A Thief In Cleveland

When seven out of eleven voters rebuked¬†LeBron James because he was a loser and dismissed Steph Curry because he wasn’t dominant, it¬†was a historic¬†occurrence. The NBA is a league¬†in which¬†highly paid¬†stars stir the drink and fill the seats and pile up the money. They slant the narrative. The stars¬†are the story¬†even when they are not the story; that is the bargain as well as the conundrum.

On a Tuesday night in Cleveland, all bets were off. Ordinary and humble, Andre Iguodala received the Most Valuable Player Award. Standing a few steps away was extraordinary Steph Curry. Off camera was spectacular LeBron James, already in the locker room.

Something was very wrong here

Despite it’s mythology, sports is rarely a meritocracy and the NBA is the most lopsided, irreverent sport of them all. The NBA culture punishes the average and rarely slaps the wrists of¬†the stars and there is a point to it all. Very few NBA players are great; count them on two hands. They¬†alone determine wins and losses, in the playoffs or out, television ratings, fans rushing team buses.¬†Their reward for being sacred are honors, trophies and All-Star appearances, even when they are not deserving.

Andre Iguodala has had a nice career. He is the type of player that is impossible to define in this analytical age. He isn’t great at any one thing but is good at defending the perimeter, and hitting an uncontested shot, and rebounding when it counts. He is unselfish enough to allow a rookie head coach to pull him as a starter and not complain about it. The only thing¬†Iguodala does wrong is miss an inordinate amount of free throw shots.

There is nothing about Andre Iguodala that is immortal, nothing that¬†reminds¬†you of¬†LeBron James¬†or Kobe Bryant or¬†Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal, and of course, Iguodala and the living God of professional basketball,¬†Michael Jordan, have absolutely nothing in common.

Listening to what was said before Game 6 was to be played in the crazed atmosphere of Cleveland, Ohio,¬†there was¬†fatalism. The Most Valuable Player award was not¬†LeBron James’ trophy to lose. Nevertheless,¬†he was the greatest that anyone had ever seen on the NBA Finals stage. He led all players on both teams in minutes played, points, rebounds and assists. He led all players in shots missed. And he led all players in being the most spectacular basketball player on the court.

Only once was the Most Valuable Player trophy awarded to a player on a losing team. It was Jerry West in 1969. It was the first time the MVP was handed out so the criteria of the award was a little murky. From then on, no one on a losing team has won the award and for good reason. The winner has the benefits of the luxuries; the loser has the benefit of the sorrow.

Post-game, it was clear¬†James was not going to get the award. His Game 6 performance was average for his standards. He appeared both exhausted and drained, as if he knew he just couldn’t get this team to one more miraculous finish.¬†His energy level was mediocre and he just wasn’t dominant in a close-out game. Frankly, he had an average game. Plus, Igoudala was very good. He had 25 points and guarded LeBron James at the same time.

The award was handed to Iguodala by Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner. Igoudala’s son was clinging to him as he tilted his head and managed the glare of the lights. His voice sounded hoarse and there was the sense that had the voting gone another way and he had not won the¬†award it wouldn’t have mattered to him. After a nine year career, after surviving some lean Philly years, Igoudala was a champion.

History is always kind to the winners, serenading their achievements and inking their accomplishments in stone. Because winning is a priority in our culture, Andre Igoudala will be remembered in the same breath as the greatest players of all time but not the same way. Igoudala is an outlier. His performance in three playoff games resulted in one championship trophy and for that he should be celebrated. Still, it felt as if the public was deprived of something rare. LeBron James was truly stunning; it was left unacknowledged.

Watching¬†Iguodala accept the trophy was a reminder: those who are great when it counts are¬†compensated. No one forgets. The NBA Finals¬†was a perfect example because¬†Igoudala wasn’t great at the beginning, just the middle and the end. Frankly, the end is what counts.

Andre Igoudala, in the end, was the 2015 champion.



photo courtesy of somosnba.com