An inevitable trend often overwhelms the writing and thinking around professional sports. It extends into television, music, literary and film criticism, but it appears most widespread in sports writing, where the jocular and fraternal atmosphere often still pervades. How many female writers do you know of who write about the NBA?
The tendency for group-think escalates when everyone reads everyone else and wants to align themselves with their peers, or the wise pundits. It happens by osmosis, too. You read enough and you’ll see the trends. We are all heavily influenced by the intake of all that information. Consensus-building in the internet age. And then the predictable “myth-busting” that ensues. What happens when all myths have been busted? What happens when truth is impossible to define? Nobody is right and everybody is right. Oh yes, and little has been edited or fact-checked. This very piece has been posted and only after I read it again did it get edited. And then once more a few hours later. Many pieces are never looked at again. As a writer, I’ve not only stopped being precious with my words, I’ve gotten careless. Where is the balance between spending the time it takes to create something and making it relevant to the current moment?
Most of the time, NBA lovers ignore this moment, the point when the regular season ends and the playoffs are days away from beginning. The fourteen teams that don’t make the big dance get cast aside, rather than discussed. If I didn’t write this now, nobody would have any desire to reflect on the regular season in two weeks, when the first round is reaching its zenith, with it’s four Game 6′s in one night. It’s impossible to keep up with it all…
Chaos is one way to describe it. The reaction to all of this consensus building is to rely heavily on numbers to prove your opinion. To make your case, as if every sports debate must come heavily armed with myth-busting facts. ESPN’s endless chat shows exacerbates the problem. The binary is exhausting to this sports-interested writer. Truth? You can’t handle the truth! That Jack Nicholson scene from A Few Good Men would pop up at the Garden every 4th quarter just before Pierce would put the team on his back. Truth. It’s out there. If only we might stumble upon it…
One team becomes the hot topic of the current moment. In a content-crazed atmosphere, the new “it” team, like its cousins the “it” band and the “it” show, is constantly changing.
In November, the Blazers and Suns were mentioned about as often as Lena Dunham circa 2012 and Dave Chapelle circa 2005. On the flipside, the Nets, Knicks and Lakers were dumped on more than Charlie Brown in a Peanuts rainstorm.
Teams exist as existential lightning rods, rather than as collections of players and coaches, attempting to build something collective. In part, the Nets, Knicks and Lakers were dumped on for their failure to build something organically. The Yankee-bashing, and now Dodger-bashing, that takes place around Major League Baseball is inevitable just as the Laker-bashing and Knick-bashing becomes an archetype. The collective enemy is established. The sports fan can point to payroll, can point to seemingly inept decision making in the front office, can mock the fan-bases of those teams. When any game involves those teams, the sports fan can vent his/her frustration at the world and channel it all toward that one team they hate. Tribalism at its finest.
This is neither new, nor is it a horrible concept that we must get rid of. Throughout the world, fans of one soccer club detest another soccer club. There are deaths at some of these matches. The strong attachment to one team in some leaves unruly resentment towards another team in others. For me, the question boils down to this: If you could only do one, would you rather love your team, or hate your opponents?
When you go to an NBA arena or an MLB stadium and you are surrounded by a few loud and obnoxious haters, this choice becomes clearer. I usually choose loving my team, and my players. As I gain more distance from my childhood and that all-encompassing obsession I had with the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots, I find myself loving more teams, and more players. The circle has indeed grown. It doesn’t mean I will ever be happy for Kobe Bryant and his achievements. I’m still a Celtics fan, and he’s still a Laker. It does mean I can appreciate LeBron James in a way that I couldn’t in 2010. It helps that the Celtics won’t be competing against the Heat this year.
As the calender turned to January…then February…then March…and now April:
- mentions of Brad Stevens‘ genius declined
- increasing mentions of the growing genius of Jeff Hornacek and Terry Stotts.
- injuries continued to dominate the headlines through the season’s first half: too numerous to list here.
- the trade rumors involving Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, and Omer Asik waxed and waned.
In the East:
- the Sixers and Bucks became laughably bad.
- the Sixers went from bad to worse with some questionable trades at the deadline, leaving them with a Spanish-league-level basketball team. Sam Hinkie becomes the head shark in the tanking pool.
- Michael Carter-Williams, who was declared the future of the league in early November, is not mentioned anymore.
- NBA writers continued to exercise their mental and linguistic powers in order to determine who were the legitimate contenders in the Western Conference–the increasing focus on analytics (and its implication of factual evidence, which is somewhat real) became apparent.
- NBA pundits continue to emphasize how unlikely it is that anyone other than the Heat and Pacers can contend in the East.
- NBA pundits and writers continue to focus on how dominant the West is (true, though heavily influenced by injuries as well).
- Which results in no less than five Eastern Conference teams gaining praise and attention in the ensuing months of February, March and now April. At season’s end, these teams have now played a full slate of 52 games against their Eastern Conference foes.
- The Nets go from a laughingstock in December (remember the Jason Kidd drink spillage?) to a lovably unorthodox team in April; a team that arguably now has the power to dethrone the East’s elite, having swept the season series with the Heat.
- The Bulls elicit sympathy the moment Derrick Rose goes down to injury yet again. The Bulls trade away Luol Deng. The Bulls continue to play some of the best team defense in the league and slowly rise from the ashes. The Jordan-led Bulls played with a target that might as well have been stitched on to the backs of their uniforms. These Rose-less Bulls are never the target. The Bulls love grows. Fans of defense and tough-minded players, like myself, heap the praise. Joakim Noah actually gets a few MVP votes. And why shouldn’t he?
