Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Hater's Guide to the NBA Finals

I love basketball. I'll watch any basketball at any level. Pros. College. High School. My buddy Erik looks like a bear cub trying to jerk off with boxing gloves on when he shoots hoops and I'd even watch that (my buddy shooting hoops, not the other thing).

So, yes, I am very excited for the NBA Finals. We are about to witness the game played at its highest level, and it's going to be electric. But its no secret that my cup does not runneth over with affection for the Lakers or Celtics. Yes, I've said I don't hate this particular Lakers team, but their rivalry with the Spurs as well as the institutionalized arrogance that comes with being from Southern California lands them solidly on my "most hated franchises" list.

Joining them on that prestigious list are the Boston Celtics. I actually don't historically hate the Celtics, although I do harbor blanket animosity for all Boston sports teams and Boston sports culture as a whole. They have several dominant franchises and yet they continue to act as if they are the underdog, or worse, complain that they are no longer the underdog because they have several dominant franchises. That sounds rough. The euphoria that I experienced when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl rivaled the euphoria I have felt when the Spurs won championships or when the University of Texas defeated USC in the Rose Bowl. Ah, Schadenfreude.

But historically I hate the Celtics the least out of the whole bunch (I'm kind of ignoring the Bruins here, as I no next to nothing about hockey. Sidney Crosby, that's a guy who plays for somebody, right?). Let's be honest with ourselves, Red Auerbach is a pure and unadulterated bad-ass. The most baller move in the history of hoops is Auerbach's on-court victory cigar. Pure Swag. And my respect for Bill Russell, despite those heavy-handed Russell-KG pieces on ESPN, knows no bounds. But this particular collection of Celtics is an unsavory mixture of entitled and moody, and I really don't like them.

So what's a Hater to do?

Well, Let's take a detailed look at both the history of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry and the specifics of each squad in order to determine whom to root for:

8 of 10: The Celtics and Lakers have played in the NBA Finals 10 times and the Celtics have won 8 of them. This could really go either way. A gloating Boston fan is the worst, but even if the Lakers win the championship the Celtics would still lead the all-time Finals series 8 to 3. So I say the opportunity to have the Lakers experience even deeper embarrassment is of higher value. Point goes to the Celtics.

Magic v. Bird: I'm not looking at the specifics of the 80's rivalry but rather whether Bird or Magic is the cooler/better player. Bird's combination of hustle and white guy fundamentals is admirable, and those McDonald's commercials where he plays horse with MJ for a big mac are of world-historical importance, but for me this category is an easy victory for Magic Johnson. Despite the catastrophe that was the Magic Johnson show, Magic was and remains the man. I'm not sure any other player in the history of the NBA could have have played the 1, 2, 3 or 4 position and legitimately been one of the best players in the league at that position. His unrivaled versatility as a player gets the nod. Point goes to the Lakers (just FYI this isn't actually based off a point system, its just a suggestive phrase).

Chamberlain-Russell: OK, I dig Wilt and Bill. But eleven championships in 13 years. Damn, yo. Point goes to the Celtics.

Kurt Rambis-Kevin McHale: McHale was the better player, although Rambis may have been the better defender (although that's certainly debatable). But McHale was clearly the better offensive player, even if he was, in the words of Danny Ainge, a bit of a "black hole." But Rambis' spectacles are the best on-court accessory in the history of the game, and McHale looses ground for his role in the KG trade. That's right, he looses ground. Rambis takes this round. Point goes to the Lakers.

The Kobe-Shaq Lakers: The Celtics don't get a point for this one, but the Lakers sure as hell get one taken away. This team was the height of Laker arrogance. Shaq was (and remains) a self-involved fat prick. Kobe was brash and moody. Derek Fisher was (and remains) a prick. Rick Fox was a prick. Deduct one point from the Lakers for ever bringing this group of men together.

So looking back historically, I'd say the Celtics have the slight edge (although I didn't include it in the breakdown, Auerbach's aforementioned swagger is really what gives them their lead going into the "current squad" category). But few of the people I've mentioned so far will be putting on a uniform in the NBA Finals, so let's stop living in the past and focus on the now.

