Baseball is still our greatest sport, but basketball is the most human. Basketball is the sport that, by the nature of the game itself, reveals character, personality, and makeup — or the lack thereof — more vividly and accurately than any other game.
That incontrovertible reality was dramatically on contrastive display in recent days in the NBA playoffs.
Just a few sunsets after the Boston Celtics, un-led by Kyrie Irving, the league’s premier it’s-all-about-me self-worshiper, put on a repugnant display of basketball the wrong way, the short-handed, Golden State Warriors rode gloriously to the rescue with a surgical clinic of basketball the right way.
Full disclosure: I can’t stand the Warriors. Individually, most of them are a loud, cocky, pompous, preening, spoiled, arrogant, juvenile band of elitists.
But when it comes time to play the game, they play the game. They play it the way it’s supposed to be played, and they keep playing it that way until they’ve outplayed all comers.
Except in 2016.
One of the reasons I love to hate the greatness of the Warriors is that it accentuates the greatness of what the Cavs did in 2016. A central player in that unforgettable drama was, ironically, now in hindsight, Irving. His history-making Game 7-winning shot will rightfully stand as the singular peak for a player now rapidly descending into a sad, pathetic professional immolation, an unforced error by a spectacularly skilled player, whose career is careening into Elephant Manish ostracism by his simple, stubborn refusal to get over himself.
He is the ultimate anti-Warriors player.
For all their individual pomp and circumstance, what the Warriors do best is this: at crunch time they get over themselves and play a version of team basketball that is the antithesis of Irving’s version.
After missing all but seven of the 22 shots he took in Boston’s Game 4 loss to Milwaukee, Irving said, “I should have shot (more).” During that same series, Irving told ESPN, “I’m an actual genius when it comes to this game.”
If Irving is a genius, he shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out what ESPN’s Jalen Rose meant when he said, “Kyrie is done in Boston, and his teammates will help him pack.”
In Irving’s two years in Boston, the Celtics regularly played better in games he didn’t participate. Without him, they played together. They played rugged defense. They shared the ball. With him, it was every man for himself, and the Bucks flushed them in five games.
Irving demanded the Cavs trade him because he wanted his own team. The Cavs traded him to Boston. Two years later, the Celtics want their team back. Irving’s me-first, chemistry-killing personality seemed to swallow whole all of Coach Brad Stevens’ attempts at building a Warriors East.
Meanwhile, the Warriors West continue to look like the NBA’s best, because of their ability to unselfishly play their best when things look their worst.
One of the finest moments of their five-year era of Warriorsization came Friday night in Houston. Playing on the road, without their best player, with Steph Curry going scoreless — scoreless! — in the first half, the Warriors didn’t splinter into a band of pouty, selfish, “I’m-going-to-get-mine” fake actual geniuses, as did Irving, and his un-led Celtics.
Instead, the Warriors checked their egos, agendas and pomposity at the door, hunkered down and played a nearly perfect game of team basketball, while short-handed, in a hostile gym, to beat and eliminate the Rockets.
In so doing, the Warriors rescued the sport’s honor from the lingering horror that was Game 5 of the Boston-Milwaukee series; soiled by the air balls shot on and off the court by Uncle Vain who, before the final game was over, strode past his own coach, on his way, bizarrely, to the other end of the floor to congratulate the Bucks for their series-clinching pummeling of the team that Irving sought as his own, saw as his own, and sunk as his own.
So the team that Irving vanquished with his Shot of the Century in 2016 advances to within four wins of another trip to the NBA Finals.
Irving advances to a retreat from Boston, where what’s left of the Celtics and Stevens’ coaching chops lie strewn on the side of the road.
A free agent, and seemingly still oblivious to the fact that he’s his own worst enemy, Irving will go searching for another team in need of a basketball genius, regardless of the cost to team chemistry.
Maybe he’ll end up with the Lakers, the wayward, prodigal little brother to LeBron. The two of them wondering why nobody wants to play with them anymore.
Meanwhile the Warriors have begun researching parade routes.
They may be loud, cocky and pompous.
But when it comes time to play the game, they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and they play it better than anyone else.
- Steph Curry, Warriors take Game 1 of Western Conference finals
- A break, then NBA Finals: Warriors eager for some time off
- On Basketball: Has Kyrie played his last game for Celtics?
- Rockets, Bucks seek to avoid falling into 2-0 holes
- Commentary: LeBron, Kyrie leading way as NBA turns into league of miserable
- Jim Ingraham: Hey, Kyrie, how's that whole 'Being The Man' thing working out for you?
- NBA: Kyrie Irving tells LeBron James he's sorry he didn't listen better when they were with Cavaliers
- Kevin Durant leads the way again, Warriors lead Rockets 2-0
- NBA Playoffs: Warriors squander 31-point lead, Clippers tie series at 1-1