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How The Other 99.9999 Percent Live
MY APARTMENT, June 8, 2007 (early) -- I didn't get the call this year. Nope, not this time. The basketball world is in San Antonio and Cleveland for these next couple of weeks and I was left at home like the toothbrush someone forget to pack.
Maybe what they said was true... that I was the only one trustworthy enough to "hold down the fort" back at headquarters (at least I get to corrupt the new crop of college interns this summer before everyone else gets home). Or perhaps when they decided to cap the number of NBA.com writers covering the Finals at 43, they were going in alphabetical order and didn't make it to the W's (I've truly been a victim of alphabetical discrimination my entire life). Maybe I was the only one who could be trusted to handle WNBA.com! It's even possible that the expense report I submitted after last year's Finals in Miami went a bit overboard (I knew I shouldn't have had that last private dinner cruise around Biscayne Bay).
Or perhaps they were really just challenging me with the most important feature coverage assigment of all...
NBA.com dominates The Finals. Seriously. The access we get to players, our proximity to the action and the sheer volume of features produced is off the charts. If you laid down every word that NBA.com writes at Finals in succession, you could go around the world approximately 14 times (I just made that up, but you get the idea). If you love basketball, this is seriously the place to be over the next several days. Fans at home get to feel like they're actually at the game. The video turnaround is incomprehensible.
But anyone can go into a locker room and get postgame quotes from a player. Anyone can sit there while Daniel Gibson pounds out another blog entry. Anyone can wait around after practice and mooch story ideas off beat writers. Right?
But not everyone can represent "the every man." If there were 20,000 people at the arena tonight, that left approximately 20 trillion people watching at home (though the overnight ratings won't be available until tomorrow). Those who weren't at the game have dozens of people writing for them. So what about the fans at the game who miss out on what's going on at home during the game? Who will write for those people in-arena who missed out, leaving home and actually attending the game?
I will. As a spectator and fan for the next two weeks, my goal is to provide the in-depth access of what the rest of the world is seeing throughout the Finals.
So don't feel sorry for me during this year's Finals. I join the likes of Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Dwyane Wade, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Bauer and Batman among those who were NOT in attendance tonight. That's some pretty amazing company to be in. And the perks are obvious. I get to work from home in my underwear, watching the games on the big screen (19 inches is considered big where I come from), relaxing in the splendor of my home and indulging in lavish feasts of pizza, Ritz crackers and Entenmann's glazed donuts. (My dinner was way cheaper than whatever fans at the arena spent at the concession stand!)
The 6 p.m. SportsCenter was all about LeBron James. (Can you believe I went nine paragraphs without mentioning him?) They asked the Cavs about LeBron. They asked the Spurs about LeBron. In case you didn't know, LeBron James is 22 years old. I then took a brief break to get my daily dose of Best of "American Gladiators" on ESPN Classic. (I am convinced, by the way, that my finishing time in the Eliminator would be about four minutes. But I would finish.) I didn't check, but I'm willing to bet that poker was on the other six ESPN networks before 8 p.m.
Leading up to the pregame show, the pizza guy showed up and interrupted the dramatic conclusion of the first episode of ABC's new summer hit "Fast Cars and Superstars," which mixes celebrities and stock car racing. (I wonder if the second half hour of the show switches to the courtroom - like "Law and Order" - when the families of the celebrities injured or killed on the track sue the producers of this show.) The deliveryman was actually a dead-ringer for Paul Pierce. I actually thought he was The Truth at first, and it could have been seeing as he's not doing much else these days (though I cleared it all up when I asked him if he thought the Celts were going to re-sign Michael Olowokandi and he just peered back at me with a bewildered look on his face).
I was midway through my third slice when we had our first gratuitous shot of The Alamo. The 19th century mission is actually a LOT smaller than it looks on television and in movies (and we know there is no basement). But the first 10 minutes of ABC's pregame show were all about LeBron James. The next 10 minutes were all about Tim Duncan. You know, the way this game and series was hyped... with these two superstars most prominently featured... you can't help but think that this is the best matchup of all-time great individuals in The Finals since Jordan and Magic in the 1991 Bulls-Lakers series.
Sure, the Bulls-Jazz series had multiple Hall of Famers, as did the Lakers-Nets... and Shaq-Olajuwon was fun for about 10 minutes... but nothing like this. If you think about it, this series really had a lot of similarities to that 1991 Finals... an established (aging?) dynasty and a young, upstart team with the best player on the planet. Of course, the shift in NBA dominance and supremacy happened that year and lasted for a decade. Whether it will happen again obviously remains to be seen.
The big things we were told to watch for was how Bruce Bowen and the Spurs defend James (Bowen played amazing defense on him in the first half). Also of interest was just who LeBron will guard. For the record, not one person on any show or network picked the Cavs.
