A weekly dive into the NBA’s hottest topics.
1. Winners have to lose
The Golden State Warriors, who lit the NBA for half a decade, have won just one game this season — against the Zion-less New Orleans Pelicans, who earned their first win Thursday night. In four games, the Warriors have been outscored by a total of 47 points. To add injury to insult, Stephen Curry broke his hand against the Suns Wednesday night.
Going into the season, most people, including myself, thought the Dubs’ collective institutional knowledge — powered by a lighter, freer Curry and Draymond Green — would sneak them into the playoffs. In hindsight, it all seems so obvious.
With no release valve for five years, the Warriors weren’t primed to simmer down slowly. Win big and you usually lose big, too. Not because it’s deserved or because the universe must achieve symmetry. Because the inevitable burnout usually happens right around the time when the urge to stay at the top feels less motivating. I mean, look at coach Steve Kerr’s face these days. Sustained success is more maintenance than achievement: putting out fires, not lighting them; it’s constant compromise. And this year, there’s no carrot at the end of the stick. So why bother?
Warriors owner Joe Lacob pushed to break the unspoken rules of basketball — and achievement, generally — when he said his goal was for the winning to never stop. But our bodies and minds adhere to a natural order. What goes up must come down. The longer you win, the more residual exhaustion needs to wear off.
2. What Chinese fans want
When the tweet that shifted the NBA’s economic future was building up steam, I wrote that part of the reason the Chinese government can wield so much power over the corporations it does business with is that it could present its population of 1.4 billion people as a united monolith operating in lock-step with the official agenda.
That’s one hell of a boycott.
The government doesn’t conduct polls on controversial subjects and it prohibits others from doing so as well. But RIWI, a marketing/consulting company that analyzes global trends, managed to gather opinion data from over 1,800 anonymous internet users in China and determined the backlash to Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protestors (and the NBA’s ensuing response) has not been quite as dramatic as the Chinese government would like people to think. Some interesting tidbits: The Rockets’ popularity has declined by 6 percent, and two-thirds of respondents said they would continue to watch the NBA. It’s only one poll, but it’s something. Check it out yourself.
3. Of course, Paul Pierce is hating on Dwyane Wade
On ESPN’s “NBA Countdown”, Paul Pierce, the world’s strongest advocate for Paul Pierce, took a shot at Dwyane Wade, saying he would have had “five, six rings easy” if he were teammates with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal.
I found it interesting that Pierce would come out and directly take a shot at Wade, because I’ve long considered them to be aesthetic contrasts. Wade can’t help but emit an effortless cool, and Pierce just can’t help himself.
Wade learned to take things in stride, Pierce took things in offense — like the time he didn’t want his retirement ceremony to coincide with Isaiah Thomas’ return to the TD Garden. I wrote it at the time: No other superstar would be intimidated by the idea that somebody else could overtake their moment. In Pierce’s case, well, Draymond Green put it best: “They don’t love you like Kobe.”
But Pierce insists they should. It’s what I loved about him as a player, and it’s probably what allowed him to consistently punch above his class — the shameless passion, the impossibly ugly and equally unstoppable grunt-work, the chip he could never get off his shoulder, his unquenchable thirst to get the credit only he thinks he deserves.
4. Speaking of unbreakable natural rules: All dads are corny
Even if your dad is LeBron James — hell, especially if your dad is LeBron James — he’s corny. Bronny James, LeBron’s son, joined Instagram this May, and recently, LeBron has started engaging in behavior that I personally consider adorable and any kid would consider a nightmare: He’s commenting on his son’s pictures.
It ranges from the cursory, “It’s Lit!” with a fire emoji, an emblem for all old people trying to emulate the young, and real life advice, such as this:
We all contain multitudes. James is the best basketball player of his generation, a walking industry that shifts local economies. He easily, as his Instagram often reminds us, morphs into a cheesy, cheerleading dad in the face of his children’s success.
5. Dwight Howard and the power of fandom
The era of player movement has been an object lesson in what anthropologists already know: tribalism can make anyone love or hate anyone else. Russell Westbrook, it’s been noted, is now propped up by the same Houston fans who denigrated him to weaken his MVP case against James Harden’s.
But Dwight Howard, whose return to the Lakers has gone about as well as anybody could have expected, might be the best example yet of the fickle and powerful force of sports tribalism.
Howard’s 8-for-8, 16-point performance in the Lakers’ victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Oct. 27 was met with a standing ovation when he left the game from the same fans who hated him for failing to live up to expectations and leaving them years ago.
Unbeknownst to him, Howard may have backed into an excellent and counterintuitive P.R. trick that plays on our neurological fallibility: go where you’re hated and try to do well. Fans can’t help but embrace one of their own.
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