I couldn’t help but see a certain dynamic develop in this year’s NBA All-Star Game. The drama which unfolded right before the keenest of basketball eyes has been years in the making. Good versus Evil, coming to you in June, brought to you by the National Basketball Association.
In an event many debated should never have taken place because of the parties (and after-parties) that surround All-Star Weekend (Commissioner Silver sent out over 200 cease-and-desist letters warning against such gatherings), the NBA proceeded with its 73rd annual mid-season classic featuring the most talented and popular players in the game. As usual, it was a Sunday afternoon-long, highlight reel.
If the NBA could complete last season safely and incident-free with its players enclosed in a proverbial bubble, then why couldn’t, and shouldn’t, this year’s All-Star Game take place? Cooler heads prevailed. The NBA powers-that-be communally decided the NBA’s mid-season classic would come to fruition.
And it did, incident-free. As usual, for us NBA geeks, the game was a sight to be seen: a defenseless, dastardly, dunk-fest delight.
The NBA changed its All-Star format a few years ago to mix things up a bit. Instead of pitting the most popular stars of the Eastern and Western Conferences against each other, the league decided to add a wrinkle. Old-school pick-up game style like on the courts you grew up, the league would nominate its two top dogs, who would then select their lineups from the players that voters wanted in.
Perhaps I’ve been watching too many Avengers movies but this year’s selection featured a touch more drama when it came to choosing sides.
LeBron James, who for the past two decades has overshadowed the league with both his play and his leadership, has served as captain of one team for the last four years. This year’s opposing captain was the injured Kevin Durant.
As player after player went to each side, I couldn’t help but feel like this All-Star game pitted a perceived good versus evil, like that scene from Civil War where all the superheroes fighting for the same cause were flying around and beating the crap out of each other by that airplane hangar. What we ended up with on Team LeBron and Team Durant was the likeable versus the unlikeable, depending of course, on whether you actually like any of them, which many of you don’t. Let’s just assume, for the sake of this argument, that you do.
With his first pick from the batch of players that fans had selected, LeBron chose two-time former MVP and uber-likeable guy, Giannis Antetokounmpo… and why would he not? At only 26 years old, the Greek Freak, who would eventually win MVP of the game, is a force to be reckoned with. Durant then chose his current, and LeBron’s former, teammate, Kyrie Irving. Irving is playing the best basketball of his career (52.5 FG% and 28.1 PPG, both career highs) but mention that to any passing fan and before you can complete your sentence, they’ll tell you how they can’t stand the guy.
So, what does LeBron do next? He chose Steph Curry and Luca Doncic, two more of the most likeable guys in the league, who nobody could ever say a bad thing about. Durant would follow with Kawhi Leonard and ultimately James Harden, who fans similarly just don’t like.
And there you have it. Along with a handful of other players, the stage was set. Whether they planned it that way or not, with each selection, I couldn’t help but see these lineups slowly morph into a good guy-bad guy dynamic, LeBron’s heroes versus Durant’s villains, ultimately leading up to what promises to be a dramatic NBA Finals, especially if LeBron’s Lakers end up meeting Durant’s Nets. Brooklyn versus Los Angeles? You can’t tell me the NBA, and its sponsors, aren’t salivating over that possibility amidst what appears to be a finally diminishing pandemic.
Step into your NBA time capsule. Pistons, Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and the multiple teams-LeBron, no matter who you rooted for throughout NBA history, there was a perceived, if not real, good guy-bad guy dynamic, depending on where you stood. It made for good ratings and even better story-telling. Heck, the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s were dubbed the “Bad Boys” for their physical play, prompting everyone watching to have a soft spot for the beat-up Jordan who would eventually triumph after taking his lumps. Meanwhile, the Bad Boys and their fans wore their brutality as a badge of honor. In fact, they still do.
Maybe I’m looking for drama where it doesn’t exist. Maybe these guys are actually all good and just misunderstood by the way the media portray them. I’m pretty sure if you sat down with guys like Kyrie, Durant and Harden, you’d find them quite pleasant. In fact, they might be the ones that had a problem with YOU. But don’t be shocked for one instant that if, and hopefully when, they go up against King James in those NBA Finals, they gladly embrace that bad boy crown if it means knocking off the man and the kingdom he has built. I said it back in January and I’ll say it again. If the Lakers meet the Nets in the NBA Finals and LeBron comes out victorious against all that talent, it will be his greatest championship yet, a fitting conclusion to an outstanding career.
Either way, I’ll be watching as the story unfolds. It should end up being a great one to tell.