I’ve been watching the NBA playoffs and I have to say, I’m really enjoying them, even though I believe Shaquille O’Neal is only on the broadcasts to prove how large a man can fit on how small a barstool. And if Kevin Garnett pounds his chest one more time, they’re going to whistle him for a flagrant.
But I think I know why these conference finals are so highly rated. Fans see them as the good guys vs. the bad guys.
Just not always the same way.
Take the East, where Boston hosts Miami tonight in Game6. The Celtics lead, 3-2, and could win the series. And what a shock that would be!
Or would it? The way people loathe the Heat, you wonder how the players make it to the arena without the team bus being tipped over.
To the detractors, the Heat is everything evil: famous talent, making ridiculous money, choosing to work together.
In other words, “Oceans Eleven.”
But they don’t despise in the movies the way they despise in sports. The Heat should just get it over with and rearrange the letters in its name. “The Hate” is more like it.
And if everyone hates the Heat …
… then everyone loves the Celtics.
Now that’s funny.
How times have changed
Because anyone over 30 knows how comical the idea of Boston as America’s Team is. Before Dwyane Wade could dunk his diaper, the Celtics were despised. They had Larry Bird, who was annoyingly spectacular, and Kevin McHale, who was all elbows, and pouty Danny Ainge and the silent giant, Robert Parish, who glared so meanly, babies burst out crying in the stands.
Now, however, the aged Celtics can save the world from LeBron James’ greed. Never mind that Garnett is as foul-mouthed as they come, Paul Pierce seems no less selfish or self-congratulatory than any Miami player, and Rajon Rondo may look like he’s 14, but he’s got a nasty streak of a jaded middle-ager.
Doesn’t matter. Miami, because of how the team was assembled, has the “bad guys” – unless you’re from South Beach – and millions will tune in tonight in hopes of seeing a tower fall. Rarely has such an assemblage of talent sparked such gleeful resentment.
Meanwhile, the Spurs-Thunder series, which went to Game6 on Wednesday night, has pitted the young and the restless against the old and the “not-so-fast-kid.” San Antonio has garnered legions of fans who previously couldn’t find that city on a map – and why? Because the Spurs had three superstars in their 30s, while Oklahoma City gives its players lollipops.
Love-hate team spurs interest
But it wasn’t so long ago that Manu Ginobili was this annoying young flopper from overseas, and Tony Parker was a boyish-looking French import dating Eva Longoria. Fans didn’t always love the Spurs, but age gives you a certain nobility in sports, and a good chunk of America wanted the old guys to hold off the young and coming freight train of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who fly through the air on the court, and dress like Peter Parker off it.
(Can I ask: What’s with this new NBA look of horned-rim glasses and collegiate sweaters in the postgame news conferences? I keep expecting them to say, “Which way to the registrar’s office?”)
But it’s all part of the postseason drama, which is making up for a shortened NBA year of labor issues. If I’m David Stern, I’m hoping the prognosticators who say the Heat will be broken up if it loses tonight are wrong: Even more than a collective bargaining agreement, you want a team every year, like the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Yankees, that a certain percentage loves to love and a larger percentage loves to hate. It’s good for business.
(For my money, the problem with the Heat is the problem that always has plagued heavy casts of talent that are supposed to win simply by showing up: There’s only one ball. Role playing is more important in playoff basketball, and from Rondo to Mickael Pietrus, the Celtics are simply better at having a guy for this and a guy for that than Miami.)
Having said that, there is no reason the Heat can’t win two and advance to the NBA Finals.
If Miami does, and it faces the Thunder – meaning the old guys and the “good” guys are out – I have just two questions: Who are you supposed to root for?
And can someone get Shaq a bigger chair?