Handshakes for Hoops
Not since the handshake between Yassar Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White house lawn back in ’93 has a ceremonial coming together of palms brought such relief to the masses as it has this past weekend, with the NBA players & owners finally reaching a ‘handshake deal’ to end the lockout.
There will be ball, oh yes, there will be ball.
Whilst I’d be the first to admit that making a comparison between a historic middle east peace deal and the conclusion of 5 month’s worth of squabbling between rich athletes and even richer old men (you heard right MJ) over how best to divide up their billions is, for lack of a better word, a bit rich, the reaching of an agreement was not just a momentous day for your average sports fan.
As in much the same way as the Arafat-Rabin metacarpal grasp was done under the watchful gaze of Bill Clinton, who was grinning like a man who’d not long been given a “presidential service” in the oval office, the end of the NBA lockout was met with a smile and a thumbs up by none other than Barack Obama who had just finished shooting some hoops at Fort McNair in Washington when he heard the news.
There is no doubt this lockout has been an uncomfortable pebble in the high-top of every basketball fan. Neither the players or the owners have painted themselves in a particularly honourable light and a good chunk of the season has already been swept aside in the name of wealthy mens’ greed. Much like Shaq at the freethrow line (and to a lesser extent with the mic in hand) the whole situation has been plain ugly.
But one must always attempt to find the positives, like the fact that Shaq was often getting the opposing big man into foul trouble and in the case of the lockout it has been the performance of the cagey little lefty Derek Fisher. Interestingly, throughout this whole ‘ordeal’ he has managed to somehow reject the NBA players’ unofficial suit policy, which is to dress in such a manner that can only really be described by putting on Outkast’s ‘So Fresh and So Clean‘ and turning it up to max volume.
But it’s not just his business meets funeral attire which has helped the plucky point guard to avoid becoming the Fish-out-of-water in this process as he has also managed to remain poised and articulate throughout, even when it looked as though a deal was a long way from fruition.
That said, Fisher still managed to amuse at times with his explanations of the negotiation process as they often resembled the post game interview of a man who’d just played an intense 48 on the hardwood. Sentiments such as
“We’ll continue to work through, as long as we possibly can and as hard as we possibly can to see if we can get a deal done. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves at this point but we’ll continue to remain focused on some key principal items in our system…”
could have been an answer given by Fisher, almost verbatim, when asked by about the mood in the Laker camp after they’d just swept the first round of the play-offs. But apart from Derek Fisher showing to the world how athlete’s “get it done” in the corporate arena, one man who may have also benefited from the lockout is LeBron James, as the focus has been anywhere but on him.
It was a little more than a year ago that LeBron became the athlete to attract the most media attention in the middle of the off season since O.J. Simpson gunned it down the highway in his Bronco, leaving a trail of blood, chaos and an ill-fitting glove in his wake.
In the lead up to last season, King James sat down in his very own TV special and told the world he was taking his mad skillz to the land of leather-skinned retirees, or words to that effect. As the entire basketball fraternity was already sweating on his announcement, ‘The Decision‘ special on ESPN was about as necessary as LeBron putting on suspenders when he was already wearing a belt. As part of the fallout LBJ became a hate magnet, not just for Cleveland fans who had every right to feel hard done by, but for every sports fans that has ever lopped the top off a tall poppy.
Despite all this, LeBron & Co (and by ‘Co’ I mean Wade, Bosh and a bunch of stiffs they pulled off the South Beach boardwalk) managed to overcome a mediocre start (9-8 from the first 17 games) to gel in December and coast all the way to the Eastern Conference title.
But it was on the glittering stage of the NBA finals that King James lost his royal mojo. This was never more evident than in Game 4 where he managed just 8 points and had more turnovers than field goals. In fact his average for the series of 17.8 ppg was almost 9 points below his season average, the biggest drop in NBA finals history and to make matters even worse, LeBron was little more than a spectator in the fourth quarter throughout the whole series (just 18 points through 6 games). This gave the masses a chance to revel in their Schadenfreude meaning Dirk & his Merry band of Mavericks had a legion of new fans to celebrate their extinguishing of the Heat.
But this preseason, if you could even call it that, has been very different from the last and has given James the chance to go away, work on his game and attempt to exorcise the mental demons of NBA finals past. For this season, nothing less than an NBA championship will suffice for LeBron & Co because come next June, if that NBA ring don’t fit, the few fans he has left may just acquit.