Kobe Bryant: He remains moody, although he's no longer brash. His arrogance is beyond belief. As previously noted he was on that early 00's Lakers squad. But he is the best player on the face of the earth. His game is calculated but elegant, and he is not only the most creative scorer in the game today but also an excellent distributor of the ball and defender. I can't believe I'm saying this, but he is a plus for the Lakers.

Paul Pierce: Pierce is a prick. He is cocky and chippy, and much to easily made the transition from embattled loner to entitled asshole. He reminds me of Hillary Clinton in a lot of ways. Pierce is one of the best players in the NBA at drawing contact, and his defense has really improved this post-season, but those hardly make up for his personality. He is a big negative for the Celtics.

Pau Gasol: Does anyone really care about Pau Gasol? I mean, obviously Gasol has helped this team immensely, not only with his ability to score in the post but also (here's something you've never heard before) because he allows Odom to switch to his natural position out on the wing (You're right, I hadn't heard that before!). But he lacks any charisma whatsoever, and although the trade with Memphis for Brown is dubious, Its not enough to make me dislike him. No points awarded to either team.

Kevin Garnett: I used to really love Garnett when he was on the T-wolves. I mean, how couldn't you, the man was bat-shit crazy. But, as Bethlehem Shoals has correctly pointed out numerous times, he has become a little institutionalized since he started donning the white and green. For me, I just don't like all the belabored invocations of history and guilt that have surrounded him all season. I'm also increasingly less convinced that the whole "intensity" thing isn't a bit put on. But there's no way I could give the big Ticket a negative rating, so no points are awarded to either team.

Lamar Odom: I've always loved nebulous wing players, and Odom is no exception. I'm not as joyous as a lot of people that Odom has come into his own, as there was something I kind of appreciated more about his potential than the actualization of that potential, but that's not really being fair to Lamar. Point Lakers.

Ray Allen: Allen is a softy, and the aesthetics of his stroke, although pleasant, are way over-hyped. Deduct a point from the Celtics.

Derek Fisher: I've always thought Fisher was smug, and I still do. Plus, the "o.4" moment wasn't clutch, it was lucky. Deduct a point from the Lakers.

Rajon Rondo: I like Rajon Rondo. I liked him when he was at Kentucky and I was glad to see him develop into a savvy combo guard this year. I give a lot of credit to Garnett for his tutelage of Rondo. Point awarded to the Celtics.

Sasha Vujacic: Well, I didn't particularly hate Vujacic before the Western Conference Finals, but taco or no taco, his final 3 pointer at the end of game 5 was a dick move. A small deduction from the Lakers.

James Posey: I like the socks, but I don't like the swag. It just rubs me the wrong way. Small deduction from the Celtics.

Jordan Farmar: I think this guy is way to arrogant for his skill level. He is actually my least favorite player on the Lakers, maybe even my least favorite player in the NBA Finals. A notable deduction for the Lakers.

Luke Walton: Its not fair of me to dislike him because of his father, but I do. Every time I look at him I hear the hyperbolic commentary of Bill in my head. Plus I don't like the Grateful Dead bears tattoo. I think its stupid. Deduct a point from the Lakers.

Doc Rivers/Phil Jackson: Jackson is megalomaniacal, but he not only approaches the game from a unique theoretical standpoint but also is a crack-shot with the X's and O's. Rivers, on the other hand, is a good coach in the way that Bill Simmons is a good writer, i.e. people may think he is, but he isn't. I think his personnel/clock management in late game situations is when this is most noticeable. Point Lakers.

So where does that leave us? Well, the Celtics may have won the historical round, but I think the Lakers really separated themselves given their current squad, particularly if you give more weight to each team's "big three." Bryant and Odom both got positive ratings but Allen got a negative rating and Pierce is a massive asshole. Really, I just don't think I could root for a team that Paul Pierce plays on. I really don't like the Lakers role players, but they're just role players. It would be perfect if the Lakers won but Farmar played the worst basketball of his life. I would be more than happy with that. I'm sorry Coach Auerbach. I'm going with the purple and gold.

Lakers in 7 (I actually think the Lakers will win in 5 or 6, but a game 7 loss at TD Banknorth Garden would be so crushing for the city of Boston. Again with the schadenfreude).