of a teammate and playing through the end of a long-dead season with as much tenacity as at the start.
Two separate, but thus far equal, entities continue to struggle with earning the respect of fans and casual observers. For the Charlotte Hornets, an identity crisis has stifled interest in a relatively small – but growing – basketball market, whose most notable notoriety this month comes on the heels of legislation rather than the home team’s magnificently disciplined run to and through the playoffs. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, another issue of identity has chased the team for two seasons. In both cases, fairness never bothers to pick up the phone.