Monday, May 25, 2009

NBA's Fab Four Veils Bad Basketball

Every sport has its problems. Baseball has steroids, football has malcontents, hockey has no fans, golf sometimes doesn't have Tiger and tennis has no Americans. But professional basketball is in a unique position. Its woes aren't off the field antics or performance enhancers. No, their dilemma is much more serious; bad play, awful coaching and even worse officiating.

Everybody will remember Round One's Bulls/Celtics matchup as an epic series, but the reality is that it was sub par basketball. Boston's go-to play seemed to be letting Paul Pierce hold the ball, drive and either freak out and jack up a shot or hope to God that he could find an open teammate that would freak out and jack up a shot. This led us to the Big Baby buzzer beater, which in actuality was an awful play that ended up in a player nobody trusted taking the most important shot of the season. It went in, so it will be featured in future NBA "Amazing" commercials in super slow motion and remembered as a good thing. Not to mention what it does for Baby monetarily.

And who draws up the "Pierce better make a good decision" plays? The horrendous coaches. Guys like George Karl who have six-foot-nothing Anthony Carter inbounding the ball with the game on the line against Lamar Odom. Guess what happened. Luckily, there was enough time between that Game One and Game Three, where there was another chance to inbound the ball at crunch time. Guess what happened. Karl must take coaching lessons from John Calipari, who feels just because you screw up one facet of the game routinely doesn't mean you should ever practice it.

I won't even waste words on officiating. We all know it's bad. Let's move on.

What's saving the NBA and making the postseason seem so great (and really, it's not) is the Fab Four: Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo and Howard. Four teams, four elite superstars. And more importantly, four American superstars. The Redeem Team went from friends and mentors to fighting each other for the title. This is the intriguing storyline, the veil covering the fans' eyes. LeBron's buzzer beater was that Jordan-esque shot we've all been waiting for. The Kobe/Melo matchup is high drama, as is Anthony's "I'm becoming a man" run through the playoffs, which is probably due more to being on a good team than him becoming a better person. Unfortunately, we're stuck with Howard other than D-Wade, but we'll take what we can get.

But all of this isn't basketball, it's a soap opera, which explains why the 2009 postseason has gotten people so giddy. All of the close games aren't enough to keep me interested if they get blown at the end by bad coaching moves. Game Two of Cavs/Magic was the one shining moment for me so far, where Hedo and James had dueling game-winners that weren't the product of bad defense, just two stone cold assassins draining their shot. But even that was ruined with the Game Three Foul Fest. It was if the refs got payed by the whistle, and completely obliterated any positive feelings the previous game gave the series.

I want the NBA back, where the players are professional and the game is better. But David Stern & Company are reaping the rewards of big names in the headlines, and the non-fans who are paying attention love drama and scripts, which is exactly what the league has become. I can only hope for a Denver/Orlando title matchup, a big "F You" to a league that doesn't even care that the quality of their game has been reduced to D-League basketball. Because if there is a Kobe/LeBron Finals, then there is no chance in hell Stern will care about anything but the hype.


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