Writing blogs to watch basketball to write blogs. . .
We've been saying forever that this is a League of Stars. That came after "this is a League of Style" (which, amazingly, has no actual creation myth anywhere in our archives), so it'll be to you to decide whether the latter complements or obliterates the former. And while we may have backed down off of this soapbox somewhat over the years—if only so we had more than three months worth of material—at certain times it returns to me with the fixity of the commoner's dream for a better tomorrow.
I watched the end of the late game last night. Nice ending, good to be reminded just how likely it is that Livingston and the newly Diaw-ed Barbosa will crack my personal top twenty by next season. But people, you know as well as I do that this, and what will happen tonight, are just basketball. The Suns certainly stand for something in the discussion of where this league is headed, but they're polite enough to need a foil to do so. Nash/Bryant was a study in colliding opposities; LeBron/Arenas was a heady war between two aggrandized generals. Here, though, you get Nash/Brand: top ten stars who inspire universal, almost foregone, respect and, perhaps appropriately, seem insulated from each other by the teams around them. Tonight, I'll get to watch what could very likely be the most sturdy, optimized playoff contest we'll see this time around. That doesn't mean, though, that they'll be anything at stake other than getting the win. Like Suns/Clippers, the Spurs and Mavs are both too quaintly professional for either to assert their importance. Defense and veteran guile are hardly moral points when they're givens, and neither one is going to go the other route and show up the other. These might well be the two least psychological match-ups in the history of the post-season.
I'm sure plenty of people like it that way, or at least refuse to acknowledge that there's a disconcerting absence of light in this situation. I'll buy that style doesn't matter to everyone, and that some find individual stardom distracting or indulgent. Don't even for a second, though, pretend like this round has half the hell-bent lyricism of the first one, that you have half as much to say about or feel anything like a non-reflexive opinion about what's transpiring in the spooky calm of Round 2's waters. To be sure, this is good, strenuous basketball, and some might welcome its inability to be other more than this. Pretending that this makes your life a richer place, as opposed to merely a space furnished with uncluttered athletic accomplishment, is a flat-out lie.
We don't advocate stars for the sake of centralized celebrity; style never has been, and never will be, nothing more than the demand for dunks and isos. I'd venture to guess that "League of Psychology" came lastly because, in a sense, it's what we've realized was at the root of these other two preoccupations. It's the final product of our sloganeering and also, whether we knew it at the time, what set it off in the first place. Stars whose performances we're inclined to cast in human, rather than athletic, terms carry moral weight and allow us to have actual complex feelings about the sport and its participants. Style is part of what allows this interpolation, and in the imperfect team game it's easier to discern multiple individuals, role players peaking out from under the lead bib. Even if you adamantly refute this aspect of NBA-watching, it's not like reducing the basketball landscape to Spurs, Mavs, Clips, and Suns leaves you feeling washed to your very core by glory's rippling sponge. In the playoffs, it takes all kinds—even some deviants—to really generate that sense of larger-than-life challenge and release. Or, to paraphrase a doctor of mine, everyone in heaven is bored and goes down to hell to feel alive.
UPDATE: Yes, I am watching the game. Please, try and convince me that this is any more significant than the Pistons succumbing to the will of the Bucks on one lonely night; I'm not suddenly now going to suggest that this is actually a referendum on individual/team, or Jordan vs. Pistons/Celtics. These Pistons have gotten a little lazy, and I, for one, kind of like it.
Wait, what happened in that post-game interview? Who had LeBron said something to on the court? I was barely listening.