Have here an odd mixture of gripes and kudos, beefs and bouquets, to dispense while waiting for these feisty young Celtics to reveal their true selves after having advanced Danny Ainge’s quirky master plan a full leap so far this season. Can they make it a “quantum?”
The nice thing about these cocky upstarts is that, as they demonstrated in the playoff opener and even more so in the regular season finale, you can never count these kids out. That’s always a true revival’s first definitive stride. Now if Brother Ainge’s hot hand somehow extends to the lottery when they bounce those silly ping pong balls. Said process having robbed them of a full generation of Tim Duncan’s lofty presence, the bloody lottery surely owes them one.
Meanwhile, we have the ongoing celebration of the Golden State Warriors record-busting season to wonder about. It’s being proclaimed the greatest in NBA history, if not the greatest in all the annals of professional sport. These turgid discussions seemingly rear every other year. Tiresome!
Okay, so there’s no diminishing that a 73-9 record is awesome in any game. But can the likes of that be too awesome? More noteworthy than what Golden State did, it says here, is how the overwhelming superiority of the Warriors and five or so of their fellow travelers combined with the pathetic ineptitude of at least nine other franchises testifies to how woefully lopsided and top-heavy the National Basketball Association truly is.
Let’s use Major League Baseball, which has the most familiar and time-honored structure of all the games, to illustrate the point. Baseball seasons in which teams win 100 games while others lose 100 (of the 162 scheduled) happen now and again, but not always. You may have a couple in a given year, but not routinely. Often there are none.
This year in the NBA’s regular season, you had six teams, led by the Warriors and Spurs, with winning percentages of over .617, which in baseball means you win at least 100 games. And you had six teams with percentages of below .383, which in baseball means you lose at least 100 games.
Golden State’s 73-9 mark is the equivalent of a 144-18 baseball season. Mind boggling! San Antonio’s 67-15 translates to 132-30. Ridiculous! At the other extreme, the Philadelphia 76ers’ horrendous 10-72 record is the equivalent of 20-142. That would place them 22 games behind the 1962 expansion Mets, generally regarded as baseball’s worst team ever. Little better this season were the Lakers (17-65, .207), Nets (21-61, .256), Suns (22-60, .268), Wolves (29-53, .354), Pelicans (30-52, .366). You get the point.
The competitive balance factor, an obsession in all other games, is a total joke in the NBA. In the other major professional leagues of American sport, they worry that too much parity produces a kind of rampant mediocrity, making greatness nearly impossible. They certainly don’t have that problem in the NBA, where the very notion of parity is held in contempt. But what does all this say about the fundamental, indeed, paramount, issue of competitive intensity and drama, which most games consider absolutely vital?
Clearly the NBA is out of whack. When roughly half your league is composed of either chronic juggernauts or utter deadbeats, you got a problem, Mister. Who wants to see a game that has an 80 to 90 percent chance of being over before it starts?
But when fussing over leagues that are out of whack, there’s a certain gravitational pull dragging you back to the National Hockey League. Constantly revising, re-structuring, re-orienting, the NHL has trouble getting it right. Latest absurdity is the way they determine who makes the playoffs, about as fundamental as issues get.
Be it sounding like sour grapes or otherwise, the irrefutable fact is that the Bruins should have made the playoffs this year, not via stellar performance, we agree, but because in the end, dismal finish or otherwise, they had a better record than the Red Wings, wrongly awarded the East’s eighth and final post-season slot.
The Bruins won more games (42-41), lost fewer (40-41), won the season’s head-to-head competition with Detroit (3-1), had a whopping 23 point goals-for versus goals-against advantage and, as near as I can determine, the better conference record. So by all factors long considered difference-makers, the Bruins had the edge.
Alas, it turns out that the NHL has a new and mysterious tie-breaker that trumps all the others, one nobody knew about and still fewer understand. It has something to do with “regulation wins plus overtime wins” and it’s called “ROW.” That’s the only explanation I’ve seen. Have no idea what it means, but it appears to be entangled somehow in the obtuse and aggravating OT business.
But let’s strip away all such nonsense in favor of basics, and maybe even a spec of common sense. Historically or otherwise in every game ever played, the team that wins more and loses less has always been regarded as the team that finishes ahead in the standings of the one that wins less and loses more. It’s that simple, except, of course, in the National Hockey League.
On a last hockey note: You have to give Don Sweeney substantial credit for retaining Claude Julien as coach in the wake of the Bruins bitter meltdown. That it was decidedly the right thing to do and minimizes the damage of a woebegone season doesn’t mean every GM in this or any game would have done it.
So easy it would have been for Sweeney to grease Julien, thereby deflecting much of the blame and grief now simmering. It would have changed the subject, appeasing a fair percentage of disgruntled fans, less-informed media, and talk radio’s baying lynch mobs. And it would have been so easy. Sweeney took the high road. Give him credit!
Far at the other extreme, on the lowest of low roads, you’ll find Johnny Manziel. There’s neither time nor disposition here to get into all the blunders of the prodigal quarterback whose squandering of a potentially rich and lusty career borders on the unprecedented. Few will weep.
But it can be hoped some good comes of it in terms of the valuable lesson it offers those who dispense the Heisman Trophy, once arguably America’s most distinguished athletics prize. Handing it to 18-year-old freshmen brats as unformed, unlearned, and unprepared as Manziel is stupid.
Go back to the way it used to be and give it to high-character lads who’ve distinguished themselves for four years on and off the field. Rescue the Heisman before it becomes a joke.
And then there was Kobe Bryant’s farewell out in Lotus Land, a tawdry and vintage Hollywood production, glitzy and shallow. Bryant was contrived to go out in what was ludicrously called “style,” scoring 60 points, high among the most points he ever scored in a single game during his long, and, yes, for the most part, distinguished career.
The argument here is not with Bryant’s worth – although to Celtics historical devotees he doesn’t quite fit the “mold” – as with the shabby fiascos they’re now making of these so-called “farewells.” Given 50 shots by his buddies, and with the goof-offs from Utah hardly pretending to guard him, Bryant ought to have scored a 100 points, but then he’s almost 40. A meaningless game between two lousy teams ending a crummy season and presumably taken off the board by Vegas, with a crowd laced with tin-horn celebrities and other glad-handers reveling in every farcical beat of it, you can’t argue any harm was done. Except, maybe, to the very idea of the thing itself!
As farewells go, this one had all the substance and dignity of a backyard round of PIG. Would Ted Williams’s adieu have become such a tender moment in sporting lore if Jack Fisher had moved up 20-30 feet and fed him the ball underhand with the umps allowing the Kid to use a fungo bat to rocket it into the bleachers? I think not.
Maybe it worked for Kobe Bryant. But if I were David Ortiz I’d take notes, and beware.