Sixty-six games sandwiched into a short window and done. It’s easy to say the season was strange, uneven, that it seemed to play out overnight. It’s only a snippet born of easy comparison. There’s nothing short about sixty-six games, especially for the teams who bottomed out quickly and had to continue playing.
The conversation about tanking went completely viral and you have to wonder how that felt to players who strap on ice packs, limp onto buses, eat on the fly, and get ready to do it again the next night. You have to wonder what it feels like to blow out a knee or jam a finger into something that will never look the same again, to schedule an emergency trip to a dentist in strange city and check into your room and turn on the TV to discover that your team didn’t come to play last night – you thought you came to play and you vaguely remember having a halfway decent game before you fouled out and walked off, as fans with twisted faces screamed obscenities and hawked loogies while security guards stared toward the floor. Or was that the night before, or the one before that.
Basketball happens in a moment, rising up as an elbow’s coming down.
“They opened my whole head, pulled my face out and fixed it. Obviously there were a lot of loose pieces they had to put back together like a puzzle, but they did an amazing job." Eduardo Najera, Charlotte Bobcats
I doubt Najera ever tanked a game in his life, Does that mean the all-consuming conversation has no merit? Of course not. There’s players who care in a losing season and those that don’t. There were owners who wanted to toss the entire schedule before it began, and there’s the ones who would rather lose during the games they never wanted in the first place. And there’s coaches who balance phone calls they wish they hadn’t taken, against the reality that they probably won’t have a job next year anyway.
Sixteen teams managed to get into sixteen slots, jockeying for position, some brave enough to cut to the inside rail. Congratulations. You bought yourself at least four more games. And you’ve been analyzed and ranked and rationalized and you’ve had numbers and letters and equations assigned to you, and you have a chance or you don’t have a fucking chance and you’re cool, you say you don’t listen anyway, it’s a game, it’s a business, it’s a dream, it’s a failure, it’s a championship, it’s a trip back to the D-league, it’s wondering if your contract will get picked up, it’s talking to your kids on the phone, it’s your coaches screaming in your ear, it’s a hard drive to a basket that grows higher every year and finishing at the rim and getting hammered to the floor and a trip to the stripe to make it three and put your team ahead with one second left on the clock.
Congratulations, you’re in the playoffs.
I don’t know these Denver Nuggets very well, they’re mostly young and fast, and they have the future ahead of them. A sea of ink seemed to disappear overnight. It didn’t really, but it seemed that way. Just like the season seemed short. Chris Andersen has enough ink left for any three players but he doesn’t seem to count anymore, he’s only a reminder of a different era.
George Karl is from a different era as well. He knows about ice packs and bus rides, the days before the 24 hour news cycle. His headlong plunges earned him the nickname ‘the Kamikaze Kid’ at North Carolina. He’s played and coached in the ABA, CBA, NBA and Spain. He drove from one city to the next in a Ford van. He once coached Seattle in the ‘96 finals and lost to Phil Jackson’s Bulls. He didn’t know if he’d live to see another season, more than once. And he’s got his kids playing fast and loose and might just decide to empty his clip in this round. I wouldn’t count his team out.
Kobe Bryant put aside the scoring title on the last night of the regular season in order to rest for this series. His 58 games didn’t feel short - torn wrist ligaments, a broken nose, a concussion, soft tissue damage to the neck and a tendon shaft inside his shin that became inflamed. Ramon Sessions arrived for the end of the season. Andrew Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds one night and two rebounds a few nights later. Pau Gasol was relieved to learn that he’d still be a Laker and Metta World Peace will be spending the first round on his smart phone, typing not so smart things. And if you want a snapshot analysis of the team’s chances, look again at the fourth quarter and two overtime periods against OKC, when they came from eighteen back with a lineup that featured Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Devin Ebanks, and Steve Blake. And simply shut them down.
It’s hot and humid and the wind is blowing. I take the dog outside, a few lone cicadas have begun their incessant electrical buzz again. Segue Denver.