Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the changing of the guard has already happened.

There are a lot of times where something only looks clear in hindsight. And when we look back, people, mainly historians and those who want to appear smart, remark, "Oh, we should have seen this coming. Look at all these signs..." And they'll point out Exhibits A, B, C, etc. as though, had they been living through the times, they would have seen with crystal-clear precision what exactly was happening and where it was leading.

This is one of those times.

The NBA Finals haven't even started yet, but the guard has already been changed. The NBA landscape seems as though it'll be forever altered after this season, but especially after this post-season. All year long, the Miami Heat have been carefully watched and dissected, their every move either a cause for rejoicing or anguish. This was inevitable, of course, after LeBron James decided to hold "The Decision" - depending on your viewpoint, either a success of the modern athlete asserting their own destiny, or a callous young man stabbing his hometown in the back, on national television - and join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. They held an infamous preseason celebration for the titles they swore they would win and battle lines were drawn. There were people who couldn't wait for the spectacle of two of the best basketball players in the world (plus Chris Bosh) on one team and there were those who were so turned off by the megalomania they rooted against the Heat in a passionate manner. There weren't many people halfway in between.

When the Heat stumbled, all of the Heat's Big Three seemed to get punished - but none moreso than James. He was seen as the face of the unit (rightly so) and he would take the most criticism. However, when the post-season arrived, he was also the one who turned it on. The man some accuse of quitting last year against the Boston Celtics suddenly had every answer. He made shots he'd missed previously and, when it was over, he celebrated - perhaps accordingly, perhaps in an over-the-top manner.

But while the Heat were winning, the Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls were serving notice that, despite the Celtics' sudden over-the-hill appearance, the Eastern Conference would be a dogfight for the next few years.

Meanwhile, when the season began with all the attention on the Heat, it apparently escaped the notice of the mainstream media that Jason Terry, one of the Dallas Mavericks had gotten a tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy! The fact that this story is only now coming to light shows the extent to which the media wore horse blinders in regard to the Heat. The only other team that garnered near as much attention as the Super Friends in South Beach were the two-time defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. When the Mavs dispatched of the Lakers in an unceremonious sweep, it was suddenly time for a new narrative for the season.

So here, today, it's upon us. The Dallas versus Miami rematch. The teams met last in the 2006 Finals, and that's all that anyone can talk about now. The narrative has been building all season, but it hasn't been clear until now. Either Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry will have their revenge on the team that psychologically damaged them, or James, Wade and Bosh will be proved right - they did the right thing, made the right decisions, and the trophies are theirs for the foreseeable future.

There may be people, in the future, who will tell you they saw this coming, that it was inevitable, that it was destiny. Those people are liars. But, that doesn't mean that this isn't going to be a great series and that we'll have plenty to talk about, not just during the matchup, but in the weeks and months (and yes, maybe even years) to follow.

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