Monday, March 10, 2008

No Respect in the West

Lakers Suns Basketball
Originally uploaded by smilly1010
A funny thing happened in the cafeteria at work the other day. A bunch of people were sitting around talking about the NBA. Somehow, pro basketball has drawn attention to itself in north Louisiana. Can it be the on-court success of the New Orleans Hornets? Unlikely. There is no fan base for the Hornets around here. Maybe it’s because some names we know have been in the news. Stromile Swift, who played at a local high school and at LSU, got into some trouble with his team and then was traded. Jason Kidd, who was at one point tabbed to be the next superstar of the nearby Dallas Mavericks, was re-acquired by that team. But it was Shaquille O’Neal who really captured the imaginations of the casual sports fan. Most folks around here are football fans who might give the NBA a glance once the playoffs start. Shaq transcends his sport, and his trade to the Phoenix Suns raised eyebrows. His LSU roots helped a little, too.
Most of the discussion concerned whether O’Neal would help or hurt the Suns. Would he fit into their style of play, or would they alter their style to suit him? Would this be a personal quest for him, a chance to play in the same conference with rival and former teammate Kobe Bryant? If the Suns were to best the Lakers, would it settle the question once and for all about which player was most responsible for the Lakers’ three consecutive championships to start this decade? Does Shaq have enough diesel left in the tank to fuel the Suns to the finals? All of those questions have yet to be answered, but opinions are getting a little firmer.

San Antonio Spurs
Originally uploaded by rosenbeans
Once again, the bulk of the attention is focused on the Western Conference. Six of the eight league champions since the turn of the century have come from the west. This year, the Boston Celtics seem to be tipping the scales slightly eastward, but they have yet to prove anything in the post season.
The most amazing thing about these basketball conversations isn’t what’s being said, though. It’s what is not being said. Which team is the reigning NBA champion? Which team has won three of the last five NBA titles? Which is the only Western Conference team besides the Lakers to win championships this decade? The San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs have a mini-dynasty going, and people just don’t seem to notice. David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Eva Longoria’s husband, that household name Manu Genobili all are superstars who have contributed to the Spurs’ amazing run of success. Yet, aside from the international acclaim Tony Parker received from marrying a beautiful TV star, the Spurs somehow seem to slip by essentially unnoticed. They are athletic, intensely competitive, clearly well-coached and proven winners. Yet, they’re not flashy. They go about their business without really calling attention to themselves. They make their home in a relatively small market which doesn’t draw big TV ratings.
With all due respect to Bryant, O’Neal and all of the Dallas Mavericks, the “other” team in the west is still the team to beat. They are the champions until somebody beats them. Now, that’s worth talking about.

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