Sunday, April 24, 2011
AROUND THE HARD WAY
A man hanging on the ropes in a helpless state, with his toes off the ground, shall be considered down. - Marquess of Queensberry Rules
The western playoffs are still in a nascent stage, yet they somehow feel battered and grim, girding for the late rounds. If there’s a storyline with any commonality, it’s younger teams going hard after the old lions, knowing their best chance to go the distance is to play the veterans’ game - punishing body-blows, ripping their hearts out early.
"He was the last of the old guard." A Piece of Steak, 1909
Jack London wrote a story that I was taken with as a kid, about youth being served in the fight game. An aged boxer has to walk miles to the ring to fight, with only flour gravy scrapings for nourishment. No decent training, bad knuckles and heavy legs and he marshals his reserves against a up-and-comer, but ultimately fails. It’s more about the inevitability of time than the fight itself, though the latter is epic. It still has resonance, a century later.
During late nights and mornings after, through air-conditioned afternoons with sun blazing outside, bleary underlings study tape and make notes - they are trying to find the alchemist’s formula, they are trying to help crown kings. They are saying, this is how we beat the champions. And yet they know, the Lakers have been here time and again, they play the end game better than anyone else. Yes, Kobe is growing old but he is a professional killer. He knows all your soft and vulnerable spots. Your pleas do not affect him for he is cold and single-minded.
New Orleans tried for an early knockout. The league of course was licking their chops - they own the Hornets. It was never going to happen. New Orleans took a game, played tough in another, hammered Pau Gasol and it worked for a number of quarters until he shook off the blows and started playing through them. And then there’s the bench play, often anchored by starter Bynum, a massive computer geek with knees of clay. It’s a cruel contradiction - such a dominant force inside, forever skating on the thinnest of ice. Add sixth man of the year Lamar Odom and round out with the Killer B's and it’s closer to a starting lineup than a supporting cast.
"Keep hittin’ him in the ribs, ya see? Don’t let that bastard breathe." Mickey to Rocky, 1976
Last night I watched the Grizzlies take a 2-1 lead on the Spurs - a team that put their everything into an amazing regular season but now they look spent. Portland came back from way back in the 4th, evened things up against the veteran Dallas Mavericks. OKC held off a patented Denver flurry to make it 3 and zip. Tweeters speculated about the end of the old guard but I still see the road to the finals winding through a 24-foot canvas ring - the Lakers both absorb and deliver punishment, better than anyone. He knew his business and he knew youth, now that youth was no longer his.
Somewhere, David Stern is holed up in a hermetically sealed chamber, tubes and nutrients running through him as he croaks at a wall of images; "get Fisher, he’s head of the association, get Kobe, punch him in the heart, he’s one of the old ones!" This of course being the real David Stern, not the baggy-necked impostor hired by central casting. Fish however, has begun to find his range, Artest has found his consistency, Blake’s found a headband and Kobe’s heart has always been stronger than anyone else’s - Stern’s attempt to reshape the league will have to wait and if the owners have any sense, they’ll take his withered carcass to the desert and let the vultures feed.
"The end is when I’m damn well ready." Kobe Bryant
Game 4 is only hours away and blood is in the water, this is a chance to put a dagger in New Orleans’ heart. I can empathize with London’s protagonist, I awoke with crooked back and sore feet, with a splitting headache that coffee’s only now beginning to soothe. I do not have to walk miles to an arena though, just to the backyard with the old dog and back again, to the comfort of A/C and cable TV - four games on the slate for Easter Sunday. To your corners and come out fighting!