With LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh—The New New Big Three—clinching last night’s Eastern Conference Finals, there is an acknowledgement worth making: this wouldn’t happen in the NFL. And that makes me happy.
I didn’t really care about The Decision, (Sorry, are networks the only ones allowed to come up with ridiculous television?) I was just so disappointed that the best player in the NBA wussed out. Sure, I’m happy that he went to play with his buddies, but a real competitor goes to Chicago and not only enjoys playing against his friends, but quietly fights and claws to build a bigger shadow than Michael Jordan. An impossible task? Probably. A worthy subtext as you fit perfectly into an offense of Rose, Noah and Boozer? Absolutely.
But that’s not what wouldn’t happen in the NFL. (I just wanted to get that mini-LeBron rant off my chest.)
In the NFL you can’t fake “team.” Sure, the New New Big Three are winning games, but I’m still calling fraud. I know it’s irrational—they are headed to the NBA Finals—I don’t care. Part of the essence of watching a team is enjoying the synergies, the little gears, the subtle connection on a transition play where you sit at home and can suddenly see them staying late at practice. I don’t see those things; I see three superstars, one role player and a bunch of hacks. Even LeBron’s lower-the-shoulder-and-draw-a-foul-while-being-ridiculously-athletic-in-the-lane move—even if he finishes with an earth-shattering two-handed jam—is boring now.
But this is how NBA Championships work most of the time—some more pronounced than others. You run the bulk of your offense through your superstar(s); the rest of the team gets out of the way. And so we think of NBA Championships in terms of superstars, rather than team. The Pistons are the only squad in the last 20 years where a name-brand player doesn’t come to mind before the jersey logo. Otherwise, I think about Kobe, KG-Allen-Pierce, Duncan-Parker, Kobe-Shaq, Hakeem and Jordan’s rings.
In this article, I haven’t written “Miami Heat” yet—even in the opening line—and you haven’t noticed.
This doesn’t happen in the NFL. Champions often have a name brand quarterback and few Pro Bowlers, but we think of Super Bowl rings in terms of teams. We don’t think of this past Super Bowl as “Rodgers defeating Roethlisberger.” The Packers beat the Steelers.
And if tomorrow, somehow, Aaron Rodgers said he was taking his talents elsewhere, Packer Nation would be angry and devastated for a little while, but you know what? They’d look at the remaining team and say, “You know, Eff that guy. We still have a damn good team. Give the ball to Matt Flynn and let’s rally around our amazing defense and solid running game.”
Yet Cleveland last year? You’d think LeBron was taking everyone’s first-born along with him.
Or think about it this way: in 2008, the Patriots lost their LeBron James when Bernard Pollard landed on Tom Brady’s knee. Yet the team went 11-5 and only missed the playoffs because of an obscenely strong division.
In basketball you become beholden to players, in football you become beholden to teams. So give me the league where my emotions are not intertwined with the whims of today’s professional athlete—where the focus is on the logo on the front, not the name on the back.
There is something freeing about that—not enough to take talents to South Beach, but freeing none-the-less.
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