To put a bow on an incredible 2010-11 NBA season, I'd like to present some of my favorite things about the year in basketball. It's like Oprah's Favorite Things, except no one is getting sparkly Uggs and no one is going to Australia. Not you, not you, not you, not you. You're not going to Australia.
'LIKE A BOSH'
Chris Bosh was, without question, the most laughed-about NBA player during the regular season. Many unabashedly squealed with joy when Stan Van Gundy called Bosh "Dwyane Wade's lapdog"; others took glee in more esoteric lolicopters, like CB's fashion shoots, regrettable quotes and general lack of self-awareness.
Nothing captured the essence of the Bosh 2010-11 like The Basketball Jones' "Like a Bosh" song and video.
At first glance, it's a j'accuse screed putting the collective laughter at Bosh's expense in a neat package. But the outro, featuring our friend Skeets concluding that we may be overrating CB's shortcomings as both a player and a dude, is a pitch-perfect coda on Bosh's first season in South Beach.
Mike Prada included Sacramento mayor (and former All-NBA point guard) Kevin Johnson in his Top 25 Most Influential list for a reason: KJ did important, improbable work to help keep the Kings in Sacramento for another year. The Kings' fans were also instrumental in building awareness of the situation, organizing sell-outs of a few high-profile games on short notice and making sure the NBA knew how deeply the residents of the region care about the team. The result? The Kings will be in Sacramento for at least another year while KJ and the NBA try to get an arena plan approved.
Three thousand miles away, another set of fans made their case beautifully. An extension to the Hornets' lease that would ensure the team would play in New Orleans through 2014 was tied to attendance benchmarks. The NBA took over the franchise from flailing owner George Shinn in December; New Orleans had two months to boost attendance and meet the standards, or the future of the team in the Crescent City was in real peril.
What did the fans, business and civic officials of southern Louisiana do? They banded together, got butts in seats and met the benchmark with room to spare, ensuring pro basketball in New Orleans for at least two more seasons, and hopefully longer. All with the franchise in a state of remarkable uncertainty, given the NBA takeover. We had some major upsets in the NBA this year, but this is high on that list.
BLOODSPORT NEW YORK
In early 2010, when Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the New Jersey Nets, the budding feud between Newark's Finest and the New York Knicks was funny, but not remotely impactful. The Nets put up a threatening billboard of Prok and minority owner Jay-Z facing the Knicks' Manhattan offices and talked about converting fans when they move to Brooklyn in 2012. Laughs were had. The both finished among the worst teams in the league, and both struck out on the LeBron James sweepstakes.
But s--t got real in February. After a long flirtation with the Nets, the Denver Nuggets finally traded Carmelo Anthony to ... the Knicks. It looked like
Isiah Thomas Donnie Walsh Isiah Thomas and James Dolan had gotten the last laugh over the new money across the Hudson. Days later, the Nets blew the doors off of the league by making a surprise trade for Deron Williams.
Neither team was particularly impressive the rest of the way, though the Knicks made the playoffs and the Nets inched up the standings to the "not pathetic" zone. But cannons are firing, y'all. The New York rivalry is real, and it's here.
The NBA season was wonderfully weird all the way through, but nothing touched the bizarro factor the Memphis Grizzlies produced. That the team was decent wasn't exactly a surprise; Memphis finished 2009-10 strong, and added what looked like good pieces in Tony Allen and Xavier Henry. The rookie wasn't much of an impact, but T.A. was beyond good -- he was great, with almost all of his value coming in helping the team move from No. 19 to No. 9 in defense.
That improvement carried the Grizzlies to a strong regular season finish, and gave us one of the most head-scratch inducing playoff teams of all-time: Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol were the stars. Mike Conley was the floor leader. Shane Battier was the tireless defensive roleplayer. And Greivis Vasquez -- Greivis Vasquez! -- was the stud back-up point guard. The team could have only stretched our imagination more if Hasheem Thabeet didn't get traded and Jason Williams didn't retire for the 14th time mid-season.
The wackadoo Grizzlies ended up shocking the shocking Spurs in the first round in a great, competitive series, and took the Oklahoma City Thunder to the seven-game limit. I'm not sure Memphis can recapture the dissonance of the 2011 run next year, and frankly, I'm not sure I want them to. Remember the Grizzlies.
