Church of the NBA
My favorite thing about sports is greatness.
Don’t get me wrong, I love winning too. There’s no bigger (Boston) homer than me, and watching one of the hometown teams win a ring or banner or cup is as amazing as it gets – and we’ve had a good run over the last 18 odd years – but if I am really honest and objective about it, witnessing greatness is probably the best part of being a sports fan. And the NBA – the playoffs in particular, the season in which we find ourselves again from mid-April to mid-June – may be the most sustained period to witness greatness in real time in any sport. It brings out the true believer in me. Right now, we’re seeing something historic with LeBron James aka King James, who just dispatched my Celtics en route to his 8th consecutive Finals appearance. It’s not entirely unprecedented of course, Celtics legend Bill Russell won 9 of 11 championships across a decade plus run, but what we’re seeing with the King and his breathtaking performances (he’s averaging 34, 9, and 9 through the Eastern Finals) has little equal in the modern era of the NBA.
What exactly is the modern NBA era? If it’s left up to me, I define it by when I became a hardcore fan which is probably the mid-eighties through right now. If that’s the playing field, then just think of how fortunate we have really been over the last 30+ years. On the heels of Magic v Bird, we got Jordan, which until LeBron was really the only bar by which all others were judged. I’d say the main reason we even get to have the MJ v LeBron for GOAT debate is because of their respective sustained success. LeBron’s aforementioned run only finds real comparison in MJ’s 6 for 6 in the NBA Finals and his iconic performances across them.
Think about that, even Kobe and Tim Duncan’s five championships each only get honorable mention in this debate. Kobe and Shaq’s threepeat? Impressive, but hard to consider in the elite echelon when you compare it to the fact that MJ doubled that feat while winning 5 Finals MVPs. Will the Golden State Warriors enter the conversation now that they beat the upstart Houston Rockets to get into their 4th straight Finals? Possibly – but I am thinking we need to see a run of at least 6 or 7 Finals appearances and stacking the wins once they get there, and it’s hard to fathom in the era of free agency and super teams. Even if they do, with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant leading the way and obliquely stealing the spotlight with one another, I doubt they would get in the greatness conversation with MJ and LeBron regardless.
Speaking of which, long live the MJ v LeBron debate if you ask me. It’s a unique to sports to have these sorts of heated arguments without being able to really come to any conclusion. No one really sits around and talks Obama vs Clinton, Reagan vs Kennedy or MJ vs Prince, Madonna vs Beyoncé. Stallone v the Rock? Meryl Streep v Dame Judi Dench? Does this happen? Wait – should it happen? Sports are mythic that way. What athletes achieve on the courts (in this case) are transcendent and touch on the ineffable. They may be humans off the court, but those operatic performances across time that require optimum physical, mental, and even spiritual equilibrium (did I just make that up?) are pretty unlike anything else in modern culture. My two cents – sit back and enjoy it. It’s bigger than sports and it doesn’t happen all that often. But it’s happening right now on a television near you.
Decades ago, Sam Toperoff moved to France. The only problem, he says, with the idyllic Alps village where he built his home was that there was only one, poorly-maintained basketball hoop that stood there unused. It was a long way from his childhood in Queens, where he and his friends would play ball on playgrounds all day long. But when an old photo arrived in Toperoff’s email inbox earlier this year, it set off a chain of events that led Toperoff to a gym, a coach, and a young basketball player in a nearby town. Along the way, he realized that there wasn’t much separating a French gym today from the schoolyards in Queens that recall such vivid memories in him. “But tell me,” Toperoff writes, “how in the world can you slap tariff on a jump shot?”
What happens when one of the biggest cities in America finally has its first major sports success in 20 years? Elation. For all the fans who kept the faith when nothing seemed like it would ever break D.C.’s way, the Capitals victory in the Eastern Conference Finals that secured a spot to skate for the Stanley Cup against the Vegas Golden Knights was the answer to decades of prayer. The rallying cry of this year’s playoff run? “It’s OK to believe.” They’re right. It is OK. That’s the fun in it.
Don’t miss this collection of some of the bestfan reactions to the Game 7 victory. You’ll love the man silently screaming while his three-month-old baby sleeps next to him
Who doesn’t love a good redemption story? Johnny Football, who for so long seemingly couldn’t make a smart decision (let alone the right one) and could hardly get through a month without landing in some kind of scandal, is playing football again. In the five years since Johnny’s father told ESPN, “It could come unraveled. And when it does, it’ll be bad. Real bad,” things came crashing down. He went from starting in the NFL to rehab, out of football without much hope. Now, Johnny finds himself in Canada in a league whose large field and wide-open playing style fits him well. Those close to him says he’s changed for real this time, that a lot of the credit should go to his new wife Bre. Whatever the reason, Johnny finally made both the right decision and the smart one, too. We’ll see how the fallen angel does up North.
“Pressure is that feeling you get when you’re unprepared.”