History tells us that playoffs are the best time of the year. Chamberlain vs. Russell. Magic vs. Bird. Jordan vs. the unfortunate dude leading his team against M.J.’s Bulls. The playoffs are the time to get your heart ripped out, get thrown to the ground and be a hero all in the same series. Why watch? Because somebody might enter that rarefied air of a Jordan, a Magic or a Bird. Won’t you want to see that firsthand?
Kevin Durant, the high-scoring forward on the Oklahoma City Thunder, is in the playoffs for the first time in his young career. Like many Binghamton students, including myself, he is 21 years old. Twenty one. How does it make you feel to know that this guy is preparing to face Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers while you are stuck preparing for your finals? I am going to guess you either relate to Durant — “Represent that age group, K.D.!” — or despise him for how lucky he is. Either way, it gives you a reason to watch the spindly 6-foot-10-inch freak of nature with a smooth shooting stroke begin his playoff legacy.
Meanwhile, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are trying to add to their legacies. These two big men came into the league around the same time and will likely exit around the same time. Garnett’s Boston Celtics are old. Like, creaky-knees old, the antithesis of Mr. Durant and his Thunder. Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs are close to Garnett’s Celtics in the senior citizen track race. Both teams have a shot at a title this year, but health is a huge concern for them. It is unlikely, but a Spurs-Celtics matchup would be a great way to remember two of the top big men of all time. Or it could be an exhibition on acupuncture.
Jason Kidd and former MVP Dirk Nowitzki are leading a Dallas Mavericks team loaded with talent into the Western Conference playoffs. Both players have been to the finals before, but neither has won. Dirk is the greatest European player in NBA history (my apologies Arvydas Sabonis, but you still have the best name). Dirk winning a title can literally change the entire world. On a smaller scale, it can lead to the increased globalization of the NBA. On a bigger scale, it can create world peace. The latter is unlikely.
LeBron James is the best player in the league. This is not debatable. He has had quite an impressive career thus far, but he hasn’t really had the necessary teammates to help him win a title. To be mentioned with the greatest of all time, you need championships. Thankfully for James, he’s got a legendary center by the name of Shaquille O’Neal backing him up this time around. Shaq has been through everything — every playoff situation, every matchup, every buffet in every NBA city. He’s motivated to help James and the Cleveland Cavaliers win a championship this year.
And of course, there is Kobe Bryant. Selfish KoMe Bryant. Kobe “the best ever” Bryant. He is polarizing, sure, but he is also one of the most electrifying players in the league today and arguably a top-10 player of all time. Kobe is not going to be playing at this level forever, so I suggest you watch him before he declines. His Lakers are stacked with the most talented frontcourt in the league and are favored to win the West.
What else do the playoffs offer? If you like no defense and fast offense, watch Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns. If you like watching a physical freak grab 20 rebounds, block five shots and viciously dunk on fools, watch Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. If you want to cry in your bed for a great player with no help, watch Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. If you choose the third one, see a doctor — you should not be crying over something as trivial as that.
The NBA Finals matchup everybody is dying to see is the Lakers vs. the Cavaliers. It offers so many story lines — Shaq vs. Kobe, Lebron vs. Kobe, best in the East vs. best in the West, etc. If that happens, NBA commissioner David Stern will look like he just got Botox. The commercials and marketing schemes will write themselves. But why should you care? Because it would be great basketball. Arguably the two best players on the planet would have to elevate their games and battle for the championship.
Mid-June is far away. The NBA still has two more months of action to give you. You may see new greatness. You may see old legends add to their r√É.√®sum√É.√®. You may see way too many dumb commercials. You will see beautiful basketball.