After watching the model UN last night that was the Lakers-Jazz game, I officially declare these playoffs RETURN OF THE EURO. Zaza, Hedo, Peja, Z-Ill, Vlad-Rad, Vujacic, Pau, AK-47, Memo, and even Dirk. Yes, Dirk, the only dude who gave his team a shot in the first round and intelligently stepped away from David West instead of copping a suspension. Euros have been absolutely critical to their teams' successes in these playoffs--hitting big shots, tussling with people, flopping like the dickens, and generally being confusing--and I could not be happier about this development.
It's all finally starting to make sense. We are at the dawn of a new epoch in the trajectory. As has been discussed millions of times on this blog, the rise of the Euro began post-Arvydas Sabonis, and ascended steadily until guys like Peja and Dirk were becoming all-star game staples. The NBA raked in the global cashflow to the point that Commissioner Stern is opening next season on the moon. The only question was, what did the Euros actually do? Sure, they gave us cool names and facial hair. And it was nice to watch a 7-foot man shoot 35-footers once in a while, but they weren't putting any of their teams over the top (Kukoc excluded).
Then came the "soft" tags, the claims that these third-world war-torn isolates in a foreign land didn't know how to man up with people who played across America's heartland. Dirk's monumental post-MVP playoff failure solidified this view, brought outrage over his MVP award selection, and ultimately got us back to what this game is all about: Kobe, LeBron, and Chris Paul.
You see what happened there? NBA basketball will never not be NBA basketball, an all-American celebration of Nike, slam-dunking, and Oak Hill Academy. Stephen A. Smith's BRILLIANT blurb yesterday (seriously, read it) reinforces all of that. And once players--Americos and Euros alike--started to realize that the NBA will always be the league of Jordan, Wilt, and Russell, the pressure was taken off of them to create new alien standards of greatness. (And people wonder what took so long for Turkoglu to turn the jets on). Peja Stojakovic went from third place MVP candidate in 2004 to forgotten man to the only Serbian in New Orleans, and you know what, he couldn't have been happier? Zydrunas Ilgauskas went from LeBron's Dick Cheney to potential contract deadweight, lost amidst the flurry of the Drew Gooden/Ben Wallace/Larry Hughes/Wally trade, and Z is perfectly fine with that. Dirk's MVP award gave Euros the token that they needed, to show they mattered, and now they can take an exhalation of deep relief, and go back to "doing them."
Doing them, of course means being Kukoc, Sabonis, or Smits--being that key guy in tough situations, but never having to be The Man....which IRONICALLY leads them to being The Man all over again, as Peja, Hedo, Pau, Okur, and Ilgauskas have been throughout these playoffs. This has led to the perfect alliance of Euros and AmeriStars, and the teams that have shown the most success this year (save for the Celtics and Pistons) have adhered to this formula.
Now of course the Spurs have long been tinkering with this formula, but Lamar, Kobe and Pau are the prototype for Comic Relief + ESTABLISHMENT FIGURE + EURO arrangement (think Peter Boyle + the Belush + Schwarznegger in Red Heat). Glance over these delightful trios:
Just as Bill Gates promised a "robot in every home," by 2010, I promise a "key Euro on every starting lineup." No more giant stiffs or 3-ball experts just filling up roster space. This is a new age, and a new millenial science that is destined for success. What will be even more curious to watch will be how far the Lakers can succeed in their current configuration, with Kobe (a Euro at heart) surrounded by a sea of foreigners. If they indeed defeat either the Celtics or Pistons in the final, we might suggesting every selfish superstar with a band of people who neither understand nor question his every move.