It’s time to embrace the asterisk.
Ignore Shaquille O’Neal. He’s a good guy who’s dead wrong. Pay no attention to Damian Lillard’s demands. He’s an ultra-competitor who can no more control the impact of the coronavirus as he can the weather.
And get ready, come what may, to embrace the eventual 2020 NBA champion as the one, true victor.
The world has changed, and we’re going to have to change with it.
It’s true for parents getting used to life where Zoom is the latest four-letter word. It’s true for those fortunate enough to still have
jobs adjusting to working from home. It’s true for every way, big and small, our world has been turned upside down. It’s true for sports, too, and we should get used to it.
Shaq spoke for too many a few weeks ago when he told USA Today we should, you know, not accept life as it is right now.
“I think we should scrap the season,” O’Neal told the newspaper. “Everybody go home, get healthy, come back next year. Just scrap the season. Just scrap it. To try and come back now and do a rush playoffs as a player? Any team that wins this year, there’s an asterisk.
“They’re not going to get the respect.”
I get it. He wants a legitimate NBA champion. You want one. I do, too. Guess what? What’s legitimate — what’s normal, and how the world has changed since the NBA shut down the season March 11 before the country followed suit — just isn’t what it was before.
There’s no point in tilting at windmills.
Shaq talked about respect. Let’s respect the need for the NBA, like every other business in this country, to try and balance safety with the need to bring in revenue. Let’s respect the need for a country desperate for a sight of normalcy to want to glimpse it through sports without being told it’s fraudulent just because it’s hard to pull off the same as it’s always been. Let’s respect the fact things have changed, and with it so should our expectations.
What we can do is embrace the world as it is. And that includes the NBA season and its eventual champion in whatever form it takes, and with whatever quirks eventually play themselves out in crowning one.
The notion that fate and luck don’t sometimes shift the course of NBA champions is obtuse even in normal times. To not grasp that now is just plain wrong.
The Warriors’ first championship? They didn’t have to face Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving for almost the entire series. LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ revenge championship the next year? Draymond Green missed a key game while suspended, shifting the whole series. The Houston Rockets’ back-to-back rings in the mid-90s? Happened when Michael Jordan was playing baseball and then just back from it, rust and all.
Those teams and the many others like them are illegitimate champions with asterisks next to their names in exactly the same way the 2020 champions will be, right? Not a damn bit.
You want sports back? Embrace the asterisks, in the NBA and beyond. Accept that every year luck and chance play their roles. Some years more than others. This year perhaps more than any, ever. But that’s life, and sports, and anyone saying anything else just doesn’t get it.
Things will go wrong. A champion with a playoff seeding that in years past would have no chance may well win this year. Too bad. Nip the it-doesn’t-count-garbage in the bud, right now.
Commissioner Adam Silver has tried to prepare the league for this, reportedly telling players and team officials that there will be positive tests. And there will be, if the odds play themselves out. That doesn’t mean the league will or should shut down. Science and safety will dictate that, not the fact championship odds could be wildly variable.
If LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo test positive it will be awful for the game, and their respective teams. That’s where we are. That’s how it is. We can root against it, of course, but their absence wouldn’t nullify the outcome of a series played without them.
Even a lesser star missing time could impact things. Patrick Beverley missing a conference finals against the Lakers, say, or Eric Bledsoe out against the Celtics or 76ers.
There is so much that may well go wrong, or sideways, between now and whenever we have our next NBA champion.
If as expected the remainder of the season plays out in a single location like Orlando, there will be no home-court advantage. A lack of fans will mean those frenzied shifts of momentum driven by the mania of a crowd cannot occur. A conference-free playoff series seeded Nos. 1-16 may introduce matchups unforgettable to a team that would have fared better in the old format. The time off may lead to injuries to key players, or rust that dictates a close series. The Clippers’ load-management approach — one that helped Kawhi Leonard lead the Raptors to glory last season — has lost every ounce of its value.
And so on.
Things are going to be weird, uncertain, unfamiliar and maybe very different in their outcomes than we thought possible a few months ago.
This is the world we’re in now.
Shaq and those like him want everyone to go home and wait this thing out, but that’s not how the real world operates. Those of us who can work do so despite the changes. We teach our kids from home. We talk to our older or immuno-compromised loved ones via video. Some of us skip vacations, rethink restaurants and play amateur sports with a whole new set of rules and worries.
In the real world, we accept things change.
So no, if the NBA can find a way to play games safely and crown a champion despite the struggles and hurdles now in its way, we’re not shutting that down, too.
The 2020 champion will be legit. That’s true if it’s the Bucks, Lakers, or Clippers. It’ll be equally true even if the Magic or Mavericks
or Grizzlies get on a momentum-fueled run aided by unprecedented luck in the stars they don’t have to face for reasons we could never have foreseen four months ago.
So stop with the defeatist attitude that because things are hard in these hard times they’re not legitimate.
If the league and the players get us back to basketball, the least we can do is celebrate the return of hoops — and whatever team prevails in these wild, uncertain times.
/ 9 months ago
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