LEAGUE PASS NATION
On any given night in the NBA season, you can sign on to Twitter and find literally thousands of fans talking about every game in action. That's something incredible. League Pass has spread like wildfire over the past few years, and everyone has commentary (and jokes) on all the games they are watching. It's really boosted the overall online profile of the NBA, at least through my eyes: no longer are we force-fed national TV games by boring teams we've seen two dozen times. You can flip on Clippers-Warriors and let your eyes bug out with thousands of anonymous friends.
It's what has always made SB Nation blogs so awesome: dedicated, centralized fans to analyze every play, every game. Thanks to widespread adoption of League Pass, Twitter has become a giant All NBA Game Thread, every night.
RIP MOVE: CRITICAL MASS
Every player needs a signature move, and somehow, Kevin Durant got the rip move assigned to him. Probably because he does it about 14 times a game.
He's not alone: Kevin Martin, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and many, many more know the rip move and use it expertly. Durant just happens to be the two-time defending scoring champ and a particularly adept rip move acolyte.
Keith Smart complained about the move this season, bringing it into the spotlight, and it seems like for a few days it's all we talked about. Months later, in the Western Conference Finals, referees basically stopped giving Durant the call. He got pissed and announced he was abandoning the rip move. So basically the NBA eliminated the rip move as a weapon (despite it apparently being legal per the rulebook) by refusing to call it in a conference finals series.
It's probably the wrong way to do it, but you can't say it's not effective. The rise and fall of the rip move, all on the whims of a certain Commissioner and the impatience of a certain Superstar.
ADVANCED STATS SEEPAGE
We always hear that "basketball isn't baseball," that the widespread adoption of advanced metrics in the NBA will always lag and be less meaningful than in MLB. This is true, and most if not all NBA "statheads" would agree. But that doesn't mean advanced statistical analysis isn't important -- vital, even -- to the NBA. This season saw wider discussion of and enthusiasm for advanced stats in basketball.
The centerpiece of the debate was the MVP race between Derrick Rose and everyone else. Rose wasn't the statistical MVP -- that would have gone to Dwight Howard and LeBron James, who finished second and third behind Rose in the race. In fact, by advanced metrics, Rose was little better than Russell Westbrook, who -- while an All-Star -- was (rightfully) nowhere near the MVP debate. The narrative of a good story and gaudy "mundane stats" propelled Rose forward.
In the process, many smart people wrote many smart columns in endorsement of Howard, most using advanced statistics in some way. That's a good thing, even if Howard didn't get his due, because every time a skeptical reader is introduced to advanced basketball statistics, that reader moves closer to understanding their usefulness. We're getting there.
That said, no one in the mainstream media does it better than John Schuhmann of NBA.com. He had a banner season of stats work for the general populace, and is a great asset to the sport.
'LIKE MANNA FROM HEAVEN'
Almost a year ago, Timberwolves GM David Kahn sat in as a guest on NBA TV's broadcast of a Vegas Summer League game between Minnesota and the Sacramento Kings. Chris Webber served as the color commentator. The Wolves had recently signed Darko Milicic to a $20 million, four-year contract, drawing a flood of guffaws. Mr. Kahn was on the defensive, and with Webber gave us the most hilarious showdown of the extended 2010-11 season.
"We're not going to talk about me and Darko in the same sentence." No, no we're not.
Darko ended up averaging 2.2 assists per 36 minutes this season, and no one is very sure how Kahn has a job.
REVENGE OF CHRIS PAUL AND DIRK NOWITZKI
Dirk Nowitzki has drawn wide and deep praise in the week since his Dallas Mavericks claimed the 2011 NBA Championship, and he deserves every bit. Relatively few noticed that he had a MVP-like season (he finished sixth in voting) and was more efficient than ever, which is saying something because he's long been one of the most efficient high-scorers in NBA history. A midseason injury derailed any shot at the MVP he had, but those who watched the Mavericks regularly knew what an amazing run he was having at age 32.
Similarly, Chris Paul had a bounceback season, recovering from an injury-riddled 2009-10 to remind us why we thought he could be a multiple-MVP player just a few years ago. He can be -- he's that incredible. With a disastrous offensive supporting cast and a coach laser-focused on defense, CP3 somehow led the Hornets into the top four in the West for much of the season before New Orleans settled at No. 7 and scared the spotlight out of the Lakers. CP3 might very well be the NBA's most impactful player, and thank goodness, we saw it all year long out of New Orleans.
No one had forgotten about Dirk and Paul heading into a '10-11 season dominated by the star-laden Heat and the threepeat-seeking Lakers. But they weren't on center stage coming in. By the end of the season, they were, and they were the most entertaining players in the NBA. Who will remind us of their greatness next season? I can't wait to find out.