Triple Self-Portrait, Norman Rockwell (1960)
Today marks the beginning of the NBA playoffs, a most glorious time of the year when the basketball is noticeably better. In a season full of downright certainty underpinned by complete uncertainty, these playoffs are going to shock and surprise us in ways we can’t even imagine, because they almost universally do. Can’t hold anything back now, and all that.
For just a brief moment, however, it seems fitting to gaze back with awe on one of the more improbable regular seasons we are ever likely to see, one full of jaw-dropping individual performances. Specifically, and with the utmost respect, it is my duty to inform you that, unless you are one of the members of the media yet to reveal their MVP vote via a longform column explaining why you didn’t pick any of the other candidates instead, nobody cares about your choice for this year’s NBA MVP.
“Once a Knick, always a Knick.”
These are the words emblazoned across a picture the New York Knicks chose to post in celebration of Amar’e Stoudemire signing a one-day contract on Tuesday so that he could retire with the franchise he helped revitalize in the summer of 2010. At 33, the man who once posted a picture of himself bathing in red wine decided he had had enough of basketball, or perhaps that basketball had had enough of him.
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.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes
of the earth will wail.
We knew this was coming. It was written, and now it shall be done. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak, predicted this a year ago. With a quasi-poem in the Players’ Tribune, Kobe Bean Bryant, arguably the most intense and focused human being ever to walk this planet, let alone play this sport, announced his retirement from the NBA, effective at the conclusion of this season. In light of his throwback, 31-point performance, including a game-sealing shot, let’s take a moment to celebrate one of the greatest, and most divisive, players ever.
The Eastern Conference Finals are now over, and LeBron James will be attending his fifth consecutive NBA Finals. We got what we expected, which isn’t necessarily what we wanted, but it isn’t what we didn’t want either. In a season full of surprise and intrigue – aren’t they all in the age of Moreyball? – and barring a miraculous, unprecedented comeback from the Houston Rockets, it may very well be that we receive a Cavs-Warriors Finals. That would pit the league’s current MVP, Steph Curry, against the Most Valuable Player of the last decade, James. And that would be barrel-of-chimpanzees fun.
So much of the narrative of the Finals, like the NBA itself, will revolve around LeBron, and that is perfectly alright. What we must not forget, however, is that this next series will feature the Finals debut of J.R. Smith, bomb detonation expert and titan of social media. For that, we should be grateful.
Courtesy of USA Today
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.
This is Kawhi Leonard’s world. We’re just living in it.
In an NBA Finals that was supposed to be dominated by the Big Three, Tim Duncan’s potential farewell, Gregg Popovich’s in-game interviews and Pat Riley’s slicked back hair, there has been a runaway star in a player who seems to want to be anything but. Kawhi Leonard is the soft-spoken, three-pointer-making, slam-dunking phenom who is leading the San Antonio Spurs against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
We’ve finally made it. After all the hubbub surrounding the playoffs, the near-upsets of the first round and the predictable Conference Finals matchups, we are finally at the NBA Finals. Vince Carter sent us back a decade in his playoff performances, but he + Dirk ≠ the second round. The Wiz kids did what they could to throw the East into oblivion, but the Pacers stood up when they needed to do so. Try as he might, Kevin Durant is still second-best (in his own conference!). The San Antonio Spurs machine continues to crank out tiki-taka victories. The Miami Heat have the world’s best player and a bunch of pretty decent complements. Lo and behold, it’s a rematch of the 2013 Finals, when we saw the scariest basketball player on the planet for a brief spell.
Tim Duncan (probably) loves Bob Segar, nondescript plaid and Diet Pepsi.
“Excellence is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
No player in the NBA has been as consistently great over the last fifteen years as Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental has come to embody the difference between excellence and success as well as the parallels between them, as he has achieved both. Even through his 30s, Duncan has played at a high level, delivering double-doubles and smart defense at every turn. What may be even more impressive, however, is Duncan’s demeanor as a bastion of calmness and understated brilliance, both on and off the court. He is the anti-#LETWESTBROOKBEWESTBROOK. In an era of increasingly ridiculous and individualistic postgame attire and behavior, the Spurs are the iconoclast professionals who simply show up and do their jobs at an alarmingly efficient rate. Duncan has become a hero to those who value utility and grace under pressure, perhaps unwittingly setting the league’s standard for professional basketball normcore as a fashion non-statement.
With a career-high 43 points last night acting as a bolded semicolon in the middle of a wonderfully crafted sentence of a season, we have officially entered the Paul George age of the LeBron epoch. Not to be outdone, Kevin Durant showed up with his fourth career triple-double. Jason Kidd has successfully transferred some of his craftiness as a player to the bench, and subsequently to the floor as well. The Eastern Conference is a desolate wasteland. Also, Tim Duncan is a technically skilled basketball player who should consider becoming a pitching coach upon retirement.
Division-by-division we go, with the emphasis of this edition placed on the Southwest Division, one of the most competitive in the league. Will the Big Fundamental tutor Kawhi Leonard in the nuances of the Spurs’ culture of excellence? James Harden’s development will continue, but how will Houston gel following the Dwightmare? Is Dirk finished (and what will Mark Cuban do now, if that is the case)? Will Anthony Davis ever manscape his trademarked unibrow? Is Marc Gasol finally – finally – the BEST Gasol? TwH addresses these questions and more.