I’ve said before that I don’t want this blog to be a sports blog, and there are a number of reasons for that. For one, my life is sports – I work in the industry and that’s where my future lies – so I can use a break from it every now and then. Secondly, the Internet has become a horde of sports-blogging zombies looking to make their name by offering worn-out opinions and offending any sensible laws of the English language. While I provide correct spelling and use of grammar, aren’t there enough sportswriters out there already? And thirdly, it’s for my own self-interest. Since I’m planning on a future in sports, why should I review the failure of a team’s pitching staff if there’s a chance I’m calling games for that team down the line? But on a day like today, with so much noise about LeBron James and the 2012 NBA champion Miami Heat, it’s hard to resist.
There always seems to be a certain “narrative” regarding major sports events. This narrative often touches upon some widespread generalizations while occasionally making use of facts. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because Mark Cuban beat me to the punch by a couple of hours…
I don’t think I’d have liked to be on the wrong side of that. But I digress. Let’s see what we can figure out about a few of the different narratives that have been floating around for the past 15 hours or so…
Miami wasn’t ready to win the Finals last season. It wasn’t their time.
This one starts to come straight from the horse’s mouth: LeBron himself. Here’s his quote:
“The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing the Finals,” James said after winning Game 5. “I knew what it was going to have to take, and I was going to have to change as a basketball player.”
He’s right in some respects. James clearly became a better player this season, turning into an ever more fearsome monster in the post and around the paint, and by all accounts, he became a better person, too. (I say “by all accounts” because I’m not going to pretend like I actually know LeBron James.) And maybe Miami doesn’t win this year’s title after last year – maybe the Heat don’t work as hard in the offseason and maybe James doesn’t evolve his game as much. But this notion that Miami needed to experience pain before it won a championship is patently silly.
Have we all forgotten how close the Heat came to winning a championship last season? If Miami doesn’t blow a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2 – or if Dwayne Wade’s game-ending three-point try off the back rim lands a few inches closer to the front of the rim – Miami probably wins the NBA title. If Miami doesn’t blow a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Miami probably wins the NBA title. If Miami doesn’t blow a late lead in the fourth quarter of Game 5, Miami probably wins the NBA title. I’m not naive enough to suggest that we should treat all blown leads as poor execution by the team with the lead and nothing else, but with a pinch more luck, the Heat would have celebrated last year’s title.
I don’t doubt for a second that Miami became a stronger team because of the adversity they faced last year and last offseason. But the notion that it wasn’t their time is somewhat silly. And it continues…
Oklahoma City was too young and inexperienced to win this season. It wasn’t their time.
On the losing side of things, this might be the most prevalent opinion held about Oklahoma City today. Sure, it has some merit to it – the Thunder are young. They don’t have a ton of collective NBA experience. But for the love of all things holy, people, let’s examine why this is a load of nonsense:
– In Game 2, Oklahoma City trailed 18-2 right from the onset. Could that be because Miami’s smaller starting lineup overwhelmed OKC’s bigger one? Or does it have to be inexperience? Was LeBron James’ late-game foul on Kevin Durant – the one that would have sent him to the foul line to attempt the tying free throws – blatantly missed by the officials because of OKC’s inexperience?
– In the first 46.5 minutes of a 48-minute Game 3, Oklahoma City played Miami to within one point before the Heat hit some late-game free throws to close. Miami was +16 at the foul line for the game, winning despite an earlier 10-point deficit. Sure, they blew a lead…but do inexperienced teams that aren’t ready even take double-digit leads in the Finals?
– Miami led by three points with under 20 seconds remaining in Game 4. So, once again, the Thunder basically played the Heat to a draw for 47-plus minutes. Yes, Russell Westbrook made a dumb foul at the end of the game, but he also scored 43 points.
Change one play in each of those three games – just one solitary play at some point over the course of the 48 minutes – and you may easily have an entirely different result. If one three-pointer that rattled in and out in the third quarter of Games 2, 3 or 4 rattles in instead, you dramatically alter the sequence of events. Sure, experience matters in games this close. I don’t deny that Miami’s big-game experience gives it some advantage.
But hang on one minute. Aren’t we forgetting something about these Oklahoma City Thunder? Aren’t we forgetting that this same group of young, inexperienced, apparently-not-ready basketballers won four straight games against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals? After San Antonio had won twenty consecutive games? The same San Antonio team with perhaps as much big-game experience as anyone in the league, thanks to a core trio that had won multiple championships? With a pivotal Game 5 in San Antonio, a place where the Thunder had given up 120 points in Game 2? Against a Spurs team that – after Game 2 – anyone who pretended to know anything about basketball anointed as the overwhelming title favorites?
To fully savor this point, we must believe that the Thunder’s players remembered they were young and inexperienced in between the two biggest series of their career. Right. Or could we say that Miami played better and was smarter.
Miami wanted it more.
This is equally as fun as the last one. In this narrative, Miami’s players wanted this NBA championship more than the other 29 NBA teams. Oklahoma City players wanted the championship more than the other 28 teams, obviously, but not as much as Miami did. Cuban said as much in his takedown above, slamming down the ridiculous though that LeBron James tried harder than Kevin Durant. Why, exactly, wouldn’t Oklahoma City want to win this championship as badly as Miami? What incentive do the Heat have to try harder?
LeBron James has finally validated himself as the best player in the world.
False, but with a caveat. It was clear to anyone who’s consistently watched basketball over the last two seasons that LeBron James is just plain better than anyone else in the league. Was he better than everyone in the “clutch” moments? No. But – while James’ failure in big moments was downright baffling at times last season – our tendency to devalue all moments in the game besides the very end constantly reared its ugly head after last season’s playoffs. Now James should be universally accepted as the game’s very best – in terms of overall scoring, rebounding, passing, defending and all-out energy, he has no equal in the game. He turned into a more consistent cold-blooded assassin in this year’s postseason at the end of games and finally lived up to everyone’s lofty expectations. But even if Oklahoma City had received a few more bounces and a bit more luck, James would still have been the game’s best player. Now, he just gets to have that mantle unquestioned. (Until next season, of course.)
We should all get off LeBron’s back and appreciate the awe-inspiring display of basketball we saw from him this postseason.
This one’s pretty well right on. The best player in the game evolved this season and orchestrated one of the greatest individual playoff runs in league history to win his first championship at 27 – one year before Michael Jordan won his first. Why can’t we just admire that?
Oh, and get over it, Cleveland fans.
Yeah, the grudge against LeBron James – the best player, bar none, in the history of the Cavaliers – should probably be dropped at this point. But still, Cleveland fans get to drown in their sorrows for as long as they want, until the Browns, Indians or Cavaliers do something. Leave these poor people alone. They deserve something good at some point, right?
The 2-3-2 format is ridiculous.
OK, this isn’t a narrative that’s emerged from last night, but I just wanted somewhere to put this. We’re supposed to accept the NBA changing from the format it uses for each and every postseason series just so it can alter it in the league’s deciding set of games? Why should the team with the worse record get the luxury of home-court advantage at any point during the series? It likely wouldn’t have made a difference, but it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
Potentially on the docket for next week: a review of Game of Thrones’ Season Two, or an old-school look at Season 1 of The West Wing. But outside of that, who knows? Send me your ideas or your guest posts at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, thanks for reading.