Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Teams

This could be entitled 'a tale of two cities' or perhaps more accurately 'a tale of two Americas.' Twenty years ago sportwriters loved to refer to the Celtics - Lakers rivalry as one between a lunchpail crew (the Celts) and glitzy 'LA Showtime.' Although there was some superficial truth to the comparison when discussing style of play, it was no more than a journalistic conceit, since both teams loved to run, both worked just as hard and neither had a monopoly on national attention.

Likewise today's players share similar lifestyles, income brackets and workplaces. But there are some differences between the players that make up the teams that are shared in common with the social networks that make up their respective fanbases. One team is made up of individuals who have labored in relative obscurity, while the other is seemingly the darling of America's media and corporate elites.

Many of the key players for the Celtics - Pierce, Allen and Garnett come immediately come to mind - have had to put in long years of toil in less than glamorous team circumstances. They are successful, but they have never been given anything, any success they have attained has come through years of dedication to their craft, their teammates and, yes, their fans. They have been matured by experiences that have taught them that nothing is given to you, you must take everything - the good with the bad. As a consequence they have become a professional's professionals - classy, gracious, centered, unpretentious TEAMMATES.

These are the qualities that hoop fans from around the country identify with in their own lives - the willingness to dedicate long hours of hard work to the perfection of their skills and the betterment of their team, even if they will never reap the media attention and recognition that is so capriciously bestowed on others. Doing it the right way is its own reward for these people, regardless of what others may think. Doing right by each other, by the team, by others in their community and not expecting anything from anybody that they would not be willing to do themselves.

The Celtics do not have a self-proclaimed 'leader;' each player leads by example, not because it may garner attention, but because it is the right thing to do. Like many hardworking Americans, these stars have earned their way, payed their dues and now are on the verge of reaping the rewards that only come from personal sacrifice for the team goal. Despite never having been the media darlings they have persevered to reach this point after a long journey.

Contrast that with the Lakers we have had on display this series. Has their ever been such a collection of arrogant whiners? From the coach on down, they seem to expect everything to be given to them and when shocked that it isn't they begin the blame game - it is always 'someone else's' fault: the refs whistles, the other team's physical play, their teammates 'inadequacies.'

You have all probably heard the idiocy Phil Jackson spouted about the refs after game two, Jackson - the beneficiary of highly suspect calls in the series against San Antonio, a ridiculous amount of calls throughout the Jazz series, not to mention one of the worst games ever called, (game six of Lakers - Kings in 2002). See how this kind of leadership rubs off on his young charges: Here is Sasha Vujacic (pronounced wussy-biatch) explaining why he couldn't move his feet to cover Ray Allen as he drove unconteted for the clinching lay-up in game 4:

The whole game, from the minute I came in, they called fouls on me. [Allen] fell down; foul. [Presumably referencing the time Vujacic was cought on camera blatantly trying to trip Allen with a scissor hold commentator Mark Jackson likened to a wrestling move.] I was trying to find a way to guard him for 48 minutes, and everything I did was a foul. He got me. He went to the basket, and it was a good basket. I don’t know what else to say. I wanted to stay with him, I wanted to stay aggressive, but again, there would be a foul. So I kind of stood back, I gave him the room to operate, and he went to the basket, so that was a bad defensive decision on my side. It doesn’t matter, help or not, we came out and were supposed to be more aggressive, and not let him breathe at the top of the key.
It is shocking to see no one take any responsibility - again, from the coach on down - on a team as talented and successful as the Lakers have been this season. The handling of Kobe Bryant's rape accusation is surely the most serious instance of this sort of behavior.

However for the Lakers, as many of the elite denizens of the Staples Center, such a serious dose of reality rarely intrudes into the media bubble of their pleasure dome, since it seems for them that the hype is their reality. And hype there is in spades - attention and adulation because they are 'celebrities.' In a sense they mirror the extreme elements of the glitterati fanbase that they attract - untroubled by ordinary cares and responsibilities, they love to play act and seek the attention of the camera. When the cameras go are off, however, so is the mask and 'cameraderie' is replaced by carping criticism of the most infantile variety. And as always, it is someone else is expected to excuse and clean up for them. Why remain on the floor with your team as the final seconds of a game tick down? The 'curtain' is falling, 'eff' the extras.

Which America will triumph? Well, as we have seen in Iraq, the hype starts out loud but reality has an insistant way of reasserting itself....