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The NBA’s history is like a Rolodex. Flip to a year, and you know exactly what’s on that card.
The cards are titled by champions, and cross-referenced by their storyline. Dynasties are color-coated for easy reference. Facts about strong teams exist only for comparison, and losers are forgotten forever. Think about it. 1998? Bulls storybook ending, Jordan holding his follow-through over Byron Russell. 1988? Pistons over Lakers, the last great Finals Game 7 and the first of the Pistons‘ back-to-back. 1978? The cinder block Wes Unseld shoves Washington to its lone championship in those red and white jailhouse uniforms.
This works for every year. And it always will. It’s simple classification, and it is how we work. One season, one year, one card. Only so much information.
But, for each of those seasons - for each card - there were over 1,500 games played: opening games, Christmas Day games, conference finals, all forgotten about. Almost all of the great stories must have been swept under the carpet…we simply don’t have the cranial square footage to keep the information. There is no longer talk about the magical night a no-name scored 50 points, or the underdog caught fire and beat the favorite in overtime. Superhuman efforts and improbable moments have been lost. Sadly, inevitably, the memory fades under the weight of large numbers, as the games begin to pile upon themselves.
On a long enough timeline, all that remains is the Champ, and their story.
So, what will be the forgotten stories of this season? The celebration of sports lies in the reverence for the moment. What makes this moment different? What will be lost when the Champs are crowned, and we move on?
If you love sports, and you love the NBA, these are the stories you will wish you held on to.
Obama Digs Basketball
This year marks the first time that a hoops hobbyist, a hardwood aficionado has a legitimate shot at the White House. The lanky, 6’1 ½” candidate, still a top-3 pick at any public court, will have far-reaching effects on the game as we know it.
He has plans to put a court where the bowling alley today stands. But the repercussions don't stop there. We are talking Presidential pick-up games, meaning Congressmen and Senators will be practicing their jumper, just to get that valued time on the court with him. We are talking about sightings at high-profile NBA games, perhaps lending some (much-needed) notoriety to his hometown Chicago Bulls. Bad officials will be summoned for Congressional Hearings, the All NBA First Team will become decorated generals, and Scot Pollard will be declared an endangered wildlife preserve.
Okay, perhaps foreign leaders will simply meet at half-court, shake hands amid a flurry of flashbulbs, and toss up the ceremonial jump ball? The point is, anything is possible with President Jumpshot.
10-year Anniversary of Lockout
As I stated previously, there is a special silver lining on this aluminum anniversary. Ten years means the league survived. Ten years means the NBA got its ratings back, put the right players in the spotlight, and swept the controversy quietly out the back door.
An efficient machine. Our sport is safe.
One thing I didn’t mention: if there were another lockout in 2012, we would go through the same “the league can’t take it, it may fold” talk from the sports radio shows and talking heads. What we have learned is that there are just too many fans of basketball. From the hopeful Presidential candidate to Joe the pick-up player, we are a country enthralled with round ball. The NCAA tourney is a powerhouse, and as fans grow attached to players, they follow them to the professional league. It’s basically a farm system for our demographic audience, complete with t-shirts and cheerleaders.
The NBA isn’t going anywhere for a while. (So, I’m glad I picked this profession.)
The Passing of the Torch - The New Guy, KD
One of the main stories this year (that will be eventually forgotten) will be the emergence of Kevin Durant…and let me speak for NBA fans everywhere by saying I couldn’t be more excited. If Thirteen from House showed up at my doorstep with one bag of money, and one bag of Junior Mints, I honestly wouldn’t be any happier than I am about Kevin Durant.
In order to cultivate a superstar, they must be placed in a less-than-ideal situation to begin with, and they must struggle. Like Lebron’s first couple years in Cleveland, or Jordan’s early days in Chicago, they must first appreciate what it means to win…by learning what it means to absolutely stink.
This is imperative.
The OK City Thunder, though still a cross between an expansion team and an abandoned child, are currently laying the foundation for Durant. They surrounded by a legitimate second option in Russell Westbrook, two rebound-hungry bigs (Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison), and a completely unselfish point guard in Earl Watson. They are under the cap, they are building around young scorers, and they are in a city that has zero expectations. Durant is about to have the first of many, many banner years, and we are lucky enough to watch it happen.
The Upcoming Ricky Rubio Invasion
Want to make some easy money? Stop reading this, get up, and go copywrite the phrase “Ricky-mania”.
That’s the crazy thing about the NBA - there is more excitement for what could happen than what just did happen. Potential success trumps actual success. That is why, each year, the NBA draft is blown entirely out of proportion. Each new prospect is hailed as a savior, greeted with skyscraping expectations and tanking franchises. It’s a time of unknown limits, where the player has yet to underachieve; in the minds of the fans, he is still perfect, flawless.
On draft night, you are politely handed the keys to a sinking ship…and a free hat.
As the 2009 Draft approaches, we are going to experience a growing swell of anticipation over the arrival of Ricky Rubio. The 6’4” point guard with boyish looks, floppy hair, and unreal handles will slowly work his way into announcer commentary and draft pamphlets. Though not currently slated to be the #1 pick, Rubio has nonetheless captured the fascination of both the international crowd and the scouts. His highlights are on Youtube‘s greatest hits, up there with Kobe’s 81-point game and Lebron’s dunks over, well, everyone.
Once this kid hits mainstream America, it’s all over. The white boy’s slick passes, deft ball handling, and long-range touch was made for SportsCenter. He’s a younger, cooler, and less pompous Steve Nash. The team that drafts him becomes an immediate must-see. Your wife or girlfriend will have his jersey by this time next year. Who knows, you might buy it, too.
But this is what happens. We set the bar so high, you couldn’t clear it with a jetpack on. But, come the All-Star game in February, the press coverage will focus on Spain, and young Ricky Rubio will be on the tongues of all America.
Just relax…it will happen, and you get to look forward to that, too.
Iverson to the Pistons
So begins the Trades We All Saw Coming, which was almost the title of my last column.
That’s a lie. I never expected this trade in a million years, and if you speak to any NBA columnist, I doubt you’ll get a different response. The NBA, the only sport where a 50-win team self-combusts. Where a future first ballot Hall-Of-Famer and a recent Defensive Player of the Year get moved for a past-his-prime and oft-injured point guard and a whole bunch of cap room. Where the Denver Nuggets move instantly from contenders to back-enders.
The NBA, where Grand Theft Iverson…happens.
If anything, this trade vaulted Joe Dumars to the Executive of the Year status. In one fell swoop, Dumars upgrades a lineup that struggled for points and was power-forward heavy into a quick, lean, and explosive offensive weapon. He opens the backcourt for the development of the promising Rodney Stuckey. And finally, as stated in Truehoop’s informative post, Dumars puts Detroit in the front running to sign Lebron, Chris Bosh, Dewayne Wade, or any of the other valued free agents from the draft class of ‘03.
It’s a win-now-and-win-later method, and you can‘t argue with that. The Pistons are currently in a virtual tie with the Celtics as Eastern Conference favorites. And this move might have Knicks fans ready to shank Dumars for taking their rightful place in the Potential Lebron Sweepstakes.
The Lakers, Celtics, and Pistons back on top? What’s next, parachute pants, Reebok Pumps and high-top fades?
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For further reading, please take a look at the GM projections at this time last year. I dare you to look back on this column just one year from now, and see all that has changed. Go on. I dare you.