Friday, June 22, 2012

Letter To A Friend

Dear Jordan,

How's it going, buddy?  I know we haven't talked in a while, but I wanted to check in and make sure you hadn't gone entirely catatonic after last night.  Ever since we met, we've been bound inextricably by two shared loves: music and basketball.  We've gone through things, you and I.  Members of three (four if you count senior recitals) bands together.  Geeking out over things like phase cancellation and built-from-scratch synth patches.   Having generally ridiculous nights.  We once crammed a four-piece band WITH GEAR into a single, regular-sized cab to make a radio appearance on time.  We've played the dingiest, crappiest dives imaginable and some pretty great venues as well.   We've sweated out half our body weight in that claustrophobic, non-air-conditioned practice space that smelt like a combination of day-old Subway, garbage, and PBR.  We've made wonderful records, even when we had to re-track most of one because the initial engineer was a complete moron.  And we've talked hoops.  A lot.  You are the only other obsessive basketball fan I know, which is why we spent so much time discussing, arguing, and joking about the NBA.  I mean, I'm a Hawks fan and you're a Cavs fan, so the alternative to all that constant discourse would probably have been to just break down in tears, right?   

Anyway, I saw your facebook status last night and the vitriol and sarcasm were practically seeping through the screen: "Hooray Lebron. You and your super team won, with the help of Stern and the refs. Just like you were supposed to."  I knew you were probably headed towards the darkness.  You know, like the night after your breakup when it was you, me, Hannah, and a super-sized bottle of Jack Daniels.  (To your credit, I've never seen anyone play bass that well after getting blackout trashed and falling down the stairs.)  So please don't be too mad when I say this: LeBron has a ring now, and he deserves it.  It was time, and there's a lot of silver lining here if you want to see it.       

Ever since the finals matchup was set, we knew someone was getting kicked in the teeth.  Either Cleveland or Seattle was going to wind up feeling collectively more embittered, depressed, and outraged than they already did, which seems quasi-impossible but is true nonetheless.   Unfortunately, Cleveland drew the short straw, for which you have my deepest sympathies.  But HOLY CRAP DID YOU WATCH THOSE GAMES?!?!?!  You realize what we're looking at, right?  We have seen the future, and if the gods are kind, it is going to be every bit as beautiful and intense as Celtics/Lakers in the '80s.  The Thunder and Heat are poised to dominate the NBA for the next decade, clashing time and time again for the championship and creating the sort of long-form narrative drama that makes basketball so damned fun.  Sure, our teams will probably be languishing in mediocrity while those guys hog all the glory, but I am always in favor of profoundly gorgeous basketball being played.  Always.  And we are about to watch boatloads of precisely that for a long time to come.

(Also, you have Kyrie Irving, so chin up, right?)

I know that you, like many Clevelanders, will always despise LeBron.  The Decision was an incorrigible and vomit-inducing bit of lunacy, and I completely understand that there's simply no room for forgiveness and atonement when you've been sucker-punched in the crassest manner imaginable on national television.  Not for a city whose sports history has been as nightmarish as Cleveland's.  LeBron left Ohio to fester as an unmitigated sports wasteland, to which Colt McCoy added the coup de grace of more-or-less sucking as an NFL QB while the Indians were and are themselves.  Again.   So LBJ has earned your everlasting scorn, the native son and last hope jilting you at the altar.  Fair enough.  But as a basketball fan, what are you gonna do in a situation like this?

LeBron played at a patently ridiculous level all playoffs.  He stomped on the gas midway through the Pacers series and never looked back, with game 6 in Boston and last night's virtuoso 26-11-13-1-steal-2-block masterpiece serving as indelible capstones to a breathtaking season.  It is your inalienable right (and maybe even your mandate) as a Cavs fan to hate him for eternity with the wrathful passion of a thousand firey suns, but you can't possibly belittle or demean the brilliance he has exhibited over the last two months.  And it wasn't just him.  The Heat, collectively, learned how to operate perfectly within their insular context, alloting LeBron the bulk of the heavy lifting while simultaneously asserting themselves at crucial junctures.

When Kevin Durant came out of halftime and buried that 26-foot bomb, it looked like we had the makings of a comeback for all of about 2 minutes before Miami slammed the door again with brutal finality.  Which is what they've been doing since April to anyone in their path.  It was so much more than D-Wade recalibrating his game to accomadate his injuries and LeBron's dominance, or Chris Bosh quietly dismantling Oklahoma City in the paint.  I mean, everyone expected Shane Battier to give the Thunder fits with his hyperintelligent brand of old-dude-gritty defense.  Randomly turning into Ray Allen from behind the arc?  Not so much.  (61% 3FG for the finals, Shane?  F**KIN' SERIOUSLY?!?!?!)  What about Mario Chalmers exploding for 25 in game 4?  Or Norris Cole demonstrating a phenomenal amount of poise for a rookie on the game's grandest stage?  And you know who really clinched the title for Miami last night?  Mike Freaking Miller.  The guy was literally hobbling around for the entirety of the playoffs, and his one useful NBA skill was nowhere in evidence.  Dude left the clip for his sniper rifle at home ... until last night when he went 7-8 from deep en route to 23 completely unexpected points.  Like the Mavs last year, like most NBA champions in fact, the Heat repeatedly got serious help when they needed it from the unlikeliest of quarters.   Also, Juwan Howard has a ring now, which kind of makes me happy.

And let's not forget that OKC beat themselves to a degree, too.  James Harden evaporated so badly my grandpa wouldn't have feared the beard in a game of one-on-one.  Russ Westbrook was exactly what we expected: a mercurial alchemy of unadulterated genius and head-scratching flaws.  Trouble was, the flaws were unfortunately on prominent display at too many of the wrong times.  Scott Brooks either didn't recognize that Nick Collison needed much more burn this series (and Kendrick Perkins needed much less) or he was simply too reluctant to tamper with the rotations that had gotten the Thunder this far.  And Kevin Durant, for all his offensive wizardry, is simply not physically strong enough, mentally eff-you enough, and defensively skilled enough to handle LeBron on both ends of the floor for extended stretches of time.  Not yet.  But he'll get there.  His ceiling is still miles away, and watching him reach it while going toe-to-toe with LeBron James for the next ten years is going to be a phenomenal experience.

I know you're hurt and angry and more than a little depressed that you had to watch the guy who sold out your city win a title, but try to look on the bright side.  We get to watch a league full of young, transcendent talent blossom for the foreseeable future, bookended by two incredibly entertaining teams who couldn't have set up a better collection of story arcs and interchangeable hero/villain personae (depending on where you stand.)  As basketball fans, what more can we really ask?

Take care, and I'll try to visit Boston sometime soon.

Your pal,

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