Would a 2013-14 Chicago Bulls championship dampen the Miami Heat's recent run? Would an asterisk be placed next to LeBron James' ring? That’s a question that gets asked and an argument that gets made, but is it really fair?
The gist of it is this: Chicago was Miami’s main challenger until Derrick Rose went down with his injury in the 2012 postseason. The Heat never had to beat them. Ergo if the Bulls were to beat them now, it “proves” they could have beaten the Heat then, so Miami’s rings are tainted.
Is that a sound argument?
In order to answer this question let’s define four terms (at least in the context of this discussion). And, since we have the considerable passions of two fanbases involved, let’s use a completely non-basketball scenario to understand them, completely removed from the emotions of the argument.
These four terms are excuse, reason, historical and predictive.
I know that patience is not a virtue that everyone has, but try and exercise some here. Take the time to understand, to read all four words before emptying your ammo in the comments section.
The scenario is a completely (looks around to make sure she’s not listening) “hypothetical” situation where my wife has asked me on a few occasions to pick up some cream while at the Dollar General. (She likes cream).
In this “hypothetical” scenario I might have, on a certain occasion, gone to the store to pick up the cream, seen the corn chips on sale, thought “Nachos!” and then picked up the Velveeta, the hamburger, the beans and yes, even the sour cream, (which was right next to the regular cream), but forgotten completely about the requested cream, caught in the sways of my nacho-driven frenzy.
So, I get home (hypothetically) and my wife asks, “Did you remember my cream?”
“Cream?” I respond, “Uhhhh...Well, you see, the Tostados were on sale and...” And right there I’ve started making an excuse.
An excuse is when you take an external situation within your control and blame your failings on that situation. I could have remembered. The Tostados weren’t at fault; I was.
In 2011 the Chicago Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, and while there were some mitigating factors, such as Rose playing with an ankle sprain, the primary reason they lost was on the Bulls. They were an inexperienced playoff team who hadn’t learned how to win in the postseason yet.
They came out and landed a solid blow in Game 1, but it was their first rodeo. They didn’t know how to play that deep into postseason, and the Heat, led by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, did. So the Heat actually won. To deny that is to make excuses.
On another “hypothetical” occasion, I was going to the General Dollar, and my wife again asked me to get her some cream. Recalling the previous incident, she says, “Don’t forget the cream!” as I’m on my way out.
Intent on my mission, I put blinders on as I wade through the distracting junk food sales taunting me and make a beeline towards the cream. They’re out. And the Tostados are gone, too. So I get whatever it was I went there for and go home.
“Did you get the cream?” she asks.
“Did you forget again? Don’t tell me, you got more nachos right?”
“No, they were out of both.”
And that is a reason. A reason is something that is valid. It is when an external situation beyond your control impacts your situation.
Such external situations include things like there actually being no cream to buy, or not having actual players available to play.
Basketball is played by players (hence the word), not hollow, ghost-like uniforms bobbing up and down the court. If you’ve ever argued about the MVP award, you’ve acknowledged the importance of players. Not having players available to play is a valid reason teams lose, not an excuse for losing.
In both 2012 and 2013 the Bulls were missing two of their three best players for most of the postseason. In 2012, they were without Rose and Joakim Noah. In 2013, they were without Rose and Luol Deng.
That’s the biggest reason they lost, but don’t get ahead of me. Before you start commenting, keep reading. The last two words are important here, too.
The next word is historical. Let’s say, that I’m going for yet another trip to the Dollar General, and my wife says, “Don’t forget the cream again.”
“That’s not fair,” I say, “I remembered last time, they were just out of it.”
At which time, she “hypothetically” reminds me of the 17 prior incidents—that she can remember.
In response, I postulate to her, “We don’t know that they actually had cream all 17 times. Just because I didn’t check doesn’t mean they had it.” Technically, my argument is true. Technically, my wife is also perfectly justified if she wants to slap me upside my head.
The point here is that there is a historical context placed on everything. We can often recall and interpret history as it best benefits our arguments, omitting the history that doesn’t help us.
And in the context of this conversation, if we want to put asterisks on the Heat’s rings, we’re going to have to put them on a lot of championships. Do the 1988 Detroit Pistons lose to the Lakers if Isiah Thomas doesn’t sprain his ankle?
My point is that we could go around reassigning all kinds of championships if we open up the coulda-woulda-shoula floodgates. The problem with these arguments is that they always go the way we want them to. I’ve never heard anyone use an “if, then” argument to prove themselves wrong.
History is history, and we can only know what we do know. Redefining it to our preference is convenient but wrong.
Let’s change the hypothetical situation a little bit. Say that instead of having a long history of forgetting the cream, I only got distracted by the great nacho hunt one time and had successfully completed mission possible the other 17.
Would my wife be fair in predicting that I would forget?
Using conjecture to redefine history is one thing. Using it to predict the future is quite another, because you’re trying to deduce what will happen, not change what did happen. In this context, understanding the nuances of the past which formed events is entirely relevant.
So, when people talk about how the present Bulls have failed repeatedly over the last three years, and use that to argue, they won’t go anywhere. They’re using a misrepresented history. You can’t use the Bulls’ injuries to presume the past would have been different. You can’t ignore why things happened either.
The current Bulls’ core hasn’t really failed the last two years because they haven’t really played the last two years.
Furthermore, not everything about the past remains true in the present. An entirely realistic scenario exists where the Bulls get the No. 1 seed, the Heat the No. 2 seed, the Indiana Pacers the No. 3 seed and the Cleveland Cavaliers the No. 7 seed. In such a situation, the Heat would potentially have to go through Andrew Bynum (if he stays healthy) and Roy Hibbert in order to get to the conference finals.
Miami’s biggest weakness is big, physical teams, and they could have to go through two of them just to get to Chicago.
In many ways, the playoffs are about attrition. The Heat have already been to the last three finals. The combination of the massive minutes they’ve played over four years and two grueling, physical series could have an impact on them in the conference finals.
Beating a battered Heat team wouldn't prove history wrong.
Those things weren’t true two years ago. They weren’t true last year. They are theoretically true this year. Past is not always prologue. Things in the present have changed. That means the future could change, too.
The Bulls are no longer as inexperienced. The Heat are no longer as fresh. The East is shaped differently, with more stacked frontcourts, than there were two years ago. If the Bulls were to beat the Heat this year, it won’t mean they would have beaten them previously, and the fact that the Heat have beaten the Bulls before doesn’t mean they will this year.
Using the 2011 series between the teams to assume the same outcome would happen in 2014 is just as fallacious as using a hypothetical 2014 Chicago win to presume a 2012 or 2013 win. Using a predictive argument is very different from using a historical.
If the Bulls “cream” the Heat in 2014 and go on to win the title, all it will mean is that they are the 2014 NBA champions.