Thumb for a Bride
During last year's All-Star interlude, all the world was abuzz over the wholesale importation of the Detroit Pistons. In a move that thoroughly bucked the condascending logic of the purists—or cemented it via imperialist aspirations—the NBA's staunchest franchise swamped the roster and coaching ranks of this most hallowed, and supposedly hollow, exhibition. Ultimately, the arguments came down to two key vectors: was the honor of the ASG distinct from, or part and parcel with, regular season success? Was it a chance to celebate winning, or doff the headwear in the direction of something far more sinister?
With the added perspective of months, these debates seem somewhat puerile. Yes, it was a bold, and possibly foolhardy, move to equate "NBA's best team" with "Eastern Conference All-Star Team." Yet it was a weak year for that paltry conference, with only Gilbert Arenas sufferingly seriously for this landmark. And yet the specters it raised were nothing less than angry ones. Those prone to demographic fissure will note that the ASG, "the Black Super Bowl," stands for something quite different than the playoff grind. And while the regular season supposedly has no bearing on the postseason, the truth is, it does. In effect, the Pistons movement factored team glory, and contribution to the team, heavily into a contest based primarily on individual achievement.
You heard it oh so many times: winning is for the real thing, the ASG seeks something else. Still, players are often selected based on their team's performance (i.e. "best player on good team."), and "sterling stats on bad team" is frowned upon. In the final analysis, one must conceded that what the Pistons did was force a dialogue on this correlation, in a way that most sports' MVP award so sorely need.
There were two distinct ways of viewing last year's All-Star Game. One was the hokey postulate "can a well-oiled team best one comprised of excess talent?" You don't need a high-priced production to check this one, which has been borne out time and time again in all the major team sports. Far more useful for our purposes is the second: is there some qualitative difference between the ASG and "real" basketball? Here, we see the influence of partisanship within the fanbase. If certain elements of the game are judged frivolous or self-indulgent, they would crumble before grown-ass focus. And certainly, they would resist attempts to strategize in any meaningful way.
Enter D'Antoni. Usually, coaching an All-Star Game consists of some combination of laughing a lot, throwing out the occasional set play, or basking in the novelty afforded by their roster. When Flip Saunders and his Pistons crashed the party, the paradigm suddenly jolted. Now, a coach could actually set out to win an ASG, instead of being at the mercy of his players. To some, this might have seemed a perversion of the occasion. Yet during the Pistons Game, it seemed an assertion of the fact that this was still basketball and damn it, rules and regulations applied. This was no Rook/Soph malarky, and a crack unit of professionals could be brought in to execute and stabilize. If you can win it, it must be basketball.
I have never been more convinced of the Suns Revolution than I was last night. Working with a mish-mash of stars whose positional distribution had been wrecked, D'Antoni nevertheless just coached like he knew. Flip had turned the All-Star Game into Dee-troit basketball; D'Antoni made it apparent that for him, every game is the All-Star Game. Usually, the commentary centers (no pun) on the size of the West's line-up. In its place, we had talk on how Kobe/Marion/Amare/T-Mac/Garnett (I think) was a dream line-up for Suns Ball.
It was a blow-out, and traditionally, All-Star blow-outs are stuff of slackened viewing. To me, though, this wasn't just one batch of talent overpowering the other. This was a window into exactly how wild the Phoenix style could get if given limitless ability. In the same way that we can't look away when the Suns tear through an opponent this season, I was relatively transfixed by the thrashing administered by the West. Yes, it's still the superior conference. But they also had the good fortune to be saddled with a coach who, for once, actually felt at home working with a surfeit of star power. Oddly, these last two ASG's have set us up for the eternal referendum: can a team made in D'Antoni's image ever take out one with less brashly constituted? If the Pistons Game served to show up the ASG tradition, the West's effort last night made it seem more relevant than ever.
Two late additions:
-My boss points out that raising the goal would open up the door for all sorts of other equipment modifications. Where do you draw the line? It's your classic damned-if dilemma: big men can't show off their ups with the usual set-up, but raising the basket is, in a sense, a form of handicapping.
-That Posterized show was great. And I've now realized why the Dunk Contest goes stale——the same angles, over and over again. Green's first dunk was the only one that didn't come from a completely predictable spot on the floor. Half of the most memorable dunks in history involve a slightly awkward point of release or plan of attack.