- The Raptors become everyone’s favorite new team. The punching bag known as Rudy Gay (the narrative continues, even when he plays well for the mediocre and rebuilding Kings) leaves and the electric and enigmatic Kyle Lowry becomes Chris Paul. DeMar DeRozan channels his inner Vince Carter, circa 2000. Toronto’s small market, Canadian status makes them even more lovable.
- Terrence Ross scored 51 points in a game this season. This may be the strangest fact of the season.
- The Wizards gained in popularity with their youthful and exciting young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards learn the secret of the corner three-pointer. Trevor Ariza is reborn. Andre Miller is added for on-court professorial wisdom, despite his well-known eccentricity. Nene‘s knee concerns, as well as the lack of credibility anyone wants to give Randy Wittman, keep most fans from feeling confident about the playoffs. Even when the Wizards make the playoffs, the league refuses to let them feel good.
- The Bobcats will make the playoffs. This is monumental after the previous decade in Charlotte. The Bobcats will finish 7th in the East thanks to low-post expert Al Jefferson (read Lee Jenkins’ profile of Big Al) and the teaching of new coach Steve Clifford who has willing defenders in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, and the rejuvenated Chris Douglas-Roberts, as well as the paint-clogging stylings of Bismack Biyombo off the bench.
- For the first season in recent memory, especially after the trade deadline, nobody talks about the Celtics.
In the West (warning: mental images of NBA players wearing women’s clothing below)
- The Blazers were the surprise team. Sexy factor: bikini. (Robin Lopez in a nice Blazers-red bikini?)
- The Suns were the surprise team. Sexy factor: thong. (Eric Bledsoe in a thong?)
- After Andre Iguodala returned from a 12-game absence around the holidays, the Warriors were the surprise team. Sexy factor: mini-skirt. (Draymond Green in a mini-skirt? This is especially fitting because Draymond plays with so much physicality)
- Most recently the Rockets and Clippers became the less-surprising, “surprise” teams. Sexy factor: long, flowing dress. (Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan wearing the same style of calf-length something or over)
- The Spurs and their 19-game winning streak, surprised nobody. The fickle, “I want NEW!” NBA fan without an attention span chose not to pay attention. Sexy factor: khaki pants. (Duncan and Pop in matching dockers, though Parker and Kawhi are behind the curtain.)
- An early injury to Marc Gasol kept Memphis below .500 early, and then they slowly and steadily wore away the competition over the second-half of the season, thanks to some offensive help from Courtney Lee and a healthy Mike Miller. James Johnson even showed what he can do on the wing. Memphis will head into the playoffs as hot as anyone (Sexy factor: low, but the lighting is perfect)
- Dallas kept beating mediocre and bad teams with their splendid offensive chemstry. The Rebirth of Monta Ellis, now in a comfortable environment where he can drive at will, gradually wears away at the me-first reputation Monta used to have. (Sexy factor: moderate. Monta in tight pants but Dirk, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion in corduroys)
- Phoenix just kept winning…until they come up a teeny bit short in the end. The most exciting 47-48 win team in NBA history, except for maybe the 2007-08 Warriors team squad that also barely missed out on the playoffs. The Dragon’s injured ankle may well have been the difference over the final five games.
- Corey Brewer of the Wolves scored 51 points in a game this season. This may be the strangest fact of the season.
- The Timberwolves became the team that all analytics-hounds, and most Midwestern NBA fans not from Chicago or Indiana, lament. The team that “could have been.” If only they could ever play in the half-court. Those delicious Kevin Love outlet passes don’t work from the post. Team point differential will never be mentioned so frequently ever again. Instead of winning 50 games, the Wolves will win 41. If only they were in the East…
- For the first season in memory, nobody talks about the Lakers.
- The East truly was the L-east this year. The cross-conference record, which is the better indicator of the disparity than overall record, because overall record is influenced by strength of conference, shows how lopsided it has been. All but one of the season’s cross-conference games have been played Wednesday night’s Detroit-OKC match-up is the final).
- Record: West teams: 283 wins. East teams: 166 wins.
- The 2003-04 West was slightly more dominant than the 2013-14 West, however. In other words, it has been slightly worse in recent history. That 2003-04 season resulted in a .633 winning percentage for the West, while this year they have won at a .630 clip.
- Factor in a healthy Al Horford, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Larry Sanders, and Brook Lopez, and things would have been much different. (okay, I couldn’t resist a partial list)
- Why re-hash any of it, now that the season is mercifully ending for the dregs of the East?
- Orlando and Milwaukee, and even Boston in the last two months, got very little criticism for their horrendous play, probably because nobody expected anything after the Bucks injuries hit early, and it was clear that the Magic couldn’t score. The Celtics get a lot of NBA internet love (which I contribute to in some tiny way), but it is surprising how little tank-talk there was once it was acknowledged how bad this team was.
- The Sixers received 99% of the criticism. Probably because they have such a clearly defined path toward rebuilding. Also, because they tied the record for consecutive losses in a season (26). Also because Hinkie forced everyone to consider just how valuable a second round pick is within the rules of the new CBA.
- Related to all the tank talk was all of the “How do we fix the lottery?” and age-restriction debating. I’ll leave all of that out for now.
- The draft lottery is on May 20th.
- The draft will be on June 26. The Celtics will have a lottery pick, very likely in the top 6
Still…it was a great season for the NBA, and for the NBA internet, and for the internet, and for the internet NBA, and for all of the fans of the roundball all around the world. Well…except for maybe the Lakers fans.
Check back for playoff previews in the coming days….