Quietly, perhaps in a brief moment when floppy Derek Fisher wasn't butoh dancing for the refs, Celtics-Lakers became everything anyone could want in a basketball series.
There's been a little something for everyone: plenty of defense for the purists and lots of offense for the aesthetes, and Rajon Rondo doing ridiculous massé off the backboard, which is for all of us. Game 5 — the one that saw Tony Allen block Pau Gasol's layup with what I'm pretty sure was his foot — was also a nice rebuke to anyone who's ever grouched about the death of the jump shot (the only thing that prevents Clyde Frazier from bitching about this more is the blessed dearth of words that rhyme with "midrange"). Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant spent most of the game trading 18-footers, the former on jiggly little hesitations and pump fakes, the latter on fadeaways with half the Praetorian Guard sitting on his shoulders. John Hollinger called it a "a vintage display of yesteryear scoring," and to an extent he was right. It was all so very 1987 that you half-expected Bernard King to check in, hit a baseline jumper, and tear his ACL. Except it was so much better than any of that.
I mention this because, in the wake of John Wooden's passing, there's been the predictable mooing over The Way We Used To Be. Wooden was by all accounts a good man, but it was his great misfortune over the years to be fashioned into a bludgeon that deeply cynical people could swing time and again at all modern life:
[S]ometimes, when the Madness of March gets to be too much—too many players trying to make SportsCenter, too few players trying to make assists, too many coaches trying to be homeys, too few coaches willing to be mentors, too many freshmen with out-of-wedlock kids, too few freshmen who will stay in school long enough to become men—I like to go see Coach Wooden.
That's Rick Reilly, if you couldn't tell. (Reilly doesn't note that there were out-of-wedlock kids in Wooden's day, too, some of them spawned by his own players, and a few of them allegedly aborted with the help of good ol' Sam Gilbert and his Bicycle Club). I've said my piece on Wooden before — twice, in fact — so I won't belabor the point. Suffice it to say that I like watching Tony Allen block shots with his foot, and I like watching Rajon Rondo do backboard massé, and I like watching Kobe and Pierce trade fours from midrange the way folks used to, except better, all of which is to say that I like Basketball The Way It Is Now.