Still, And Again, After All These Years
Thank god for the Science Channel's "Beyond T-Rex" and tranquilizers, because I'm having a rough internet day. You may not have noticed, but I am both a megalomaniac and really, really, insecure. So it's no fun for me to sit here and, on various sites, be called a "hipster jewboy" obsessed with Kobe's semen, a hack who doesn't know shit about Mike Brown, and a modern day White Negro. But now that I've settled down a little, I thought I'd spend a second on what matters: Lakers/Suns, tonight.
I couldn't be more stoked for this games. Nate Jones was at Lakers/Hawks last night, and told me that Kobe's swagger is out of this world (outdated rap reference on my part: -1 for DOWN), and Lamar Odom's typically wondrous stat line shows how valuable he still is (-1 for my inability to understand the triangle). I've said it before, but the Marion-less Suns seem oddly revitalized. Unburdened, maybe? Drinking the Shaq kool-aid? Regardless, I'd be counting down hours even if this weren't the unveiling of the Great Shaq Experiment.
I suspect we won't get a real feel for the New Suns tonight. Shaq will play a little, look out of joint and occasionally in the way, and leave a lot of people wondering if he's actually relevant. But he'll also provide some buzz, some intangibles, and yes, some physicality that, for the Suns, has so far been just about Amare's dunks. It may be an indirect, almost mystical effect, but he'll impact the feel of the game. While he's greatly diminished as a player, Shaq's still Shaq, and it's not like him to take a backseat. On the level of pure ego, O'Neal is all about his hustle (-1 for rote slang). That's annoyed me about him in the past, and there's certainly some opportunism going on here. But if Shaq can reassert himself as a force, even if it's just in a Willis Reed-like, one play that sets the parameters of meaning, way, I'll be wowed. Talk about myth as on-court style.
And because I secretly really just want every to get along (-1 for hackneyed reference to race relations), I'm also looking forward to this latest chapter in Shaq/Kobe. When they had their Bill Russell-brokered detente, there was a definite sense that distance played a major part. The Lakers weren't going anywhere, Kobe had his individual glory on lock, and Shaq had moved on in grand form (even if that was already slipping away). But suddenly, both are back in the spotlight, key to the still-unfolding championship picture.
Let's take a chance here: These are the two most important players in the Western Conference. Kobe's finally got the team to contend, and Shaq's expected, on a variety of levels, to take the Suns over the top. They're no longer direct rivals—no way Shaq gets an MVP vote, even if the Suns win every single game from here on out. And yet this makes whatever bad blood, or fraternal strife, is left all the more fascinating. It's no longer Shaq/Kobe, it's clearly Suns/Lakers. The two can't be directly compared any more, but this has given way to an even more intense—and more universal, and less tiring—rivalry. Both are older and wiser than before, and yet here's where their butting heads means more than ever.
This is where we'll see the real depth of feeling that binds and repels the two stars. Not in bitchy, gossip-fueled feuds that diverge from their relationship on the court, but bringing it all back to where their love/hate relationship started: On the court, where they were the two most important players in the NBA. Now, they've come full circle. They just happen to be on opposing teams this time around.