The end of last night’s Rockets game is destined to become an urban legend NBA story only because cameras and cell phone video were absent, leaving us to do the old fashion thing, interpertation based on imagination and what we want to believe. It is comfirmation bias 101. If you believe Chris Paul is the best leader in sports, then you look upon his soldiering up as representative of who he is as a player and a man. If you think Chris Paul’s act is tired and that his former teammates would rather lose without him than win with him, then you were presented evidence that there’s not much of a lingering brotherhood with Chris and Blake and the gang. If you think James Harden is a weak follower, brought in to do Chris Paul’s grunt work, then Harden storming the locker room gates fits your narrative.
If you are of the opinon that James Harden is tough, willing to risk his recovery to get into some meaningless altercation because he rolls for one of his boys like that, then you’re happy that he was in the middle of it. If you’re keeping score of who on the Rockets was noticeably absent from the locker room almost brawl then that woud be Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. (The rest of the Rockets don’t matter). If this feels just a little too rehearsed and fake, then you probably are right.
However you choose to slice it, the ending is the same. Last night, Chris Paul was not the leader of the players union. He was not the best point guard of his generation. He was not a consummate leader of men on the court, a person of empathy off of it. He was a cautionary tale of what happens when you forget time and place.
You compete on the court. You don’t fight off of it. You don’t lead a coup. Besides, this is basketball. Even if you know the secret passage and tunnel, what exactly are you going to do? You better have a plan before you decide to storm the gates. What are you willing to lose and more importantly, why? It was a game on the calendar in January. It’s the Clippers, for Chrissakes.
Furthermore, the conflict was on the holiday to celebrate a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize because he avoided conflict. But you have to go wreck it with stupidity. And be a terrible role model for kids who need to learn how to de-escalate. We have enough violence in the world already.
But, impulsivity aside. This is exactly why the Rockets wanted Chris Paul. Even though he should not have organized a hit, that he had the temerity and fearlessness and planning to do so- sending Capela to the front while storming the back was brilliant planning. It was so Chris Paul.
Most players returning to the place where they were once the entree, dessert, dinner drinks, appetizer would just bask in the video, take the loss, complain about the refs, throw shade on former teammate they despise and leave it at that. They absorb the fan appreciation as when Paul was given a generous applause. For six seasons, he made the Clippers respectable and not that thing you ignore. He changed their franchise to the point that Steve Ballmer wanted to buy them for two billion dollars, a price way over market value.
What Paul did last night was the typical Chris Paul under stress scenario. Make someone pay. Bring his teammates into his plan and be defiant. Don’t back down. Be the aggressor. Chris Paul once said he would level his mother with a hard screen if she was on the court. Chris Paul is feast or famine. You are his teammate. Or you are the enemy.
There was a lot of passive-aggression in the game. A lot of expletives tossed at players by players, even Mike D’Antoni got into the act. It felt more violent than competitive, all those slurs. As if hate has, all of a sudden, entered the conversation.
Despite the natural anticipation of the Feb. 28th blood fued which was already slated to be on ESPN, nothing is going to happen. The NBA is investigating so there will be heavy fines doled out at the participants to prevent a rebirth of them losing their mind on national television and reinforcing a stereotype about aggressive black men Adam Silver tries so hard to mitigate.
In the grand scheme of things, the Clippers don’t matter. At best they are an 8 seed. At worst, they are in the lottery. They are ordinary. The Rockets are not. They have more to lose if things go sideways and there are unintended consequences and collateral damage. The Rockets have higher goals for this year but so far it looks like the Chris Paul gamble has worked.
He is the Rockets Alpha. James Harden is all of a sudden number two.