Every two weeks, the gents at Free Darko will be taking a look at the deranged ecosystem that is the National Basketball Association in their own indelible fashion. Here's this week's entry, from Dr. Lawyer Indian Chief.
This past Saturday night, while most of the world slept softly, headed to John Barleycorn to get tanked or just weren't accustomed to watching TNT on a regular basis, the NBA was doing its damn thing and AGAIN, saving sports right under your noses. Spygate, Kelvin Sampson and HGH were whisked away for a brief moment, while the NBA dunk contest brought style and ridiculosity back to the forefront of athletics, complete with capes, cupcakes, socks, and mini-hoops.
But aside form all the gimmickry and over-embellished disbelieving stink-faces in (see Rashad McCants' reaction to every Gerald Green dunk), it was Dwight Howard's performance that boldly captured the most valuable aspect of watching sports: the demonstration of things physically impossible to normal humans. Howard gleaned league-wide props for the now-legendary Superman dunk, as well as his leadoff dunk during which he maintained his entire body behind the backboard while his outstretched arm plunked the ball through the hoop.
However, Howard's most underrated and unbelievable jam was his second to last: the three-step-self-alley-oop-wallyball smash. The dunk was absolutely unfeasible by normal human standards, but Howard's meticulous coordination for a big man allowed him to complete a feat that we literally had never seen before.
And yes, the next day, the NBA's finest hit you off ONE MORE TIME with an improbable display of athleticism and skill during the most fun-to-watch all-star game in all of professional athletics.
There they were again, the 19th Century Montmartre cognoscenti in sneakers, again saving sports and hurling contract holdouts, DUIs and racetrackside racial slurs into the Caspian Sea. At least four dunks in that one game alone—the Amare-over-Howard "Black Jesus vs. God's Son" jam, two by LeBron (one of which of course being the pimp-slap posterization of Dirk Nowitzki in the final minute), and the Kidd-to-Bron-to-Howard trifecta—conveyed more aesthetic brilliance and potency than most of the NFC playoff games in their entirety. All-star weekend, complete with commissioner David Stern's masterfully orchestrated illusion that the league somehow revitalized the entire city of New Orleans in a single weekend was a grand triumph for The Association. The weekend validated us NBA diehards, making it OK to call professional basketball the greatest sport in the world without feeling like some Quebecois defending hockey to a bunch of gay-bashing Alabama Crimson Tide fans.
The takeaway lesson is that plays—not only dunks, but Ray Allen three-pointers, Chris Paul dimes and even those pithy little Dwyane Wade and-1s—count more than anything. As great as the recent Super Bowl was, with all that the Patriots wagered and with all of the collective conventional wisdom of all sports pundits prognosticating against the unsung Giants, that game is 10,000 times diminished without the David Tyree helmet catch. Single plays, especially in the age of YouTube clip and the Sportscenter highlight, define sport more than anything.
And my 109,678th reason as to why the NBA reigns supreme is that its games simply contain more plays than any other league. Save your pitchcounts for someone who gives a damn. When the Warriors and Suns are putting up 240 points in a game consisting mostly of Steve Nash alley-oops, Monta Ellis climbing invisible ladders, and Stephen Jackson cherry-bombs from 35 feet out, that is excitement on the level of pure shots of norepinepherine to the face.
The Rookie-Sophomore faux-Rucker Classic on Friday night was a preview of what the glorious future holds. The dunk contest and festivities of Saturday night put the "single play" in a magnified display case. The all-star game itself, in all of its sloppy, turnover-laden, Doug Collins-infuriating glory reminded us that the game of professional basketball is an everlasting bottle of pills, all of those little multicolored feel-good delights.
Of course the macroeconomic parallel to 'single plays as valued goods' is the flurry of transactions (franchise-level "plays") that the league has so blessed us with this season. As a result of the meteoric emergence of Michael Beasley/Derrick Rose/Brook Lopez as well as the landscape-altering Pau Gasol trade to the Lakers, each team—blindly following the zeitgeist—has given itself with two choices: Tank or Panic. And never has this decision presented itself so early in the season, well before this Thursday's impending trade deadline.
The Western Conference has been set afire ever since Memphis commenced with their explicit and unembarrassed tank-move of trading Gasol. Sacramento is the most recent tanker, finally parting ways with Mike Bibby. Dallas and Phoenix, on the other hand, panicked in betting the farm on aging stars, Jason Kidd and Shaq. These moves, direct responses to the Lakers' acquisition of Gasol, as if to say, "No Kobe Bryant-helmed team will win a title in this lifetime," are most likely to the benefit of Phoenix and to the detriment of Dallas. And regardless of the outcome, madness is in the air. The Atlanta Hawks for chrissakes are a playoff contending team again (does Celtics/Hawks in round 1 remind anyone of Warriors/Mavs?). All-star weekend was the warning to casual fans, but we have known this from day one—the NBA is your savior, and the second half of this season will be the magnificent panacea to all that ails you.