By: Jay Doughnuts On: June 12, 2012
Way back on May 4th, I wrote an NBA Playoffs preview column in which I came up with a hedging strategy for a hypothetical $500 investment (some people call it gambling, but they are no fun). I came up with what I call “The anti-Lebron hedge” in which I essentially recommending coming up with an efficient way to “take the field” and bet that Lebron and the Miami Heat (prohibitive favorites at the start of the Playoffs) could not win the championship. The chief tent of this theory is that Lebron does not have the mental makeup to deliver in the biggest moments. To wit: this is his 9th season with no championship to show for it… he has averaged less than 20 points per in 10 Finals games. He has been a shrinking violet in the big spot that has lacked the killer instinct needed to be a champion. Here is what I wrote over a month ago:
“Specifically, were gambling legal and if I had $500 of monopoly money to play around with, my recommendation would be to go with the following Anti-Lebron Hedge [Miami currently favorite to win the title at 3-2 odds]:
$300 on Thunder to win championship [7-2 odds: Bet $300 to win $1050]
$100 on Lakers to win championship (Good hedge on Thunder) [8-1 odds: Bet $100 to win $800]
$100 on Celtics to win championship (Hedge on the Celtics- who actually have Miami’s #) [22-1 odds: Bet $100 to win $2,200]“
As you can see, the Celtics and Lakers have bowed out, but my Thunder wager could win $1,050 on my initial $500 investment. Not a bad return at all. So with more than a grand at stake as I watch the NBA Finals, here are my thoughts on the series as we prepare to crown a new champion:
Storyline 1: There can only be one Alpha Dog… the battle for dominance
I’m going to distill the NBA Finals into one essential truth: the team with the better player always wins. Further, if you look back at the recent history of the NBA, you see a really interesting trend. Going back 30+ years, you will find that a shockingly small number of teams have all of the titles and these teams have been lead by guys like Durant and Lebron- the very best of the best in their prime. Let’s go down a list of the best players in recent memory and their title count: Larry Bird (3), Magic Johnson (5), Michael Jordan (6), Shaquille O’Neal (4), Kobe Bryant (5), Tim Duncan (4)… it becomes clear that THE alpha dog of the game at a given time WILL go on to win many championships. This is the way that it has always been. It seems to me, then that this series carries not only the significance of crowning this year’s champion- but further it could be the first of a Multiple title run. A number of players have been defeated in the finals in their primes and have failed to bounce back in their careers… the loser gets broken mentally and can never recover… Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp come to mind. This is an event. The best player in the world will be crowned in this series and the loser may never again get back to the mountain top. Lebron versus Durant for Alpha status… for basketball dominance. How do we properly assess the better player when both are so similar statistically? Lebron has one the last three MVP awards while Durant has one the last three Scoring titles… call that one even. Lebron is a once in a generation physical specimen that relies on speed power and athleticism to dominate a game. Durant relies more on shooting ability- he is a far superior outside shooter and free throw shooter than Lebron. Who is more clutch? Kevin Durant has made the game winning shot in games in each series of the playoffs thusfar while Lebron is often a no show in the closing moments. Another big advantage becomes apparent when you focus on the mental side of the game. Lebron, in his 9th season, has a long history of not showing up when it has mattered most and is 0-2 in his Finals appearances. He famously orchestrated “The Decision”, destroyed his image, and bragged of up to 7 titles when he was announced with Wade and Bosh upon joining the Heat. Conversely, in his fifth season, Durant is making his maiden voyage to the Finals. He is the most dangerous player in the league in the closing seconds and is not afraid to take the big shot with the weight of the game upon him. Further, he quietly re-signed with the Thunder without an elaborate made-for-TV production and seems genuinely interested in being a mentor to the young stars on his team, namely Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Kevin Durant’s star power seems logical and organic while Lebron reeks of artificiality and “brand management”… Lebron James is the big talent that was supposed to be here playing for championship after championship… it was expected. Durant is the younger, hungrier gym rat who has worked his ass off to be in the the position to grab his first championship ring and appears poised to take it.
ADVANTAGE: Kevin Durant
Storyline 2: The Moms!
