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A Champ On Which We Can All Agree (To Hate)

This year’s NBA Playoffs have been great. We’ve seen a number one seed go down in the first round (Bulls), the Lakers implode (always fun), the rebirth of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries (Celtics – Sixers), the birth of what could be the league’s next dynasty — or next late 90s/ early 00s Sacramento Kings — (Oklahoma City), and the sport’s best player taking his game to the next level (LeBron). That’s why it’s such a shame that these playoffs are going to end in the least compelling way possible: a championship for the San Antonio Spurs, the blandest, least dominant “dominant” team in NBA history. Think about it, every other possible outcome is way more exciting than the Spur’s winning. If the Heat win, it’s LeBron’s coronation, he’ll cement his legacy, and Skip Bayless will have one less talking point. If the Thunder win, it’s the birth of a potential dynasty and Kevin Durant potentially surpasses LeBron as the game’s best player (Kobe remains in the conversation). If the Celtics win it’s a last hurrah for three Hall of Famers, who rejuvenated the Association’s most storied franchise, plus riot potential. The Spurs? Another championship for a consistent, but boring team that never won two in a row and would have been stomped by any of the teams that won the title between theirs. No one wants to see that. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable.

Look at how the remaining teams and how they match up with the Spurs. The Thunder have already shown that they can’t beat San Antonio, they haven’t even come close in two games. The Heat don’t have the depth or the big men to check Tim Duncan, and as last night showed, they have trouble defending speedy point guards like Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker. The Spurs, meanwhile, have the depth, pieces, and scheme to successfully contain James and Dwayne Wade. The Celtics probably match up best with the Spurs since Kevin Garnett is really the only player left in these playoffs capable of defending Duncan and Rondo owns Parker, but their roster is too thin and they’re not healthy enough to get by Miami. So yeah, the Spurs are the smart money to win it all.

Anyway, since we’re going to be stuck listening to and reading hagiographies of the Spurs for the next few weeks, I may as well take this opportunity to spew some bile on the whole affair by relentlessly hating on their entire roster. Admittedly the task is a bit harder since the Spurs no longer employ Bruce Bowen, a player whose only apparent skill was to try to physically injure his opponents, but I’ll try my best.

Starters

PG: Tony Parker: French. Allegedly slept with teammate Brent Barry’s wife. French.

SG: Daniel Green: Don’t lie, you wouldn’t recognize Danny Green if you saw him on the street. About as bland and faceless a player as you can come up with.

C: Boris Diaw: Name makes him seem Russian. Is actually French.

PF: Tim Duncan: For a player who is constantly celebrated as Fundamentally Sound and Plays the Game the Right Way ™, Duncan sure is a little bitch. In Tim Duncan’s mind, he has never committed a single foul. Marvel as he reacts the exact same way to every whistle, by turning his palms up and bugging his eyes out a full centimeter. Also, unless he’s calling “bank” every time, those shots shouldn’t count.

SF: Kawhi Leonard: What?! I don’t even….

Bench: 

Manu Ginobili: Constantly cited as counter-evidence for the Spurs being boring despite the fact that one player does not make a team exciting on his own (it’s a style thing). Has done more than any other player — except perhaps Vlade Divac — to spur the proliferation of soccer-style flopping in the NBA. Male pattern baldness.

Tiago Splitter: Has a dumb name.

Stephen Jackson: The Palace Brawl is unforgivable. Probably brings a gun with him to the supermarket.

DeJuan Blair: Played at Pittsburgh. Has no ACLs. I can literally hear bones grinding together in my mind when I watch Blair play. You’re welcome for me ruining your future viewing experiences.

Matt Bonner: Ginger. Still probably the most likable player on this team, which says a lot.

Gary Neal, Patrick Mills, Cory Joseph, James Anderson: As far as I’m concerned, these aren’t actually players, just names that Gregg Popovich invented. I defy you to name me one fact about any of these people without googling.

So there you have it, indisputable scientific evidence that the Spurs suck. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs.

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Lin vs. Tebow: Because Someone Had to do it…

Linsanity has taken hold here in my light-less bog cave. Even though I’m a huge Celtics fan and long-time Knicks hater, I have to admit that I’m rooting for Jeremy Lin’s continued success. The honest truth is, I can’t think of another time that a player has come out of as much obscurity as Lin to post these types of numbers. Since being inserted into the Knicks’ starting lineup, Lin has filled up the stat sheet, he’s averaging 22.7 pts, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in just over 30 minutes per game in February. And while the competition hasn’t exactly been the strongest out there (last 5 opponents: Minnesota, LA Lakers, Washington, Utah, New Jersey), he’s done this without the help of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire and there’s some reason to believe that this performance is sustainable (more on that later). One of the things that surprises me most about the Lin phenomenon is that I haven’t seen a rash of columns comparing Lin to Tim Tebow. You know it’s going to happen — sportswriters LOVE writing about Tim Tebow — so I figured I’d get out ahead of this and break down why Jeremy Lin is much easier to root for than Tim Tebow (leaving aside the respective popularity of their sports).

