The point in Space Jam where the Tune Squad enlist the services of Michael Jordan and other NBA luminaries is a seminal moment where animation and reality intertwine. It could be said similar occurs each time an episode of The Simpsons is aired as the long running comedy series mirrors so much of what transpires in real life.
Mention of the motion picture is timely. For, despite another incredible basketball season recently concluding in the US, a feeling of things being a little more make believe than reality prevailed at times. Simply because it was felt that the abhorrent, blatant racism exhibited by LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling wouldn’t be possible in this day and age.
Inclinations that the NBA represents one of the greatest endurance examinations in sport abide. Logic would follow, then, that those who eventually end up as outright winners generally merit such billing. Seeing the San Antonio Spurs overcome the not inconsiderable setback of having been somewhat unlucky to lose out last year to come back and attain outright honours adds further credence to that theory.
Given that the Miami Heat currently retain the services of those considered by many to be the still the best practitioners of their craft – LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh – their resilience in remaining the biggest obstacle to potential champions is obvious. That said, during the most recent Play Offs, it was obvious, if it hadn’t been before, that the influence of James exceeds that of the other two in determining the fortunes of his employers.
Seeing the triumvirate broken up next season wouldn’t be a huge shock. It may, however, mark something of an end of an era for the Heat. Wade and Bosh ultimately failing to wield as much noteworthy dominance on proceedings and – perhaps because thereof – James being unable to sway the tide, made the mammoth task facing Greg Popovich’s team slightly less so.
What it also did was expose the dearth in reserve – with the possible exception of Chris Andersen – lumbering Eric Spoelstra’s side. Thus increasing the onus on James to do more of the heavy lifting and – though he undoubtedly was still the Heat’s main man – the reduction of his input to a point where it was enough to swing the series towards the Texans is a ringing endorsement of a gargantuan defensive effort by last year’s vanquished.
A deftness in defenestrating attacking threats is all well and good but, in the end, only if the ability exists to maximise the opportunities for betterment which occur will the greatest of challenges be surmounted. Brewing angst and displeasure are powerful components in any armoury and the coaching nous of the silver-topped supremo meant the Spurs were both forewarned and forearmed.
It is quite probable that nobody within their rank was more deflated by last year’s shortcomings than Tony Parker. Nullification of his influence for large swathes of last season’s Finals considerably bolstered the advantageous position amassed by the Heat.
Decisive outcomes in sport – particularly team based affairs – require tangible contributions from marquee performers. Those of Wade and Bosh being on the wane and that of James being at least partially negated allowed such advantages to accrue to the likes of Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Danny Green.
Consistency, character and the utmost durability deem San Antonio to be very worthy kingpins. If there were hard luck stories surrounding the past NBA season, however, they revolved around the two Los Angeles based franchises. Tales incorporating some big names who were sorely missed and others who definitely won’t be.
Even allowing for the continued emergence of Ryan Kelly, shorn of the incalculable efforts of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, the Lakers were bereft of the catalysts required to render them genuine contenders during the past season. Their Clipper neighbours had no such concerns, the indefensible conduct of their owner Mr Sterling – whether acknowledged or not – proving impediment enough as they strove for success.
In Blake Griffin they possess one of the best talents in the NBA. From the time production of this column began, it was learnt that LeBron will in fact be leaving the Heat. That changes the picture in the entire NBA has shifted fundamentally. Go back to the reference earlier to marquee players.
The departure of James undoubtedly quenches the threat posed by the Heat. At this point, I’d plump for the Clippers to give the newly crowned champions most to think about. They’ll need to rid themselves of their infamous leader to maximise the odds of them so doing however.