After four months of sickness, death, protests, unrest, face masks, and boredom, here we are. The Lakers and Clippers are set to face off as the league restarts without fans in a restrictive environment known as the bubble. The Clippers have been the favorite to get to the Finals all year long. They are the deeper team. But Sixth Man extraordinaire Lou Williams is ambivalent. He hasn’t pulled out of the restart but he has not jumped all the way in either. Williams matters. He averages 19 ppg. The Clippers will need Sweet Lou to be committed and motivated, not distracted, if they are to win their first-ever title.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have LeBron James which is the wild card of all wild cards. LeBron spent his layoff, I’m guessing, staying in shape. He’ll be ready. But this will be unlike anything James has had to fight through in his storied career. If it’s not the virus lurking around every crevice and cranny, James is in limbo. At any moment this whole charade of an idea can be shut down. James will have to play like its May and June when its July and August, and perhaps September.
Up is down.
The idea to save the season was a capitalistic framework. The NBA and its partners wanted to recoup some of the money they lost. The players were forced to come along for the ride or the owners would have ripped up the CBA. So, it feels like a very fragile string is holding all of it together. A few rich people at the top and a lot of middle-class workers are driving this train to Lord knows where. It could be an absolute disaster. Or, it could be perfect.
But drama remains. Will the older coaches even be allowed in the bubble? If not, is this a lawsuit that has NBA egg on its face? Would it even feel like the playoffs if Gregg Popovich isn’t participating because he’s too old on the coronavirus scale of high risk?
It’s imaginary thinking that the restart will be what we’re used to seeing. Though I love the Black Lives Matter on the court sidelines, and seeing what the players come up with on their jerseys, real life won’t be muted because the Lakers and Clippers play, or because the 76ers are trying to move up the playoff seeding. Cities will continue to crack under the pressure of the virus. Death will happen. Masks will keep the virus at bay and masks will be a political litmus test. Protests will drown out the optics. More confederate statues will be targeted. Defund the police will remain the outcry. Karens will do their Karen thing as they harass black homeowners/shoppers/marchers. Can the NBA embrace both? Can its audience?
I lean towards yes because sports have always been a mirror. Bill Russell’s dominance on the court didn’t overshadow the racism in Boston during the Sixties. They were equal partners. When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fist on the Olympic medal stand racism didn’t suddenly crater into the ocean. But the Black Power movement was a force to be reckoned with as athletes used their platforms and social capital, as thin as it was back then. What has changed in 50 years is that social media makes it impossible to look away. Giannis stealing the ball, dribbling on a break, and finishing with a sublime stuff is a thing. But at the same time, our phone is going on meltdown because of…Protestors. Confederate monuments. Food lines. Sick people. The numbers don’t lie. The restart is about making money. But in a summer of drama, more to come.
What I’m Looking Forward To Seeing:
- Lakers-Clippers. In a neutral arena, we get to see if the depth of the Clippers can overcome the greatness of LBJ. Kawhi vs. LeBron on any day is captivating. Without the built-in Los Angeles advantages, the Lakers are at a disadvantage. Except LeBron is suiting up. And so is Anthony Davis.
- Doc Rivers. His greatest coaching moment pre-Boston was in Orlando. He took an average team and they won half their games when they were supposed to finish last in the conference. Doc won Coach of the Year. As accomplished as he is, Doc only has one title. The inability to collect multiple rings has stuck to him. 1. That he lost a Game 7 when he was leading by 14 points. 2. That he lost three playoff series with different organizations when he was up 3-2. 3. That he failed with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and De Andre Jordan.
- J.R. Smith. Duh.
- Ben Simmons. Covid allowed his nerve endings to heal. He is the key to the Sixers, a team that was deplorable on the road. Now, there is no road. Can Ben Simmons lead them?
- Paul George. Fully healthy he is scary.
- Giannis MVP. It’s been 7 years since a frontcourt player won back-to-back MVP’s.
- Westbrook and Harden. Last we saw the fab duo Westbrook was handling the ball and running the show and Harden played off of him. It worked for wins but Harden was subdued. Can they figure it out within D’Antoni’s offense?
- Zion. The league wants him in the 8th seed but Memphis has the advantage. Ja has all the motivation to make sure Zion is watching the playoffs, considering Ja is the prohibitive Rookie of the Year favorite.
- Gobert-Donovan. Is all forgiven?
- Chris Paul. He resurrected his Point God mantle after waking the Thunder from the dead. Can he finish the job?
- The Defending Champs. Don’t sleep on the Raptors. Darkhorse to get to the Finals. If there is a Finals.
- The C’s. Can the young kids get their head wrapped around the restart? They were very aggressive protesting social injustice and standing up for black lives mattering. How hard will it be to immerse into NBA problems again?
- Us. Will there be a Conference Final? A NBA Final? How many players will test positive for the virus? How many stars? Will we watch without fans? Do we still care? With black men getting killed and people dying of a virus, is the NBA even relevant anymore?