First of all, the Orlando Magic should be congratulated for
beating thumping the Cleveland Cavaliers. The public has learned a great deal about professional basketball from this series and many people will be feeling a major void with the upcoming finals and its participants.
1) There is no conspiracy. If ever the NBA needed something to give it a boost, a match up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, or rather between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, would rocket the television ratings skyward to a stratosphere never before believed possible. You didn’t think those cute Nike commercials with the puppets or the Vitamin Water debate was coincidental to the season’s end, did you? So, if there was ever a time for the league office to inform officials or scoreboard operators or whomever else comes into play in a conspiracy (maybe James Patterson), this last playoff series would have been it. Therefore, the result should put to rest all doubts that the NBA is interested in anything other than playing it straight, Tim Donaghy or not. Not that they weren’t rooting for . . .
2) Coaching matters. According to none other than Charles Barkley, maybe not an expert, but someone from whom you are guaranteed to get a straight answer - with no punches pulled nor hidden agendas advanced - the offense employed by the Cavs made them and LeBron much less effective than if they had run more and, when they did get in the half court, if they’d have run something besides the 1-4 low (or “give the ball to LeBron at the nail,” as their coach, Mike Brown called it), so that James wasn’t saddled with a one-on-five situation 100% of the time Cleveland played in the half court. The mental and physical energy he needed to expend during every one of those situations had to wear him down.
Stan Van Gundy, on the other hand, took the shots from outsiders - and even one from the ultimate insider, Dwight Howard, who complained he wasn’t getting the ball enough and questioned the coach’s substitution pattern. Stan didn’t overreact, in fact, he barely reacted. There wasn’t anything said, no one drawing lines in the sand, no internal voices of dissension. Who knows who was right and what was done? But, in the elimination game for the Cavs, Howard did have 40, so either the big guy got his way or Van Gundy got his players to realize that if they stayed the course, all would work out in the end. The best part of it was, unlike most NBA coach-player arguments, nobody gloated, i.e. there were no “I-told-you-so’s” after the Magic won. The team got it done and that’s the essence of coaching.
3) Every time there would have been an isolation opportunity with Kobe on LeBron or LeBron on Kobe, the sporting world would have stopped to see who would have gotten the better of whom - and the chirping would sound like the woods were full. And that was the reasoning behind the Vitamin Water ads.
4) Even if the series only went four games, there are probably hundreds of missed photo op’s for posters, magazines, t-shirts, Fatheads (imagine fans of one or the other and the enjoyment they’d have putting a life size shot of their favorite player taking the other - either on a blow by, a dunk opportunity, a J with a hand right in the shooter’s face - or better yet, a block - pasted up on the wall for all eternity)? Ain’t happenin’. Not in this year’s playoffs, anyway.
Seeing the Black Mamba dunk over Superman or the latter reject the former is exciting, but not the same as 48 minutes of mano-a-mano Kobe and Bron-Bron. Maybe it wouldn’t have been 48 minutes, one or maybe both sides would rather not have their superstar expend that much energy at the defensive end, or risk foul trouble, but all of us know that when it came to crunch time, they each be on the other like brown on rice (the new healthy way to eat has brown rice replacing white).
5) Now the problem of which team to pull for? Except for the die-hard Lakers fans, and their arch nemesis, the Laker-haters, and most people from Florida, at least the 80% of the population who are under 90 years of age, the remainder of the nation needs a reason to cheer for one team or the other. After all, when the NBA Playoffs are over, all we have is Major League Baseball and the WNBA and I’d venture to say there is no more than a 10% crossover in terms of the fan base of each.
So pick a team and appreciate that what you’re watching are the best athletes in the world, playing a game that is the only team sport in which the defensive goal is not a shutout, meaning there will be what America likes best in sports - scoring.
And, as much as the pro game has become one-on-one, individual highlight material, it will be the better team which will, in all likelihood, win. As Vince Lombardi said:
“Teamwork makes the Packers win. People who work together will succeed.”