The Lakers and their axis of evil finally fall to the Pistons in the Finals.
You can try to sell the idea that the Detroit Pistons were the best team in the NBA this season. I'm just not buying it. In all honesty, I don't think anybody is. As the confetti was falling down in Detroit, Al Michaels pointed out that he could not recall a single time when a team that was so heavily favored to win the title not only lost, but got so demolished that they, in essence, became the hopeless underdog. While the citizens of Mo-Town might be convinced that it was their team rising to the occasion and playing the best defense in the history of basketball that won them their fourth NBA title, Al Michaels was subtly implying otherwise. He, like the other millions of NBA fans not sporting red, white, and blue knew that there was something inherently wrong with the pictures flashing across our television screens.
In a season that was going to be defined by an epic "Battle of the Super-Teams", a team that fell far from the definition of "Super" won it all. And as much as the media is forced to attribute that fact to Larry Brown's coaching, team defense, or the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace, there was a far less dignifying source of the Piston's success. If you suddenly want to believe that a team that finished third in the worst conference ever produced by the NBA in its history is a legitimate champion, feel free to do so. And if you want to fool yourself into thinking that a team who took seven games to dispatch the Nets when Jason Kidd was playing without a kneecap could suddenly flip a switch and blow out a team lead by a healthy Kobe and Shaq, then by all means, go ahead. But as for the rest of us who wish to think logically, the "seemingly unexplainable" turn of events, can easily be explained by a single word - IMPLOSION!
David Stern got exactly what he wanted. The Lakers/Pistons NBA Finals proved to be a ratings giant. The headlines were dominated by the NBA for nine straight days. People just could not get enough of it. The hype got so big that even I, who had staged a boycott on the title games, felt compelled to turn on the TV for the final quarter. As much as I detested the way the politics of the league had destroyed the integrity of the game, I couldn't help but take a look at the train wreck. Because that's what the NBA became last night - one big giant train wreck. The corruption had festered underneath the surface for years, and last night the mask was finally removed to reveal the rotten core. The league's gem, the NBA Finals had become the NBA Farce. It had become more WWE than NBA, more Steve Austin than Steve Kerr. That's why we tuned in. That's why we couldn't take our eyes off it. Secretly, each of us was just waiting for the moment when Kobe would pull out the steel chair and officially end the Lakers reign by cracking it over the head of Shaquille O'Neal. David Stern wanted a circus and the Lakers provided it. They didn't lose the Finals. They threw it away. And in the end, it was the Eastern Conference, once again feeding off of scraps from the table, that was there to take it from their hand.
I don't want to rain on Detroit's parade too badly. They won the title fair and square and their fans deserve some time to enjoy it. But don't think for a second that they were the best team in the league. Anyone with a solid NBA knowledge can attest to the fact that the Pistons were AT BEST the fourth best team in the league. Had they faced the Spurs, T-Wolves, or the real Lakers, the title would have undoubtedly gone to the Western Conference for a sixth straight year. However, injuries took down the Wolves and the Spurs fell victim to a poor clock operator. That left the Lakers to represent the West.
Ever since Michael Jordan left the Bulls, David Stern's single goal was to recreate the team that had put his league on the map. Instead of letting the NBA redefine itself in Jordan's absence, Stern tried to manufacture a dynasty. He acted as if the heart of a champion was something you could bottle up and sell. The result was an attempt to deify Kobe Bryant, a Lakers/Kings series that will forever damage the league's integrity, and ultimately what we witnessed last night. The Lakers had been pampered, praised, and paraded around for too long. Eventually the stench from their rotten core had grown so strong that even they could bear it no longer.
As much as I enjoyed watching the fall of the most corrupt dynasty in the history of professional sports and as satisfying as it was to watch the smug, cocky grins wiped off the face of every single Lakers player, I couldn't help but feel a tiny twinge of sadness. Because even though justice was being served as the Lakers endured twelve minutes of basketball purgatory in the fourth quarter, I was sorry to see what the NBA had become. Yeah, I cheered along with the Detroit fans as they taunted the embarrassed Lakers, who could do nothing but sit in shame with no hope of future redemption. But there was a little part of me that realized how pathetic it was that a league that once celebrated the greatness of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, and Julius Erving, was now celebrating the fact that a corporate machine had fallen to a paper champion. How did it come to this?
The Lakers will be disbanded, and almost assuredly, the world will be a better place for it. David Stern's plan to save a league which had just lost its brightest star and half a season has now reached its horrific conclusion. Instead of letting his emerging stars plug the holes in their own unique way, he went for the quick fix. He replaced quality and character with empty hype and the result was, well, empty. The NBA's ship isn't floating any better than it was in 99' and now in addition, it has to overcome the apathy and mistrust it's forced upon its fans. In the end, nobody won; not the Lakers, or those who hated them - not even the Pistons. As good as it may feel, there's always going to be that little bit of tarnish on this year's title. Let's hope the league learns from its past mistakes and moves on. Let's hope that they let the players forge dynasties instead of outside sources. Let's hope they realize that there will never be "The Next Jordan" and stop searching for him. Despite the multitude of flaws the league must overcome, there's still a lot of good beneath the surface. Now that the Lakers dark cloud has begun to dissipate, the real men of the NBA can have their moment in the sun. The playing field has been leveled, and a new race to claim the title has begun. So hats off to the Pistons, you won the Championship. But you've also got 29 teams that would like nothing better than to take it from you. To quote the league MVP, it's going to be "war".