I can’t remember a time in which the mother of the best player on each team has received such intense media coverage. Maybe it is just a sign of the digital age that we are living in. I’m fairly certain that ABC will have 2 guys on “Momcam” throughout the series: and why not? Each Mom is interesting in her own way.
Gloria James has had her fair share of headlines over the last few years. First came the ugly rumor that she was having a romantic relationship one of here son’s teammates in Cleveland, the incomparable Delonte West. Rumor has it that Lebron grew so despondent when he found out about the relationship that he checked out of the Cleveland playoff series with Boston and headed out of town to Miami to join the Heat in the off season. This has neither been confirmed or denied. More recently, in 2011, Gloria James was arrested for beating a valet at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami and was found to have alcohol on her breath at the time of arrest. She is a sassy lady! Here she is kissing Dwane Wade, her son’s teammate on the mouth:
Kevin Durant has a particularly endearing ritual after each and every game. He immediately makes his way over to where his mother is sitting and gives her a big hug. Wanda is often on camera cheering on her son like a proud Mama and waiting for the hug with big Kev:
Storyline 3: Postgame Wardrobe
Another thing that has received massive media and pop culture coverage of late has been the daring fashion choices made by many players in this series. Specifically, the geek chic / hipster choices made by Kevin Durant last year (press conferences wearing a backpack) have been taken to the next level in this series. To but it bluntly, these guys have been going full Steve Urkel for the last month or so:
Lebron & Dwane Wade:
Lebron and Wade have been nerding out with pink pants, over sized glasses and tuxedo shirts… shocking garments for an athlete to be sure.
Russell Westbrook takes everything that Lebron and Wade are trying to do and raises it to the third power. His red glasses with no lenses and fishing bait polo shirts have started a trend. He takes the nerd thing and owns it with the same ferocity that he throws down a dunk in traffic. There is no doubt who is the bold fashion icon in this conversation.
Advantage: Westbrook (Durant by poxy)
Storyline 4: The Coaches
This is an interesting Finals in that you have two coaches competing for a championship that have widely been lampooned and routinely been described as incompetent throughout the season.
Eric Spolestra: Miami
In this clip, the coach of Miami Heat gets punked by Dwayne Wade… in embarrassing fashion. Would Phil Jackson stand for this??Greg Poppavich? I think not. This is generally not a good sign.
Scott Brooks: Thunder
Coach Brooks is by all accounts a mild mannered guy. The only strike against him is that he shares the same name as male pornstar extraordinaire Scotty Brooks. He seems like quite the bland character but he WAS a benchwarmer for the Rockets when Hakeem was dream shaking to the title… so he has experience on this stage.
Advantage: Brooks (Durant by Proxy)
Storyline 5: The Supporting Casts
Basketball, while an exceedingly individualistic team sport, is played best when the players on the court mesh well, anticipate each others moves and have fantastic team chemistry. Specifically, it generally takes three elite level talents to win a championship. Let’s take a closer look at the supporting players surrounding Lebron and Durant:
As previously mentioned, the exceedingly humble trio of Lebron, Wade and Chris Bosh held a press conference to celebrate the formation of the “Big Three” two years ago featuring fire works a laser light show and promises of future championships. Coming into this series, Bosh has a pulled abdominal muscle, Wade is shooting below 30% from three point range and appears to be banged up… but Lebron is fighting like Drago in Rocky IV.
The Thunder, on the other hand, feature Russell Westbrook and James Harden to go along with Durant, two players that they scouted in college and selected via the draft. They did not spend free agent dollars and buy the best team on the open market. They held no press conferences to announce future dominance. They laced up their shoes for the team that drafted them and learned to play together. In so doing, you can tell that these guys actually like playing with eachother! Imagine that! In the days of free agency, mega trades and package deals… there is something really endearing about a team that has built itself the old fashioned way.
Advantage: Thunder (Durant by Proxy)
James Harden’s Beard:
Russell Westbrook’s Insane Dunk Celebrations:
Much like when Kali Ma rips the beating heart out of his prisoner in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Kevin Durant will rip Lebron’s heart out over the course of the next few weeks, completely break his spirit, leave him a mental wreck and march on to the first of MANY Championships while enjoying “America’s Team” status.
PICK: Durant and the Thunder in 5