The Finals broadcast really had some great intro graphics and effects on the air. Tonight's had a whole dark, stormy and ominous feel mixed in with cool animations and highlights of Finals past. It gave me chills. Then again, so do the commercials for "Shaq's Big Challenge" (Shaquille O'Neal's new show that inspires overweight children to lose weight, coming to ABC this summer). When does he have time to do all this stuff? And speaking of commercials (must drink Sprite must drink Sprite must drink Sprite), I didn't notice any of the Sublymonal Advertising from Sprite this year. Maybe I just missed it (must drink Sprite must drink Sprite must drink Sprite). Oh, and check out the cool new LeBron "Witness" commercial that has his dunk against the Pistons in slo-mo.
That was about the last we heard of James, at least for a while. In the first quarter, Tony Parker and Duncan reminded us why the Spurs are favored. The difference between James's first half play (0-for-7 from the field) and that of Duncan and Parker was almost as stark as the contrast between John Barry's very tan face and his very pale shaved head (not that I'm one to rip on the bald guys).
Parker showed early on that he is as good as it gets going to the basket. How do you contain him, Mark Jackson wanted to know? He does get to the rim so easily and Jeff Van Gundy said that "there is no better finisher for a little man since Tiny Archibald" (who led the league in scoring and assists one year). The Cavs switched, putting LeBron on Parker, but the Spurs seemed like they couldn't miss. (Anyone who says the Spurs are boring to watch either hasn't watched them since 1999 or doesn't understand basketball.) Duncan scored facing up, posting up and off the pick-and-roll in his first three field goals and defensively, we saw Parker working on the hobbled Larry Hughes (basically rendering him useless).
Oh, and Eva Longoria was in the crowd. I hear they're getting married, too. (Mazel tov!) She was one of the thousands decked in white. All of the white in the crowd looked really cool. Like Miami last year. On my small screen, low-def television (hint: my birthday is coming up), it looks like the crowd in an old-school video game, indiscernible heads bopping around in a sea of white. Even more interesting were the blimp shots of the parking lot... it looked like every car was white, too. Now that's some serious fan committment.
Then it got ugly. The Cavs missed nine of their last 10 to close out the first quarter. But they didn't forget how to play defense, either, clamping down defensively in the second quarter (it was all thanks to the bench coaching of Eric Snow, as Stuart Scott reported). Suddenly San Antonio missed 13-of-15 shots and committed uncharacteristic turnovers. Without anyone realizing it (including the announcers), the Cavaliers had taken the lead in the second quarter. (We have a series!)
But out of a time out midway through the second, the Spurs re-established themselves in a most impressive fashion. Duncan and Parker got them back into the lead. So what was said during that time out? Amazingly, ABC had Popovich wired for sound coming out of the commercial. We saw (and heard) him calming his team down, telling them not to hurry and to settle in right before the Spurs' run. Just a great job or prognosticative foreshadowing by the production crew (and spellchecking by me).
Some other memorable viewing moments that I might have missed had I actually been in the arena... Jeff Van Gundy losing his cool everytime the Spurs got their own rebound and converted off of a missed free throw. I enjoyed Van Gundy's insight that the third quarter Duncan-to-Ginobili alley-oop was taken right from the Argentinian National Team playbook (that's good stuff). The off-angle replays of Drew Gooden's flagrant foul on Ginobili also cleared up any doubt right away (not sure if they showed that in the arena or not).
You also had to love the shots of Brent Barry on the bench. Or more specifically, his playoff beard (Plus, I've actually been growing some scruff since no one's around the office). Doesn't he know that the Stanley Cup Finals ended last night (though I don't know who won)? And hearing Mike Breen repeatedly call Daniel Gibson "Boobie" will be one of the things I am most looking forward to in Game 2.
Also, I accidentally watched the second quarter in Spanish as I couldn't figure out how to switch back my SAP button. (I may have to watch the rest of the series that way. These guys are excelente!) We also saw about 25 different movie trailers throughout the game and a great halftime piece on the Popovich-Duncan relationship (these guys will introduce each other at their respective Hall-of-Fame enshrinements).
Plus, it was nice and quiet here at home. I love crowds and the enthusiasm of hometown fans, which I'm sure grew louder as the game got out of hand for the Cavs in the fourth quarter. But all that noise does make it hard to write and get work done (only thing that distracted me tonight was the toilet that I couldn't get to stop running). Perhaps best of all, I love that I get to turn off the television when the game is over, finish this baby up and go to sleep in my own bed (talk about a home-court advantage...).
But still... there is no other place in the world I would have rather been tonight than in San Antonio...