Am I excited about the start of the NBA season? Of course. But the reservations abound. (And it has nothing to do with crotchety arguments why the NBA doesn't seem as magical as it did when you were in fourth fucking grade.)
No, I'm not all that concerned with the Donaghy thing, though I highly doubt that the every other ref is on the up-and-up as the recent round of NBA interrogations asserts. But that isn't the root of the problem. That goes back either to a) the dawn of the league or b) the beginning of superstardom in the NBA.
I'm mildly worried that another official on the take is going to impact a game or a playoff series. Who couldn't be? But it's one official--one official with limited chances to screw a certain team in over the course of a game.
My problem, as it's always been, is with the officials in general and their indelible impact on the game. Basketball may be the toughest sport to officiate. It's judgment call upon judgment call upon judgment non-call. The standards are necessarily vague, and thus, the power of the officiating crew is immense. And yet, the overlords aren't entirely powerless, but they sure do act like it.
I'm not sure I will ever take either of the last two NBA Finals seriously. I don't think any honest man can. In retrospect, the same might be true of the Bulls' fifth and sixth titles.
Tell me--What good is a championship when the officials give it to you? Or, to a lesser extent, the chance to play for one? Others may disagree, but I don't see that as much of an achievement.
Listen--I think Dwyane Wade is a great, stupendous, awesome guy like everyone does (especially those of us who went to Marquette). I'm also endlessly impressed with what LeBron has been able to do coming into the league as a freaking child and keeping his head so much better than any of the rest of us could and immediately becoming the most chirismatic man in professional sports.
But they've gotten help. Did they earn 99.5% of what they've returned on sheer talent and commitment? Absolutely. But neither deserved the pinnacle moments that have thus far defined their careers.
The Dallas-Miami finals in 2006 were a travesty. As was last year's Pistons-Cavs series. Neither Wade nor LeBron could do any wrong. No wait--They could. But they'd always have the stripes to pretend otherwise.
It's rare that I don't agree 100% with Rasheed Wallace, and this was no exception:
"There's a lot of people out here who think they really beat us," Wallace said. "It was ourselves. We beat ourselves. We fell victim to the little, personal NBA thing where they're trying to make it a world game and get ratings and all that. They wanted to put their darling (LeBron James) in there, and they did put him in there. Look what ended up happening.
"So this game, this ain't basketball no more, it's entertainment. It's like WWF. Ain't no more real wrestling. All the days of Ric Flair and Rick Rude and Jake the Snake. Right now, the (expletive) is all so fake. Just like this game. It's so fake."
How are people okay with this? How do people watch LeBron pile up points in overtime of a conference finals game with free throws that he didn't earn and not get frustrated?
People rip 'Sheed for overreacting late in Game 6 of that series, but if I were him, I doubt I've even been that civil. The Pistons had just endured a fuckover of a series like I've never seen, and yet they managed to neither attack anyone nor destroy any expensive equipment on the court. I don't think I'd have had such control.
Why does the NBA have to be like this? The black sheeps will never get a fair shake in the public eye or marketing world, but shouldn't the basketball court be the one place they can? It's bullshit--just pure fucking bullshit.
And I don't see it changing. Ever. And what's worse is that we're only at the start of a very long era of NBA superstar culture. Wade and LeBron have many, many years ahead of them. Duncan's not done either.
I still love the NBA. But yeah, it's gotten hard. I usually embrace the adaptations of a league and tell people to come off it when they try to say, "It's not like it used to be." But this is different. It's not progress; it's regression. It's not a natural adaptation; it's the blatant stiffling of natural adaptation. And it pisses me off.
I hope this season can prove me wrong. But my faith is dwindling.