Did the Heat win last night, or did the Thunder lose? Forgive me. It has become confusing.
LeBron James, the most capable and dynamic athlete ever to play his and perhaps any sport, has reached his apex, where accrued wisdom coincides with physical ability. He has capitalized, delivering a career defining piece de resistance.
He had 26 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds last night. Larry Bird was the last player to do that in the Finals in 1986. LeBron scored or set up 55 of the Heat’s 104 points. He played 44 minutes, removed from the game only because he was dehydrated and cramping. It was not just last night. LeBron has done it every night.
He’s averaging a 30-9-5 in the playoffs. That has happened three times in NBA history and twice since 1963, both times by him. He’s the league’s most maligned player. He would be silencing his critics, except they have already departed.
To hear the media noise machine tell it, the story is no longer LeBron, Mario “Motherfucking” Chalmers or the Heat. It’s the Thunder. They are losing this playoff series. It is a debacle. We must blame.
The turn starts with loud ESPN personalities and diffuses to the more sane and measured. James Harden is having a terrible series. Kevin Durant? Look at that so-called star, failing to take the initiative or grab rebounds. There’s always Russell Westbrook. Sure, he showed the most of any Oklahoma City player last night and scored 43 points on 63 percent shooting, but there was that bonehead play at the end and, of course, his untrue point guard play. Even praise for LeBron is infused with backhanded Thunder criticism.
A team with a core of 23-year-olds is not quite ready to win an NBA title. The salient point is a team with a core of 23-year-olds is almost ready to win an NBA title. That’s unbelievable. Isaiah Thomas at 23 was trying to do everything for the Pistons, and not winning. Michael Jordan at 23 was trying to do everything for the Bulls, and not winning. The Pistons had to learn to beat the Celtics and subsequently the Lakers. The Bulls had to learn to beat the Pistons.
The Thunder do not fit the natural mold for a classic, organically created championship team. They supersede it. They have hastened the timetable. Their are unfathomably precocious, yet our media culture demands we needle their flaws. Instead of praising natural progression, we must twist amazing accomplishment into grotesque failure. Next season will be the “can the Thunder overcome their inherent issues” season. It is beyond carving out a narrative. It is perverse.
We have ventured down the slippery slope of PTI/Around the Horn “debate” and “strong opinion” culture to the world of Sportsnation and First Take. Perpetual DEBATE footing breeds arguments that win debates. That comes not through strong reasoning, but emphasis and severity of language. Sports discussion becomes like politics. Disparagement beats praise. Sweeping beats nuanced. Twitter and the Internet only embolden this sentiment. Opinion becomes performative. One must be heard above the mass produced white noise to get attention. The best way to do this is to be blunt, shocking and critical.
Or, perhaps sports media have followed economic decline, reality television and Internet porn into a sick vortex of degradation. Athletic greatness no longer captures the imagination. The disjunction between outlandish success and a jaded reality makes it repellent. We struggle empathizing with genius, but we allay ourselves with schadenfreude easily. We can’t just enjoy a dunk. Some unfortunate soul must be standing in a near enough radius to be emasculated by it with a “facial.”
Watching sports in this climate becomes like “hate watching” bad television. It’s an escape, but not an especially edifying or enjoyable one. If we cannot stop for a second and appreciate one of the finest athletic spectacles any of us will see because we are too busy searching for something to shit on, what’s the point?
[Photo via Presswire]