Like a Piston, rising from the ashes
I’m going to delve into something that I mentioned last post: the curious groundswell of people unabashedly rooting for the Phoenix Suns to win the NBA title this year, a faction of "fans" who are even going so far as to say that a Suns title run would send the league into "a new direction, a better direction."
So ... apparently, when everyone said last summer that the Pistons were saving the NBA, with their team-oriented, sacrifice-the-one-for-the-good-of-the-whole approach throttling the Lakers’ "throw 4 hall-of-famers in a room and let Phil Jackson coast to another title" philosophy, everyone was lying."Team-oriented" isn’t enough. It’s gotta be FAST! It’s gotta be glitzy! Defense is POINTLESS and ANNOYING TO WATCH! Um, where the hell am I? Last summer, didn’t Larry Brown’s "play the right way" mantra penetrate the consciousness of the average basketball fan? Why is everyone so anti-Pistons and so pro-Suns?
Is it because people always root against the current champion? No, this is the media we’re talking about - Mr. Casual Fan most certainly hates to see one team dominate for any appreciable stretch of time, but sports journalists absolutely love "dynasties," a classic case of laziness hidden under the guise of "wanting to see greatness."
Is it because the Pistons’ style, though a celebration of the team over individual success, is brutally thuggish and ugly, akin to that of Pat Riley’s early-90s Knicks teams? No: the Pistons don’t flagrantly foul people, they move the ball on offense, and they’re averaging 99 points per game thus far in the playoffs (and 94 in the regular season). So what the hell is going on here?
Why are Suns apparently a paragon of everything that is true and beautiful about basketball, while the Pistons are a representation of a "style of basketball that was threatening to destroy the league"? Did I miss something? Do the Pistons stand around on offense and resort to isolation plays and 1-on-1s? Wasn’t "unselfishness" the very reason people celebrated the Pistons’ vanquishing of L.A. last year? What the hell is going on here? Why is the Suns’ style more "fan-friendly"? Just because they score more points? Are people really that shallow?
Well, after careful consideration of the question, I have come to the conclusion that yes, people are precisely that shallow. These are probably the same people who said "Yeah, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and the rest of them are all on steroids, but so what? I just want to see ‘em hit the ball a long ways." These people, the ones who perpetuate the "defense is boring" and "steroids saved baseball" philosophies, in the simplest terms possible, just have no soul, no backbone.
People who love the Suns talk about how Phoenix reminds them of the "glory days" of the NBA, when Magic and Larry and the Doctor were flying around, running up and down the court, passing the ball all over the place, and scoring 115 points a game. Well, let me tell you something: I’ve seen those games. I have ESPN Classic. Those teams played NO defense. Sure, on any given offensive possession there’d be five guys all standing directly between the basket and the five offensive guys, ostensibly "guarding" them. But there always seemed to be a tacit understanding that "If you bother to put forth the effort to drive by me, I mean, I ain’t gonna stop you." Teams simply couldn’t be bothered to play defense; games back then became score-a-thons because absolutely no one took any pride whatsoever in that facet of the game. I ask you: Does that really comport with the essence of competition? You’re priding yourself on the most glamorous portion of your task, and ignoring the grit. You’re essentially putting forth no effort and exhibiting no pride in half of the job you do. That is what I mean by shallow. That is what I mean by no backbone. That is what I mean by no soul.
But hey, that kind of style and attitude really seems to do the trick with a lot of people. With our core of loyal readers being Big Ten and Ohio State fans, we should all be familiar with the tendency of people around this nation to prefer glitz over guts, and glamour over gumption. We saw that preference exhibited weekly in the fall of 2002. And, like the 2002 Buckeyes and the 2004 Pistons, I expect the 2005 Pistons to keep on rolling. Because, no matter how much the media wants to deny it, defense does win championships. Toughness beats out glamour. The soul triumphs over all. Bring it, fuckers.