Personal Back Stories: Tim Tebow is the culture war personified and he makes no bones about it. His parents are fundamentalist missioaries and Tebow has appeared in a Super Bowl ad put together by James Dobson. While a lot of people view Tebow’s religious views as a quirk, and Christians tend to view them as inspiring, non-Christians (practitioners of other religions and atheists like your’s truly) tend to be uncomfortable with such aggressive Jesus-talk. Sportswriter laziness interprets this as people begrudging Tebow his religion, and fundamentalists view it as Christian hate, mostly because they like to get butthurt at any perceived slight. That’s not the case, I personally don’t mind the fact that Tebow’s a Christian. I just find it hard to personally root for a guy who believes I’m going to hell because I don’t subscribe to his religious worldview, and no amount of niceness on Tebow’s part is going to change that. Perhaps it’s an insecurity on my part, but while I won’t hate on Tebow for his successes, I won’t openly root for him to succeed either. In the end, I don’t care that much, and Tebow leading fourth quarter comebacks isn’t going to change my worldview any more than a fundamentalist would be swayed by this post. I’m just laying it out.

With Lin, there’s no such problem. He’s an Asian kid from the Bay Area, and while he’s been open about his Christianity, he doesn’t have to be viewed through the lens of the culture war. If you don’t see the nuance, let’s just leave it at the fact that Lin has never appeared in an anti-abortion advertisement with a guy who once said same sex marriage would lead  to men marrying farm animals. There’s been some talk of Linsanity being driven by race, but I really don’t see it. Most of my friends who love Lin are white, and while I realize that’s hardly a representative sample, I haven’t seen any evidence that Lin’s popularity is race-driven. Honestly, there simply aren’t enough Asians-Americans to create a buzz this big on their own. The fact is, Lin is just a good story, a guy who played in the D-league last year, and was cut by a number of teams before landing in a seemingly perfect situation in New York. He’s much less of a controversial figure than Tebow and as such he has appeal to a much wider audience.

The Unlikeliness Factor: On some level, Tim Tebow’s success has been unlikely, but hardly so much as people have made it out to be. Tebow played at one of the best college football programs in the nation at Florida, in the perfect system for his skill set. He had a large section of the press corps cheering for him to be drafted in the first round — Drew Magary made an art of mocking Peter King’s “draft Tebow and pop the bubbly” line — the Broncos traded up to draft him. Since he was drafted Broncos fans have been clamoring for him to be the team’s starting quarterback, even buying billboard space to express their desires. Sure, at the beginning of this season John Fox and John Elway clearly didn’t have much faith in Tebow, but they might have been the only people in Denver who felt that way.

Lin, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. Harvard grads are successful in a number of walks of life, professional basketball it not one of them. Lin was undrafted and bounced around the league before landing on the Knicks’ bench. It’s a bit unfair to compare fan reaction for Lin to Tebow, mostly because no one knew who Lin was, or what type of player he could be. That said, in terms of unlikeliness, it’s really no contest, there have been people expecting success from Tebow for a while, no one ever expected anything from Jeremy Lin except Lin himself.

Sustainability: At least on the surface, Lin doesn’t have a fatal flaw like Tebow’s inaccuracy. At 6’3” Lin isn’t undersized for an NBA point guard, he clearly has the footspeed and athleticism to get to the rim, he’s shown quite a few basketball moves, he’s shown some range, and he’s done a good job of facilitating for a sub-par supporting cast. I know that Derek Fisher is about 10,000 years old (ballpark estimate) but Lin absolutely abused him on Friday night, and Fisher has long been considered a solid defender at the point. Furthermore, Lin is in a system that works for him, which increases the likelihood that he’ll continue to be an effective player. The Broncos really simplified their playbook for Tebow, but at some point they’re going to have to throw the ball to win games and then Tebow becomes a real liability. Lin, on the other hand, can run the pick and roll all day long once Amar’e returns, just like Stoudemire and Steve Nash did for so many seasons in Phoenix. It’s not hard to envision Carmelo Anthony adjusting his game a bit to become a kind of super-Shawn Marion, and the Knicks becoming one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Even if he comes back down to Earth, which is likely, Lin should continue to be a productive player for New York.

I hate the Knicks, but I’ll be rooting for Jeremy Lin from here on out. Tim Tebow? Meh.

Turkish Team Trying to Build It’s Own Big Three

I say it's a good look

With the NBA in full lockout mode and the possibility of professional basketball being played in the US this year slim, according to some commentators, several players have signed deals with European teams. The most notable of those deals so far has been Deron Williams’ contract with Turkish club Besiktas. The same club has been publicly pursuing Kobe Bryant for nearly a month and now is apparently also after Kevin Durant. The article does mention that the team is looking at Durant/Bryant as an either/or situation, not at building it’s own big three, but I say why not? A Durant, Williams, Bryant combo is better than the Miami Heat’s big three and at least the speculation and arguments created by it will give people a reason to think about basketball for the next year. As for how it benefits the Turkish club, there’s no surer way to grab attention in basketball than putting three superstars on your team. And assuming that David Stern isn’t intent on blowing up the entire system, there will be a 2012-13 NBA season, meaning that you only have to pay them for one year. After that, you’ll have made yourself the premier basketball team in Europe and you can have your pick of free agents. Of course, it will never happen. According to the same report, Nike is apparently pushing it’s endorsers to play in China, which would explain Bryant’s unwillingness to sign at this point.

In other NBA news, Ron Artest is apparently heading to England, where they apparently play basketball too. Are there English basketball hooligans (hoopligans?) because watching Artest interact with those folks is going to be amazing. If’ we’re lucky he might start getting drunk during halftime again. Money quote:

A post on Artest’s Twitter page read: “Go Jets!!!!! Uk , here we come!!! Jets are the best!!! Jets are the best!!! New chant!!!!!!!!!”

To which the Jet’s one fan replied, “Aw’right guvna. Oi reckon will give it a go, then.” You’re the best Ron Artest, please don’t ever change.