Max Ornstein will be covering the NBA playoffs for the GMPM. He’s a sick man and a fan of no team, so strap in and follow along. It will be fun. We promise.
Over the past week and a half, I’ve heard every possible permutation of the playoff picture, talked about by every possible permutation of ESPN analysts and bloggers, in every possible format—lists, round tables, columns, picks, Q&A, live chats, live tweets, conversations (I’ve even been a part of one!), B.S. Reports (I wish I was!), and “Sports Shouting” shows.
As I was making my own picks, Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard were on 1st & 10, which was on my TV, on mute. Watching the spit fly and their faces go red in silence made me realize something—and it’s not that the world was ending because I agreed with Skip Bayless. He was arguing with Chris Broussard, after all. It’s that the last week of the NBA season is an incredibly slow news week, full of pre-playoff blather.
If the camera hadn’t caught Kobe’s tantrum on Tuesday, which forced the sports viewing public to confront the (in my opinion, really obvious) fact that athletes don’t have nuanced views of gender relations and LGBT issues—especially when they’re furious—it would’ve been even slower.
After it happened, sports talking heads took a break from pre-playoff blather to jockey for the position of “who can condemn Kobe the most forcefully for being a bigot while wasting an opportunity to talk about the bigger issue at hand, which is—as Brendan Burke’s story showed us—cultural across all North American sports and not unique to the NBA, let alone Kobe.” He’s the lightning rod because he’s Kobe and he got caught. For a day, Kobe pulled a Bill Clinton and tried to talk about the meaning of the words he said as he said them, but now he’s saying all the right things, the Lakers are working with GLAAD, and the issue is—very neatly—swept back under the rug.
Once they were finished condemning, everyone returned to their regularly scheduled blather: The Bulls are too young, the Celtics are too old, the Spurs won’t hit threes in the playoffs, the Heat are a three-man team, the Knicks are going to surprise the Celtics, the Lakers are going to steamroll everyone, the Thunder are vulnerable because they haven’t won a playoff game on the road, the Nuggets are the deepest, most-talented playground team ever assembled, the Trailblazers are going to upset the Mavericks, and no one thinks very much of Indiana, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. I’ve also heard the counter-arguments that go along with each of these. Except for Indy, N’awlins, and Philly—everyone really does think you suck.
Depending on whom you’re tuned into, Dirk is either overrated or underrated. He’s either a playoff dud or a superstar doing yeoman’s work on a team of guys whose names used to mean something. The Atlanta Hawks are a team that knows it’s getting bounced in the first round and have been playing like it for six weeks, or they’re a team that matches up favorably with the Orlando Magic. Memphis is young and scary, with the size and tenacity on the wings to give the Spurs fits. That, or their team, without Rudy Gay, is the perfect bottle of WD-40 for the creaky gears of the Spurs.
With nothing else to feed its hunger, the conventional wisdom cannibalizes itself. But on Saturday and Sunday, we’re invited to a sports feast on the level of the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament. We’ll see all sixteen teams in action over the weekend, and each team will have a chance to either affirm or reject the narrative that they’ve been given.
Will there be overreactions and rash conjecture after the first game of each series? Of course. We’re watching sports in 2011, so we’ll get a healthy dose after every game. But we’ll be in the playoffs, and everyone will talk about what happened in last night’s games, and not about all the things that could have.
—Photo AP/Mark J. Terrill