Friday, June 21, 2013

Thoughts from Game 7: How to Handle Things When the Bad Guys Win

   Fifteen minutes into Game 7 of the NBA Finals, my old pal Emilio shows up to our little reserved corner at the sports bar. The first obvious question my friend Nolan and I throw at him, “Who ya going for tonight?”
   Emilio replies confidently, “Boston!” and we all laugh. We explain to him that this game features the Heat and the Spurs, and his response was oddly appropriate. “Oh yeah? Don’t know, don’t care. Either way I’m waking up tomorrow and the world is still turning.”
   It was funny at the time, but wise Emilio had just uttered the single biggest drink of water we had all night. More on that in a minute.
   Some general thoughts on the game: I think it would be easy right now to call out Tim Duncan for missing that game-tying shot (and the tip-in that followed) at about the 30-second mark in the fourth quarter. Take a step back though: he was the Spurs’ leading scorer last night, and the only San Antonio player to top 20 points. He made it to the free throw line more than any other player on either team (he and LeBron tied with eight attempts each), and finished with a more-than-respectable 24-12. Meanwhile, Tony Parker went 3-for-12 from the field, Danny Green was a stiff 1-for-12, and Manu “My bald spot spreads with every miss” Ginobili had arguably the worst fourth quarter in recent Finals memory. Duncan played his guts out, and it is downright silly to point the choke-job finger at him. The Spurs as a team shot 37% from the floor for Chrissake.
   On the other side of things, the Heat offense last night essentially was channeled through three people: James, Wade, and Battier (Mario Chalmers took fifteen shots, sure, but at the same time, it’s Mario Chalmers, and to say that anything channels through him is absolute heresy—plus this is my blog and I do what I want). Battier shot the lights out (6-for-8 from three!), Dwayne Wade had a 23-10, and of course, LeBron went psycho. The Spurs dared him to take threes, and he made five of them. Look at the points in the paint for this game—San Antonio executed their defensive game-plan pretty darn well, actually—they outscored the Heat in this area 48-24. The Heat just made the jump shots, and that made the difference.
   The difference sucked though, right? The bad guys won! A brash, cocky, inflated group of players (from the worst sports city in America nonetheless) beat out the small-market, team-first, quietly-brilliant group of guys from little old San Antonio. Tim Duncan, the best power forward of all time, is not going to have the perfect ending. Gregg Popovich might not be on the coaching Mount Rushmore. Manu Ginobili seemingly threw away (quite literally) his shot to be considered an all-time great player. A lot of things were in the balance last night, and when we saw the zeroes, the bad guys had all the glory, and the good guys had joyless, empty-handed second.
   But in sports, the bad guys win all the time. Duke beat Butler. Kobe Bryant, a rapist and one of the worst teammates ever, has won five championships. Ben Roethlisberger, another rapist, beat Kurt “Sorry Tebow, but God saved all the winning for me” Warner in the Super Bowl. Sports are designed so the best teams win, not so the good guys win. This is not Hoosiers, or Rocky II, or The Karate Kid. This is real life, and real life, obviously, is far from fair. Life is not a movie, so in life, the bad guys do not always see the just desserts.
   So what can we do? What can the 66% of ESPN’s SportsNation who declared their allegiance to the Spurs last night do in the face of this loss? You have to dig deeper than the “selfish” LeBron Jameses or the “dirty” Dwayne Wades. In this modern NBA, one that is rife with me-first thugs and, as my dad likes to bluntly put it, “goddamn gangbangers”, you need to dig a little deeper to find the good stuff. Shane Battier is on that Heat team, and he might be considered one of the most selfless players in basketball. LeBron James has done a ton of community work during his career, and while that good-guy side might be overshadowed by The Decision and the old Welcome Party “not one, not two . . .” videos, it is still there. LeBron the father is still there too. Sitting behind us at the bar was a born-and-raised Miami couple, who had been cheering for the Heat since the team arrived in town in 1988. That Game 7 must have been a pretty cool moment for them (and hey, it seems not all Heat fans are shoving out early).
   There are some silver linings to be found, and while it might look bleak for the Spurs right now, things will turn around. As wise Emilio voiced mere minutes into his arrival, we woke up today and the world kept turning. The good guys will have more chances. That is the beauty of sports—they are not going anywhere, so there are always going to be more feel-good stories. There will be more Little Giants against the 2007 Spygate Patriots, there will be more Jamaican bobsled teams, and there will be more Miracles on Ice, on the girdiron, and on the hardcourt. There will be more movie moments, maybe not today, but soon.
   So congrats to the Heat, and to their fanbase (except for that total douche who was in the third row last night wearing a freaking Steph Curry jersey—you will receive none of my acknowledgement and may you burn in sports hell—by the dubs, I am not bitter), the better team won, and this championship was well-deserved. To everyone else, hang in there. Laugh at Lebron’s receding hairline. Reminisce of the days when Pop blew off sideline reporters. Applaude the Battiers. Legacies will sort themselves out, and really, what was this to the resumes of the Spurs’ stars, a gold star? They will be fine.
   Let’s look back on a terrific NBA season—we had some classic games, remarkable achievements, and an offseason full of good old-fashioned drama ahead of us. Did everyone come out a winner? Of course not (Suns fans, how the heck are ya?!), but sports are not supposed to work that way. When things do work out though—wow, is it sweet.
   We waste too much energy complaining about the bad guys winning in sports, so let’s take a lesson from one of the best, and let’s take our talents somewhere else.

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