Good vs. Evil? Nah, just ODB vs. MVP
We’re living in an age of around the clock sports saturation. For those of us who can never get enough information about our favorite teams and players, these are glorious days to be a sports fan. Of course, there’s also a rather dark and depressing side to this all-out media assault. With so much time and space to fill, you can no longer go 24 hours without hearing ridiculous comparisons and outlandish hyperbole tossed around like midgets at a frat party. Every young upstart is the next big thing and every major event is hyped to be the best (or worst) ever. The latest and greatest example of this awful phenomenon can be seen in the national media’s furious attempt to portray the San Antonio Spurs as the NBA’s new Bad Boys. Considering the Spurs were previously known as a boring, milk and cookies team, I find this all rather amusing. So, unfortunately, it seems I must once again do the unthinkable. That’s right. I’m coming to the Spurs’ defense. Again.
First of all, the Bad Boy characterization is flat-out absurd. If you disagree, I can only assume one of three things:
You recently suffered some sort of head trauma resulting in permanent memory loss of everything associated with the late 80’s and early 90’s. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since that also means you no longer recall Tiffany, Dan Quayle or Bob Saget’s rise to prominence.
You’re too young to truly remember what those Detroit Pistons teams were really like.
Your hate for the Spurs is such that you believe a closer inspection would reveal the number “666” on the forehead or hand of every San Antonio player and coach. I hear HDTV owners are actually able to see this for themselves now.
If you don’t fall into one of those categories, then you should know there’s no reason to believe the hype. Take a look at some of the names from the Pistons of that era: Isiah Thomas. Bill Laimbeer. Dennis Rodman. Rick Mahorn. John Salley. James Edwards. That team was the freaking ’27 Yankees of dirty play. Meanwhile, San Antonio has one, count ‘em, ONE nasty player on its entire roster (Bruce Bowen, of course). Hell, these Spurs can’t even hold a candle to any of the other clubs which embraced their inner thug over the years. Pat Riley’s Knicks? The mid-80’s Celtics featuring Ainge, DJ and McHale? How about the Stockton and Malone-led Jazz? The Spurs fall far short every time. Sure, San Antonio has perfected the art of whining (although this continues to be a league-wide problem and Phoenix is no exception), but this just isn’t a dirty team.
Still don’t believe me? Let’s break down the “dirty” events of this series. ODB (Ol’ Dirty Bowen) was responsible for the leg whip on Amare Stoudemire and the knee to Steve Nash’s twig and berries, but his reputation as a dirty, rotten scoundrel on the basketball court was cemented years ago. Of course, things really came to a head when Robert Horry decided to involve Nash in his own personal NHL fantasy. But does anyone (especially those of us in Houston) actually think Big Shot Rob is a cheap shot artist? After that, you have… oh wait. There is nothing else of substance to report.
The truth is, the Spurs are guilty of little more than overexposure as a result of their prolonged success. Everyone outside of San Antonio is tired of watching them methodically march their way through the postseason year after year. In many ways, they resemble the New England Patriots who have recently found themselves facing a similar sort of backlash (they’re boring, we’re tired of them, they get away with murder, get all the calls, blah, blah, blah). But guess what? Both are first-class organizations destined for more success in the near future. Rockets and Texans fans should be so lucky.
Now as for the media’s infatuation with instantaneous hyperbole, I’ll only subject you to one of about 1.8 billion examples. In Thursday’s edition of the Arizona Republic, Dan Bickley breathlessly predicts that, “the NBA's decision to suspend Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Wednesday's 88-85 loss to the Spurs will be something we're moaning about for the next 20 years, if not longer.” Really, Dan? You mean I’m going to have to listen to people complain about those suspensions for the next two decades? If so, go ahead and kill me now. But assuming I can avoid such a horrific fate, I still have two major problems with that statement. First of all, the Suns had a great shot at winning Game 5 and (I know this might be hard for some to fathom) this series isn’t over. Yes, the Suns are up against it, but I’m by no means counting them out. I continue to stand by my prediction that this series is going the distance and, quite frankly, if Phoenix can't beat the Spurs twice in a row with their season on the line, they probably don't deserve a title this year anyway, especially if they prevail in Game 6 only to drop Game 7. In fact, I'll happily listen to excuses from Suns’ fans if Phoenix can’t get past Game 6. But if they lose the finale, on their home court, I don't want to hear it. You simply can't lose three times at home in a seven game series, even if one of those contests happened to be played under unfortunate circumstances.
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My other problem with Dan’s comment: The Suns were not completely innocent victims! Stoudemire and Diaw messed up. Were their actions completely understandable and even somewhat admirable? Absolutely. But they put themselves in a position of peril the moment they left the bench. They simply had to know better. Sure, the NBA could have and probably should have shown some compassion when it made its decision, but history shows the league has been coldly consistent in similar situations. So when Boris and Amare stood up and made their way down the line, punishment was practically guaranteed. Just because the outcome was less than ideal for everyone involved doesn’t mean we should absolve the guilty parties of their responsibility in this mess.
Finally, I’m afraid I have to take issue with one of my favorite sportswriters. ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons is one of the best, especially when the subject is basketball. But I couldn’t disagree more with his argument that the NBA is doing its best to lose fans and ruin the game. Think about it. From the beginning, we had a pretty good idea that this series was going to be the de facto NBA Finals, so it already possessed plenty of sex appeal. Then you have America’s love affair with the Suns’ run-and-gun style of play and its two-time (should be three-time) MVP, Mr. Nash. Now sprinkle in some controversy and a healthy dose of animosity toward the suddenly despicable Spurs (I’m talking national perspective here, not my own) and you have all the ingredients necessary for an epic battle of good vs. evil. For those, like Simmons, who find themselves pining for the days when teams faced off with a modicum of malice and loathing in their hearts, you couldn’t ask for anything more. And if we’re lucky enough to see this series go seven, I suspect the TV ratings will go through the roof (for a 2nd round match-up, no less!), especially after the non-stop hype and hoopla this showdown has received.
Make no mistake, Spurs-Suns is GREAT for the NBA. It’s what comes after this series that should leave league execs shaking in their suits. Perhaps it’s just me but, somehow, I don’t see the viewing public mustering much passion for a likely final four of San Antonio, Utah, Cleveland and Detroit. So do yourself a favor and make sure you savor everything this series has to offer. Relish the intensity, bask in the starpower and marvel at the quality of play. Because this time next week, you might be left with nothing but the drab four and those gawd awful Pussycat Dolls. Now that’s a combination capable of destroying the NBA.