It's just a game. We know this.
Even if the Mavericks win, the Heat can still go back to Miami and win two games. If Miami wins, the Mavericks still have a shot at pulling off one last miracle comeback in the NBA Finals. Whatever happens, nothing gets decided Thursday night. But it feels like it does.
Sports are always just a game, but every now and then, certain moments emerge that make us care more than we should. The sort of stuff that polarizes us as individuals, and captivates everyone. Not just people that love sports, but even people that don't even really like them. Sometimes, a big game and a good story can make everyone stop and stare, just to see what happens.
That's where we are with the NBA Finals right now. The NBA Playoffs have featured a whole bunch of Holy S**t moments this year, but nothing quite like this. Nothing that makes old friends text me asking about the game, while LeBron James dominates the local news in a market that's 2,000 miles away from Dallas or Miami.
This spring, a lot of bloggers have tossed around the word "narrative" when talking about LeBron James and the Miami Heat, complaining that the stories surrounding these guys have made it impossible to judge them accurately. It's become the buzzword of the blogosphere, but it's been said so often that the "narrative" narrative has made it impossible to know what narrative even means anymore. You know, it's not really supposed to be a word that describes stupid agendas from basketball media. According to the dictionary, a narrative is "a story or account of events, experiences, whether true or fictitious."
Indeed, the NBA Playoffs have been one, long, awesome narrative. With heroes and villains and red herrings and violent plot twists. Now we've come to a point where nobody has any clue what to expect next. The same way you spend 350 pages waiting for the climax in a good book, this is what we spent the first nine months of the NBA season looking forward to.
Nobody could have predicted LeBron would disappear the way he did in Game 4, and instead of capitalizing on Dirk Nowitzki playing a playoff one step from a hospital bed, Miami crumbled, and it lent this series layers of intrigue that none of us ever expected. A week ago, it looked like LeBron James was going to remove all drama from the next five years in the NBA.
Fast-forward seven days, and there's more drama than ever. It's like the past two days have been one, painstaking pause after an insane cliffhanger. Game 5's the next chapter.
"This is probably the biggest game of my life." LeBron told the media today. Even if it's just the next plot twist in a series that'll continue regardless, it feels like a tipping point for how everything else plays out. With LeBron, with Dallas' title chances, and with the NBA, in general. The sort of thing that makes you stop and remember that sometimes, sports can be f**king awesome.
It's just a game, of course. We know that Boston won Game 5 last year and went back to L.A. and lost the last two games. We know that LeBron could lose tonight and come back next year and own the league. Intellectually, we know that it doesn't, in fact, "all come down this..."
But that's the whole point of good stories, and great sports. It lets us abandon the intellectual side of our brain for a little while. "Just know I’ll be there for 45 minutes on the court tonight," LeBron told media today. "We’ll see what happens." Yes, we'll see what happens. Can't. Wait.
Until then, if you need me, I'll be watching this over-and-over.
With that, let's get into an all-Finals edition of Talking Points...
Dirk Nowitzki's Last Stand. From ESPN, Jay Caspian Kang talks Dirk Nowitzki, and the opening paragraph does a nice job capturing the tone that this series has taken on among the mainstream:
After this year of scolding and moral posturing, we have arrived at a final scene: Dirk Nowitzki — a simple man from vague origins — walks alone into battle against three mercenaries whose heedless and reckless pursuit of personal gain has unhinged the American Way. Everyone our hero has trusted and loved has either betrayed him (Jason Terry) or has died (Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic). And although the journey has long since lost its direction, the people's hero pushes on, not because there is value in pushing on for pushing on's sake, but because the audience demands its fill of blood and vengeance.
And even if, as Kang notes, it's a "profoundly silly way to describe a bunch of basketball players," it's also part of what's made this series so irresistible, and so much fun for the rest of us.
Heat Fans Burned A Car To Get Themselves Fired Up. Cool, I guess?
Right On Cue, Charles Barkley Makes Fun Of Heat Fans. From ESPN Radio:
"Yeah they have the worst fans. No question. It's not even loud in there. You're at the game and you are like, 'Man this place isn't even loud.' At least when you go to Chicago, it's loud in there, it's crazy down in Dallas but it's not even loud in Miami."
Okay, so pretty standard. But Chuck also said point-blank, he can't root for the Heat:
"Listen, if the Miami Heat were playing the Washington Generals I would pick the Washington Generals," Barkley said with a chuckle. "It's something about that team that annoys me.
"They just a whiny bunch and I can't root for them."
Jason Terry Is Either Totally Awesome Or Impossibly Annoying, Depending On Your Perspective. Jason Terry's loud, outspoken, and occasionally a complete pain in the ass, but along with Deshawn Stevenson, he gives the Mavs a little of an irrational edge that makes them 1. Hilarious and 2. A lot more dangerous. With that said, check out 11 things you didn't know about Jason Terry, courtesy of GQ.
This was my favorite:
• The first time Jason Terry drove a car was when he was 14 years old. His mother was in labor in the passenger seat. "I didn't even have a permit," Jason remembered. "She's kicking me, going, 'Come on, pick it up! What are you doing?' She was having the baby right there!"
If Dirk Nowitzki's Fever Game Was A Movie... What would it be?
ESPN Certainly Has All The Bases Covered Today. LeBronLeBronLeBronLeBron.
Out Of Context, This Photo's Pretty Great. Via Getty Images:
Finally, Why Hating The Miami Heat Is Unfair. Also from GQ, this was a pretty convincing argument against hating LeBron James and the Miami Heat. A sample:
Bosh/LeBron/Wade have made basketball games ridiculously fun to watch this year, doing things that appear counter-intuitive at first because the their level of talent disposes of the probable. Being angry that these guys play together seems downright miserly.
Another alternative remains, that the Heat are just a metonym for LeBron James doing too many things right. Americans dig an underdog; we dig it when talented people put a foot wrong or cannot overcome odds. Like those magazines of celebrities without makeup, we enjoy when natural talent just hits a wall against which it makes no progress. It preserves both the heroism to which we can look up and the humanity at which we can glance from a level position in the line at the supermarket. Ernie Banks will always be more poetic than Derek Jeter.
And whether you hate Miami or not, let's hope for a kickass game tonight. Whether LeBron bounces back and unleashes a performances for the ages or Dirk takes over and puts Dallas on his back. Everyone will be watching, and the Finals deserve a climax to match everything we've seen so far.
Oh, and as for the Heat being unfairly persecuted? Uh... I (obviously) beg to differ.