Recently some FreeDarko readers have pointed out that we haven’t devoted many words lately to actually covering this NBA season. While it may be true that our last 37 posts have focused on profiling individual players (“profiles in courage” according to Shoals), I hardly think we can be blamed for this. Have you watched the league this year? It’s pretty bleak my friends, as the Association seems to have reneged on nearly every promise it made during the off-season. Obviously the Artest saga has broken the hearts of young and old Darko-ites alike, but not even Ron can shoulder the blame for this season. Indeed, last year’s FreeD faves—Phoenix, Washington, and Seattle—have all suffered from the effects of injuries and free agency. Meanwhile, teams that were supposed to step up and fill the void—Denver, Sacramento, Golden State—have all floundered around the .500 mark. The Miami circus has yet to get off the ground and even Phil and Kobe have failed to provide any cheap laughs. Yet, no team has disappointed me as much as the Rockets.
In the wake of the Stro’/Rafer acquisitions and the Suns’ demise, the Rockets were the only team that appeared capable of threatening the Spurs. But the truth is that my hope for the Rockets had more to do with their city than their actual talent. Houston was having a breakthrough year, and it only seemed natural that the Rockets would participate. The city’s long-simmering rap scene finally exploded beyond the Texas and Louisiana borders, the Astros made their first World Series, and even Hurricane Rita knew enough not to fuck with Clutch City. Surely, this would be the year that T-Mac and Yao put it all together.
It has been said that the law is in the region and the region is in the law, but I like it best when this principle applies to sports. To some degree we all identify teams with the cities they represent, and it’s always more interesting when the makeup of a team says something about the city. Whether it’s the blue-collar play of the team from the Motor City, the glamour of the Hollywood Lakers, or the way the state of Utah seems to insist on the Jazz roster matching the complexion of the Alta snow. Houston 2005 offered such a tidy package of regionalism that it was impossible not to ponder things like, “What came first, the slow humid culture or the drank?” Or, “Is the success of TV Jewelry somehow related to a skyline of mirrored buildings?” I’m not sure about these questions, but I do know that Mike Jones is the rap equivalent of Enron, relentlessly hawking a product that never really existed in the first place. The Houston Hustle. An H-Town thang.
In this day and age the NBA and hip-hop are inextricably intertwined, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for heavy-handedly lumping together the city’s roundball team and rap scene. In all likelihood the city’s music and economics bear no real resemblance to the style of the Rockets (although Van Gundy slows more shit down than Michael Watts, and if Rafer, Stro, and T-Mac ain’t a screwed-up click I don’t know what is), but what’s important here is that the city has a strong identity. People at least have something they can attach to the Rockets. The same cannot be said for Houston’s I-10 rival, the San Antonio Spurs, and I’d like to submit that San Antonio’s lack of civic identity contributes at least as much to the Spurs=Boring perception as Tim Duncan’s game. What you know about the Alamo? What you know about the Riverwalk?
All of this leads me to a confession: even I’m bored with the Spurs. Sure, I still watch most of their games, but at this point it has more to do with duty and a desire to watch basketball than unbridled enthusiasm. Oberto is a bust and Finley can only contribute if he’s given 30 minutes a night. Ginobili has yet to get going, and it’s beginning to appear that his style is too reckless to ever keep him off the IR for long periods of time. What’s worse, they’ve become everything I said they weren’t when Shoals brought up the notion of “inevitability.” They open up 11 point leads only to squander them and hang on for the most uninspiring of wins. Sure, they’re 19-5, but if you’re going to be an elite team at least have the decency to dominate. They are now the oldest team in the league, and are capable of losing to anyone on the second game of a back-to-back, as evidenced by losses to the Hawks and Hornets. And while I’ll never be able to root against them, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me hoping for something new.
I wanted so badly for the Rockets to play that role. After watching them score consecutive road wins against the Warriors and Sonics I was even prepared to herald their resurgence in this post. But now Yao is out for the foreseeable future, joining Rafer, Bob Sura, Derrick Anderson, Jon Barry and everyone else on the Rockets’ injured list, leaving T-Mac and his bad back to keep the team afloat. Oh, well, I guess the West is going to suck this year. There is an upside to this, however. Doesn’t an awful West set the stage for a certain someone to rise from the microfracture ashes?
Whatever gets you through the winter.