Praising the Bull, Savouring the Curry

There were no great surprises in the first round of the NBA playoffs, though two series rose above the others for interest and flavour. I would cheer for the laundry of the Golden State Warriors – their regular duds, not the short-sleeved jerseys with the weirdly non-matching pinstriped shorts – even if they didn’t have Stephen Curry and several other players I find easy to like. Meanwhile, what the Chicago Bulls did in taking a seven-game series on their opponents’ court was heartening evidence that coaching matters. (Thibodeau may not lead the most balanced of lives, but his Bulls teams are superbly prepared.) Character matters, even in the star-tossed salad of the National “Big is Here” Association.

Derrick Rose, Chicago’s dynamite point guard, hasn’t played in a year. (Loved his teammate’s sincere “shaddap” to Mr. Rose’s couch-bound critics.) His backup, Kirk Hinrich, missed the last two games of the Brooklyn Nets series with a bum leg, as did their Mr. Everything small forward, Luol Deng, who has been

The little fella has driven coaches nuts, but he’s been clutch. Boozer and the young kid, Jimmy Butler, have been aces, too.

seriously ill. Third-string point guard Nate Robinson is shorter than me, though he is a mighty mite and an absolutely conscience-free scorer. Centre Joakim Noah has been gutting out his minutes because of plantar fasciitis (sore feet). I hadn’t seen much of the Nets/Bulls collision, the only first-round matchup to go seven games, but I’d read most of the fairly astonishing accounts of how the Chicago men were getting by on focus, cohesion, toughness, and last-ditch defensive efforts that lasted entire games.

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The Dulling of One Shining NCAA Moment

It’s possible, just possible, that I may be growing up. (And I’m not sure I like it.) Maybe it’s because I was by myself. I hadn’t loaded up well on munchies. The couch was a bit substandard, as was the amount of suspense – it was over before it was over. But I think it’s mostly me. I didn’t enjoy the NCAA final, the April dénouement to a March of Madness, like I used to in the good ol’ days…

…when Duke or UCLA won…
…when I loved Billy Donovan as a player (before disliking him as a coach)…
…when Billy Packer seemed to offer actual insights into the game…
…when players celebrated a good play with their teammates rather than by themselves, hoping for face-time and 15 seconds of micro-fame…
…and maybe, just maybe, before my extended adolescence finished its 20-year run.

It’s getting harder and harder to stand the commercials. (Especially when Coach K is prostituting his coaching art to hawk cars. Coach, how do you talk about leadership and trust to players who can finish the spiel for you? Absolutely, Coach. That’s why Chevy is the best-selling brand in America!) Except for sport, I don’t watch much network or cable TV, so the firestorm of selling sneaks up on me at times. I suppose, television being one of my most fertile plots of pessimism, that we’re not going to have fewer commercials. But surely the NCAA could reconsider whether teams should have the same number of timeouts available when there’s one coming every four minutes of PT anyway! The live experience of a nationally televised game must be numbing. (It must be like watching an NBA game, with lower sideline production values.) Two thirty-second timeouts per game, one full TO for the last two minutes. Other ‘n that, coaches, you’re at the mercy of the network! (Aren’t we all?)

I’m also finding it harder to ignore the “student-athlete” hypocrisy. Joakim Noah actually mentioned studying in a post-game interview, and my eyes brightened. Wow! You don’t hear that often! I was obviously grasping at an idealistic straw, since he was saying he wouldn’t be doing any. (Still, doesn’t that imply that he does sometimes? See the good, buddy. See the good.) It’s getting harder to enjoy Dick Enberg’s truncated and oddly desperate halftime essay. (Was it your heart that wasn’t in it, Dick, or was it mine?) Stubborn loyalist (doomed addict) that I am, I stayed glued right through the traditional tournament summary “One Shining Moment”, though its clichéd collection of super-hyped images and sentimental pop hasn’t moved me in years. I was hoping.

(See the good.) But at least until the game was over and the microphones came out, it was very hard not to like Joakim Noah. He’s one of the most gifted, interesting and intelligent players I’ve seen in a long time. I hope he and his buddies stick around for another year. I hope UCLA’s guard duo, Farmar and Afflalo, does the same. Come next March, God help me, I’ll almost certainly be watching again.