The 2012 NBA Playoffs have been a blast to watch, but these last couple of months have not been just another post season; they’ve been something much more special than that.
With the NBA Finals now set between the Thunder and the Heat, there are many story lines to highlight.
Appreciate The Game
Let’s shift over to the MLB for a moment, where this year’s Chicago White Sox marketing slogan is “appreciate the game.” Now obviously it was just an attempt to create a conservative slogan for a season in which management didn’t want fans to expect too much from the team, but that line, “appreciate the game,” does seem to apply perfectly to the NBA.
On Wednesday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a double-digit half time deficit to defeat the San Antonio Spurs, winning the Western Conference Finals, 4 games to 2. And obviously Saturday night the Miami Heat advanced in the dramatic game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s time for NBA fans, whether of the die hard or casual variety, to take a step back and truly appreciate the game.
The only question is what exactly do we need to appreciate, in particular? Well, in many cases, you can say that the torch is being passed. Whether with the superior teams, the league’s best players, or even players taking over the reigns on their own team, this cliche saying is applicable in a handful of different instances.
Torches Being Passed
During these playoffs we were fortunate to be able to see the seasoned, veteran-led Boston Celtics perform better than most expected them to. They got to within one game of the NBA Finals, but with a few of their major impact players headed to free agency, a new era in Boston basketball will have to be ushered in. And sure, Paul Pierce still has the ability to step up and be a prime time performer, but there is no doubt that he, KG, and Ray Allen have passed down the reins to Rajon Rondo, because as we learned in recent weeks, the team goes as he goes.
While the original “big 3″ is now likely to be broken up, the Miami Heat’s “bigger 3″ can now claim the Eastern Conference to be theirs. As two-time defending conference champs, it’s clearly now theirs to lose in upcoming years. As a Chicago fan, I wish I could say that the Celtics are also passing the torch to the Bulls, but I can be honest…it’s the Heat’s and the Heat’s only.
For now, at least.
While it may seem like I’m trying to say that the Boston Celtics are done for the near future, that really is not the case.
Sure, they’ve passed down the bigger torch to the Heat and are likely losing a good chunk of their team’s nucleus, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be good. They’ll still have Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, who are great building blocks to go forward with. Along with young talent like Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, and possible offseason acquisitions, I don’t see the Celtics fading away.
They’ll be behind Miami for sure, but with the Bulls holding many big question marks for the 2012-2013 season already, I see the Celtics likely being on a 2nd tier level and still possessing the ability to give the Heat a run for their money in any given series.
Heading over to the Western Conference, there’s an equal amount of torch passing going on.
The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have been the most dominant squads of recent years, and while it wouldn’t be wise to put winning another championship with their current teams past them, the Thunder did just advance to the NBA Finals while going through both teams. I think it’ll be at least a few years down the road before we see a bad Lakers, Spurs, or heck, even Mavericks team take the court. But like with the Heat, the Western Conference now goes through Oklahoma City.
There have been a lot of great inter-conference rivalries throughout the NBA’s history, and I think we have a new one blossoming. Obviously, I’m talking about the Heat and Thunder who will meet in the Finals this week.
I do not think 2012 is the last time we’ll see them meet in the Finals. There may be documentaries made 20 years from now about all the times they met up and went late into NBA Finals series against each other. As with the next example of passing the torch, this rivalry could very well be remembered forever.
Best In The Game
The most important torches being passed in these NBA Playoffs, however, are with individual star players.
When you think of the NBA, you think of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and in recent years, Kobe Bryant. Kobe has definitely been the best player of this past generation. He’s cemented his spot within the top 8 or 10 of all-time. When we all grow old, we’ll remember watching Kobe in the 2000s.
And like with the Boston Celtics, I don’t think he’s totally done. He can still score at will and drive opposing coaches crazy, but I think it’s fair to say that he is no longer “the guy” in the NBA. That title will be tossed back and forth between two guys for years to come: LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
I think this player rivalry could end up being similar to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, at least in how often they have the potential to meet in the Finals. So yeah, I think pretty highly of these fellas. Durant is still very young, but he has already won 3 consecutive scoring titles. LeBron fills up the stat sheet as well as anyone in the history of the game and is the definition of a physical specimen.
I think it’s hard to say which player is better. It’ll probably come down to who wins the championship in these next couple of weeks. But no matter who it may be, Kobe Bryant and even Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have passed down the torch to these explosive youngsters.
So let’s recap: in the Eastern Conference, the superstar-led team that the Celtics inspired will continue, as we’re now seeing that torch passed down to the Miami Heat, who will only continue to get better as they play together longer. Also, we’ve got the big three in Boston handing the ball over to Rondo.
Out west, we’re seeing the Lakers and Spurs hand over the reigns to the Thunder. And as just stated, we’re seeing Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan pass down the title of the league’s best players to LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
No matter which of those you feel to be the most important, memorable, or legendary, there’s no doubt that the NBA is entering a new generation. And with all of the talent and domination that seems to be taking over, it should not disappoint.
Since you, as I, are fortunate to be seeing all of this unfold, take a step back every once in a while and really appreciate the game. We’re lucky to be the ones that will be able to say we watched it happen.