Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Reflections on the Rise of a Rival
(Like the Southwestern Division wasn't tough enough already)
Today is Chris Paul's 23rd birthday and as some of you may know At The Hive is hosting Chris Paul Blog Day. Despite the thrashing the Hornets gave my Spurs last night, I am not so blindly partisan that I can't recognize great basketball, even when it comes at the expense of the team that I most deeply love. So, I give you, my reflections on the man who should have been MVP:
A Lion Needs No Reason to Feast:
I began watching Chris Paul play last year and was immediately impressed by the maturity and completeness of his game, but it was this season that I began noticing the intangibles that make him such a uniquely special player. Really it began one evening while watching Sportscenter. I don’t remember who the Hornets were playing, but it was one of the elite teams in the league. And Paul asked Byron Scott if he could play the full 48 minutes. Scott agreed, and Paul, in an impressive display of not only leadership but stamina, led the Hornets to a close victory by never once relinquishing his post. As a Spurs fan, I worship at the temple of time management, and have perennially been critical of teams who push their starters too hard during the regular season only to see them burn out in the playoffs.
But something about this particularly precocious act struck me as special. Obviously the dream of every NBA player is to win a ring, and this has created the broadly accepted impression that they show little competitiveness during the regular season. Although not a particularly talented athlete, my experience playing sports has always contradicted this assumption. The game naturally resists the mindless teleology of championships (and that’s coming from a Spurs fan, nonetheless), and few true competitors are willing to accept loss, even in its most minute form. It is during that brief highlight that I realized the depth of Paul’s competitiveness.
Memories of a Man’s Game:
I have been highly critical of the league’s steady movement away from a more physical style of play. It has given flight to Kobe, Wade, and the other marquee slashers around the league, but it has also robbed the game of a certain brutishness that, although style-less, spoke to the hunger in every player’s beating breast. My earliest memories of basketball include snapshot images of Laimbeer, McHale, Rambis, and Malone, making players regret having ever tried to get to the hoop. But endowed with a sadistic fearlessness, the preeminent guards of the day continued to attack the basket, undeterred by the boorish physicality that awaited them in the paint. I see this same fearlessness in Paul.
Despite his diminutive stature, he is made of pure toughness. Like many players, he brings attention to it, through chest pounding and cold-eyed stares, but that is not when it is at its most visible. It’s when he takes that first step toward the lane. There is still a hardened class of men in this league who are more than willing to put your safety on the line in order to prevent the easy basket, and his 6’0” frame is uniquely susceptible to the danger. There is little courage involved in receiving a hard foul. You didn't expect it and subsequently survive it as best you can. To openly invite one involves much courage.
I hope to be back this evening with further reflections on one of the men who is sure to define the coming era of professional basketball. If you haven't yet, feel free to take a look back at some very brief thoughts I had about Paul during the lead up to the playoffs.