If you ever wanted a crash course on every good, bad and comical aspect of the NBA, the past week should have sufficed quite well.
With what will without question become one of the greatest NBA Finals series in history square at a game apiece going into Sunday, we also got a dose of bad reffing (or just NBA reffing) and a rehash of the ancient (dating back to 1985) conspiracy theories. The Good
The level of basketball being played in the Finals is in rarefied air. Note to NHL: This is what you need in a championship series to make fans other than the die-hards watch.
I spent the entire regular season bemoaning bad shots, bad basketball and bad conditioning thanks to the lockout. While the playoffs were better, what has transpired in two games between Miami and Oklahoma City overwhelms all of it.
Everything: The tempo, the athleticism and the defence is off the proverbial hook.
Of course it helps when you get the two best players in the game not only playing against each other, but matching up against each other.
The last time this happened was Magic vs. Bird - when the Internet was still a cold war military application. LeBron James and Kevin Durant averaged 31 and 34 points respectively in Games 1 and 2, with Russell Westbrook and a clearly hurting Dwyane Wade contributing (when he wasn't being held to just two points by Thabo Sefolosha in the first half of Game 1, before Thabo blanketed LeBron in the second). Ole maligned Chris Bosh keyed Miami early with a double-double in the first half in Game 2.
Still, criticism remains.The Bad
Right, the criticism. The LeBron haters? Whatever.
The people who think the Thunder are in trouble when Westbrook starts jacking up shots? Statistical fact says the team is 26-6 (including Game 2) this year when the point guard took more shots than the small forward. People have been trying to create a rift between those two for a year and a half, and it obviously isn't working given their shared love of glasses.
But those are NBA fans and media bringing this stuff up. Yet that's a major part of this story. So is what fans have doing for two decades: Questioning refereeing.
I'm as odious of calls in the league as Mark Cuban is. There's no question stars get calls most of the time and the rest is give and take. But to blame the Thunder's Game 2 loss on the no-call on James getting his arm in Durant's chest is idiotic.
I won't defend a ref missing something and I steadfastly believe NBA referees and MLB umpires need to both attend a self-improvement seminar run by the North Korean government, but bear in mind OKC started the game in an 18-2 hole.
The officiating complaints will always be there, but if anything as much criticism can be levelled at Thunder coach Scott Brooks (for whom I doubt I will get an argument from anyone on when I say he's a better coach than Erik Spoelstra) for not playing Kendrick Perkins for more than 20 minutes, despite three fouls.
However you've got to remember something. The NBA fans are passionate and to many extents, crazy. Basketball fans, before any other sports fanbase, pioneered the sports blogosphere.
Case in point: When Raptors fans complain about the quality of mainstream media coverage in Canada, a lot don't realize the Raps have more bloggers (serious or casual, stable or insane) than any other team in the NBA. That digital revolution alone -- combined with an inferiority complex from every city not named New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Boston or Dallas -- lends the sport to conspriracy theories.
Which brings me to:The Ugly
Commissioner David Stern's classless smack talk
to radio host Jim Rome Wednesday summarizes that ugly. I realize Rome is no Bob Costas and some liken him to a hygiene product, but how many people Googled whether he has actually ever been in trouble for spousal abuse (never has) after Stern's idiotic "do you still beat your wife" response to Rome's question about the draft lottery being rigged?
While I see Stern's intent to pose a similarly loaded question where perception becomes reality, the ugly response is further evidence that Stern lost it a few years ago. Right around 2007-08.
Not to touch on the Tim Donaghy scandal while we're talking about refs, but maybe that nightmare affected his thought process with his breathtaking PR bumbling of the Seattle-Oklahoma City situation in '08.
That's not to take anything away from the Thunder and their fans. That's easily the best gym in the NBA right now. But the means in which that franchise arrived there -- with Stern's eased complicity -- from a passionate 40-year market stinks to high heaven. Ask fans in Washington state how they are enjoying these epic NBA Finals. Stern is far from a stupid man. He is brilliant actually, a man who deserves medals for building the NBA brand.
But as often happens in life, there's a time when you've been somewhere too long, and the decisions you begin to make start to counter the positive things you've done. And as a smart lawyer, his wife-beating response was just amateur.
Anybody in his position with the skill to think on their feet would have simply countered Rome's question with whether the host's 1994 "fight" with former NFL quarterback Jim Everett
was set up.
But hey, it's another week in the NBA. The ugly is ugly and the bad is usually stupid, but the good is great. Add them all together and it's fantastic.
I love this game.
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