The Toilet Paper Mummy
A long time ago, I had the idea to write a post about Francisco Liriano, and how, being the quintessential Freedarko baseball player, his injury situation was all too similar to that of Amare Stoudemire. I then realized that baseball injuries, simply don’t have the same impact on me that basketball ones do. Like, fuck, the Twins lost a future Cy Young winner who may never regain his pizzazz, but they still made the playoffs without him, they still have a strong staff, and they still have the current best baseball player in the world, Johan Santana. Baseball teams recover all the time from injuries. The Cardinals, Twins, and Yankees all overcame significant injuries to make the playoffs. In football, injuries are simply an inherent part of the game, and entire second teams are constructed to account for the harmed and dislocated. The 2006 Jeff Garcia, The 2005 Brad Johnson, and the god-inspired 2000 Kurt Warner proved that even the downfall of the quarterback is not necessarily a football team’s undoing.
Sure, the 2005-06 Suns made a case that they could survive without Amare in this manner, but when expectations for that team were the NBA Finals, the team’s perishing at the hands of the Mavericks seemed like a collosall disappointment that would have never occurred had Black Jesus been present. Bottom line is that injuries change the landscape of the NBA season in a way that never occurs in other sports. Gasol goes down, and an entire playoff spot opens up. Yao and T-Mac get banged up last year, and the Rockets go from contenders to slouches. One of Shaq’s legs is twice the size of the other one, and thus, the Eastern Conference has gone to shit. Can our beloved Association flurry so whimsically, resting on the well-being of just a few individuals to keep its gears turning? I fear the answer is yes.
Recently I was discussing with The Recluse how pissed we would be if, after Shaq’s long layoff, the Heat came back, squeaked into the playoffs and won the whole damn thing again. To a small degree, this practically happened last season. I’ll give credit to Zo Mourning and Gary Payton for not going into a panic when Shaq went down. Clearly they were hoping to piggyback on Big Fella’s shoulders on the way to a championship, but they put in their work and earned their rings. This year, the chances of a similar Heat renaissance seem slim, but given that the Eastern Conference currently resembles Baghdad, anything is sadly possible.
I am of the strong belief that Shaq’s absence is partially responsible for the desolate state of the East. His presence generally has the effect of raising the play of his competition as well. With Shaq out, and nobody believing the Magic’s hype, teams from the Bobcats to the Nets are thinking that they have a chance to compete. The field is wide open, and so tribes of young men are pedaling themselves in circles around each other like some wild ritualistic dance…but nobody is going for the jugular. Shaq’s presence, especially on a title defender, means that “The Champ Is Here” and there is a dragon to be slayed. The Heat’s current title defense has to this point, however, looked so sorry that it’s as though there isn’t even a champion to knock off.
Again, it is the fragility of the league infuriates me. Even the league’s two best teams, Dallas and San Antonio, are one power forward ankle sprain away from a 45-win season. Ray Allen’s absence for a few games alone may translate to lottery balls. The entire future of the Sacramento Kings’ franchise was reshaped based on the health concerns surrounding Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, and Doug Christie. Must the Maloof Brothers and G-Peot be so impulsive?! The NBA seems like it should be a source of everflowing talent, endlessly regenerating its limbs when a Kobe Bryant, a Bobby Simmons, or even a Mark Madsen goes down. The assembly line does not shut down. The soldiers do not break their formation. But yet, the fracturing of a wrist sends the "L" into entropy: Your 2007 Eastern Conference Champs, The New Jersey Nets.
Coda: Chris Webber's production contribution to the new Nas album can be gotten here. The song embodies all that is/was C-Webb's long, injury-doomed career:
a) a confused Nas
b) a rhetorical question, as though posed to one's buddies during lunch in 10th grade, about whether Alex Haley smoked marijuana before writing
c) rapping about the spousal abuse and drug tribulations of former R&B stars
d) on a track with plastic drums
e) that is slow
f) with synth opera vocal stabs ghouling in and out of a 3rd-grade "Lose Yourself" piano line
No song is sadder. Larry Bird he is not, but Chris Webber's string of failures (even in his last chance to SAVE AI), largely at the hands of his injury are a tragedy that seems to simple and unnecessary. Please don't let them take McCants.