Hoops History, part III
To summarize, I call the first movement The TV Era (1980-2002): these were the NBA’s golden years, when Magic, Bird, Michael, Hakeem, Malone, and Shaq ruled The League. These were the days of trash talk, blood on the court, and lifelong teams. The second movement can be called The Internet Era (2003-2016), which began with LeBron’s entrance in ’03 is exemplified by hyper free agency, the rise of AAU, and a frustrating amount of friendship between players. (The two guys that played in The TV Era and extended their greatness all the way through The Internet Era: Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant.)
I’ve been reluctant to write too much about this new era of pro hoops that is now upon us: The Social Media Era (2016-onward).
The NBA has changed, and there’s no going back.
So what do we know of The Social Media Era? Well, first of all, there are glowing deficiencies, including terrible defense (we’re looking at you, James Harden), flopping (ahem, Anderson Varejao), very good coaches getting fired for only winning 55 games (David Blatt, Frank Vogel, et al.), players who can’t play a single position well but still get $100 million contracts (the Kevin Love category), and the lack of any visible competitive anger among even the best players (Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, et al.). Also, the 76ers, just in general.
But on the plus side, we have a few great things here in TSME: a few great holdovers from The Internet Era (Dwayne Wade, LeBron, and the entire Spurs organization), positionless players who are actually worth $100 million (Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, and the entire incoming draft of 2016), the advent of small ball (see: Golden State) and the return of 120-point games (see: Oklahoma City). Also, Russ Westbrook, who is just flat-out bat crap crazy on the court and in terms of wardrobe, gets his own sentence here, as the second most intriguing part of TSME.
But this new era, this new leaf of hoops history, this infant of an epoch, belongs to a single individual.
That’s right, the NBA has changed, and it now belongs to… a short, scrawny, goofy Davidson College recruit.
If Kobe was the Dr. Dre of pro basketball, and if LeBron was Kanye, then Curry is Lil Wayne, Lecrae, and Chance the Rapper all wrapped up into one scrawny Super Rapper—the undersized, soulful outsider with crazy range and unlimited potential.
SIDEBAR: Other notable baller-rapper comp’s…
Jordan : Tupac
Shaq : Notorious BIG
Kevin Durant : Snoop Dogg
Tim Duncan : quiet, reflective Jay-Z
Carmelo Anthony : boisterous, annoying Jay-Z
Steve Nash : Eminem
Julius Erving : A Tribe Called Quest
Old Versus New
So this brings me to the point of this article, some 500 words later:
Game Seven is Old vs. New.
It’s The Internet Era—LeBron’s receding hairline, JR Smith’s receding shooting percentage, Kyrie Irving’s suppressed anger, Tristan Thompson’s Dennis Rodman statlines, and old school “tough love” coach Ty Lue—versus The Social Media Era—Klay Thompson’s 30-foot threes, Steph’s 35-foot threes, Dray’s defense, Andre Iguodala’s suppressed anger, Shaun Livingston’s suprising ability to still dunk, and their coach, new school “positive motivator” Steve Kerr.
It’s the 2000’s versus the 2010’s.
Gut impressions versus advanced analytics.
Isolation versus ball movement.
Strength versus speed.
Brawn versus beauty.
These two teams really couldn’t be more different, and that’s why this series is tied Three-Three. I have no explanation for why all six games have been double-digit blowouts (my stats dept. ensures me this has never happened and my prophetic dept. is unclear whether or not we should expect it again in the near future).
Game Seven 101
The Cavs’ approach is simple: give the ball to LeBron, and let Kyrie shoot if LeBron’s double-teamed, and try like heck to not let Love, JR, Richard Jefferson’s tattoo, Delly, or Tristan touch the ball. As far as one can tell, here’s Cleveland’s offensive strategy:
Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Dribble…. 19-FOOT FADEAWAY JUMPER
Cleveland’s scoring these past six games couldn’t be more top-heavy:
SIDEBAR #2: What happened to Iman Shumpert? Not only is he scoring less than 2.5 points a game, his signature high top fade is falling off his head. Look at this thing of beauty.
And, then, in the most important series of his life, Shumpert shows up with a man bun?
Anyway, the Cavs are top-heavy with James and Irving and one play.
The Warriors, on the other hand, each of whom are graduate degree smart (except for Brandon Rush of course; he went to kU—possibly even on purpose), play a type of ball no one has seen before, no one else can mimic, and when working, no one in history could beat. Their offensive strategy:
Pass, Pass, Pass… OPEN HIGH-QUALITY JUMPER
Golden State’s scoring couldn’t be more balanced:
SIDEBAR #3: The Warriors leading scorer is averaging 2.8 times more points than its seventh leading scorer; the Cavs’ leading scorer is averaging 12.1 times more points than its seventh leading guy.
Don’t get me wrong: these Warriors are not the best team ever. That is still the 95-96 Bulls. In fact, all six of Jordan’s championship teams in Chicago would beat these W’s in six. (Did you know MJ never even let a series go to a game seven before closing it out? Meanwhile, LeBron is about to set the record for most on-court complaints to referees in athletic history.)
I’m not even sure these Warriors—definitely not in their current battered-and-bruised state—are even better than last year’s team. Last year’s Warriors had a chip on their shoulder and only lost five playoff games. This year’s team has already lost eight times (after losing just nine times in 82 games!).
But even with Steph’s bum leg, Iguodala’s back injury or old age or whatever happened to him in Game 6, and Andrew Bogut’s absence, this game is the Warriors’ to lose. It’s no guarantee, but if they lose, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
The Cavs aren’t bad—far from it. They’re just not championship good. How on earth did they even make it within 48 minutes of a ring with three starters who don’t play defense?!? (Mercy, I’m not so sure about The Social Media Era.)
Official Fidelity SportsTM Prediction
Even though this series determines the future of the NBA—do we move into the future or remain, one more year, in the past?—the first six games have been underwhelming. Both teams, honestly, are playing like 3-seeds. Golden State’s excuse is Injuries, and Cleveland’s excuse is Accidentally Trading For Kevin Love, but I have a feeling Game Seven is going to be epic.
Bron Bron knows this is his last shot at a title; Curry doesn’t want to be known for 73 wins but no ring; Kyrie’s ready to take over; Klay and Dray both have legit shots at Finals MVP; Shumpert could buy some hair product and return to glory. Indeed, all this and more could happen. But what will happen?
I don’t expect the Dubs to quite reach their regular season scoring average (114.9) but to at least surpass their postseason average (108.5). The Cavs, meanwhile, have averaged 99 points in Oakland this postseason, and that feels about right for tonight. (That would also mean another double-digit final, which seems required.)
If my math is right, that means Cleveland’s bench will contribute about nine points, and either Curry or Thompson will catch fire and score 35+. My money’s on Steph—who will also win Finals MVP.
But the thing to remember tonight, O Fidelity faithful, is that this is not your grandpa’s NBA anymore. It’s not even the league you grew up with, nor the one you think you know now. It’s something new, something different.
In short, it’s Steph Curry’s league. And we are all witnesses.