It's amazing what playing against the Miami Heat can do for the perception of a player throughout the news media.
In the age following "The Decision," sportswriters, in a mad dash to present as many wholesome "anti-LeBron" athletes as possible, have had a hand in hyping players beyond even their own considerable talents just because they might be the "James stopper."
ESPN had a field day talking about the fact that the Celtics were a "real team," which the Heat were little more than "a collection of individuals." And how the Celtics' Rajon Rondo "would simply be unstoppable because the Heat have no point guard."
There were several ESPN segments that appeared to set up the Heat's ultimate failure, with commentators arguing, "this is the first real test of the Heat's big three. LeBron James' name and reputation is on the line. Will he be able to lead his team past this tough Celtics team? We're inclined to say no."
Well, suffice it to say, James did. And all those declarations of the greatness of Rondo evaporated as quickly as they began.
Then there was the Bulls' Derrick Rose, the league MVP and "arguably the best point guard in the NBA," according to Jon Barry. "The Heat are in trouble with Rose," said Charles Barkley. "He is going to kill Mike Bibby and Chris Bosh will be manhandled by Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Those guys are monsters."
Ric Bucher even added that at this point in their careers, "Derrick Rose is clearly better than LeBron. That will be the difference in the series."
Well, we know what happened next. LeBron took over the games at the end, while Rose shot up air balls with the games on the line.
Bosh averaged 23.2 PPG in the series, while Boozer lead all players with "the highest flagrant foul committing percentage." Noah made more headlines from calling the Heat, "Hollywood as Hell," as anything he did in the series.
Shortly thereafter, Rose was unceremoniously dumped by the media. Now Dirk Nowitzki, the man who many of those same sportswriters said would "choke" in the first round against the Trailblazers, is suddenly the league's best player.
Let's get things straight: I like Dirk. I think he's a great player and if he does beat the Miami Heat in the finals, it will be a fine capper to a solid career for himself and Jason Kidd.
But let's not act like the sudden "Is Dirk as good as Larry Bird?"
"Do the Heat have any hope of containing Dirk?" and "It's time for Dirk to win that elusive title."
Discussions and columns are not motivated primarily by the desire to see the Heat fail.
How many articles have you read about the greatness of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose in the past few days? Probably none, because they are not in the running to take out the Heat.
I think it is a sad state of affairs in sports writing when the only time a player of Nowitzki's caliber can get any credit, is when he is being used by the media to fulfill some propagandist objective against another team.
But if Nowitzki does fail to prevent the Heat from winning, or allow the great "NBA Apocalypse," what will their perception of him be then?
Will they still call him the most un-guardable player in the game? Will they still run all of these articles about his "loyalty" and "greatness?"
The sports media has spent all year promising an anxious nation that Miami's "Big 3" will be an abject failure.
It told us that James isn't clutch, that Bosh is overrated, that "team's" win titles and the Heat are nothing but a couple of good players and nothing else.
It has told us that it was James' lack of desire and not Cavaliers management that prevented him from winning a title in his first seven years.
It told us that Erik Spoelstra would be fired as coach.
It told us that the Celtics would beat them easily in the postseason.
It told us that Derrick Rose and the more "modest" and "balanced" Bulls will beat them in the postseason.
It told us that the Heat's "Big 3" would burn out.
It told us that Miami would crumble under the pressure of expectations.
The entire credibility of our sports media is riding on Nowitzki's shooting stroke.
If he let's them down, he will be the last domino to fall.