For the first time in more than 10 years, the NBA playoffs are must-watch TV. Seriously, was anybody remotely interested when the Spurs and Pistons dominated the most mind-numbingly boring tournament in the history of man? I would rather watch paint dry or grass grow. I would rather make out with Susan Boyle. I would rather watch NASCAR. Have I gone too far?
However, much to my delight, the playoffs are beginning to resemble basketball’s heyday of the years before Jordan’s departure from the Chicago Bulls. In fact, Chicago was once again at the center of the basketball world just last week. The Baby Bulls took the defending champion Celtics to the brink in the best first-round series I’ve ever seen. Seven overtimes in seven games. I was glued to my television. It felt so good to have my Bulls back and to watch the Celtics squirm. So long as upper-management plays their cards right (and avoids pulling a New York Knicks), this Bulls team will be a serious contender for the next ten years.
But there’s a problem. They’ll be contending with the Cavaliers and King James. Lebron is half man, half boy, half beast. Yes, my math is correct.he is one and a half people. There hasn’t been a basketball player to single-handedly vault his team to the upper echelon of the league since-well-you know who. But let us not rush into labeling this 24-year-old freak of nature as “The Next Jordan.” For one, he’s already lost an NBA Finals series, something that Jordan never even came close to doing. But more importantly, by the time his career is over, people will be asking, “Who is the next Lebron?” He is that good. He may never match Jordan in championships, but basketball fans will be tossing chalk until the day Lebron calls it quits.
Oddly enough, it looks likely that Lebron’s first championship run will have to go through Los Angeles. This path is eerily familiar to the one taken by-well-you know who. Kobe and Co. are on a mission from God. Kobe wants another NBA championship like Rush Limbaugh wants another Oxycontin-really, really bad. He’s got the supporting cast and coaching staff of a potential NBA championship team, but will the Lakers be too beat up once they reach the Finals? While the Cavs have a relatively easy ride to the Finals (only the Magic have a remote chance of beating them), the Lakers have to fight through a much tougher Western Conference.
The Lakers’ second-round opponent, the Houston Rockets, have brought back the aggressive mentality of the Detroit Bad Boys of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The first three games of the series have been pretty chippy, thanks in large part to Ron Artest. Artest has been one of my favorite NBA players since he began practicing vigilante justice by throwing haymakers at unruly fans. His temper has simmered a bit, but he is still proving to be a thorn in Kobe’s side. It’s too bad that the Rockets lost Yao Ming on Saturday night. Sorry, boys, season over.
All the NBA needs now is a legitimate rivalry. Let’s hope Kobe vs. Lebron is all that it will be cracked up to be.