Sunday, June 18, 2017

Winning Time = Joyful Time?

First, it was a wonderful piece of work, one that I will likely be sucked into whenever it comes on, which, to my family's dismay, will likely be often. Any talk of the demise of ESPN will have to reckon with the fact that it continues to produce work like this, and others can't really match it, no matter how much talent is let go.

A couple notes:


  • They should make documentaries about everything Bill Walton was remotely involved in, so they can include his talking head interviews (and if there's a way to include Kevin McHale impersonating him, even better). Do another documentary on the Wooden UCLA teams, the 1977 Blazers, NBA and NCAA teams Walton covered as a color announcer, teams Luke Walton was involved in, etc. Have some of these already been done to death? Sure. Will we have to endure things like the anecdote of Wooden teaching the UCLA players how to put on their socks that we've heard a million times before? Sure. I don't care. I want more Bill Walton in my life.
  • Having said that, the coverage Walton relative to some other figures was probably disproportionate to their impact on the rivalry. I don't think Mychal Thompson's name was even mentioned, though he provided to front line bulk to deal with the Celtics' front line. Michael Cooper, who was on all the Lakers teams in the 1980s, got some talking head interviews, but was never discussed as a player. Robert Parish was discussed a bit when he was acquired, but then forgotten.
    Again, it's hard to blame to producers for leaning too heavily into a figure as compelling as Walton, but considering that Walton was only active for one Celtics-Lakers series, and was injured during it, it was probably a bit off.
  • Was Cedric Maxwell's agent involved in the production? Yes, he was the MVP of the 1981 Series, and led the team in scoring in Game 7 of the 1984 series, but he was not regarded as the fourth member of the Big Three. 
  • This may be coming from a place of privilege and having lived through it, but I thought the racial angle was laid on a little thick. I didn't need to revisit the Isiah Thomas controversy. And even that coverage failed to note, say the Red Sox troubled history with race. I was a white Sixers fan, and hated both teams, with an extra edge to hating the Celtics. Maybe elsewhere, people took sides based on race to a greater degree. But as the Celtics started kicking the Sixers ass every year, I don't recall a sentiment of, "at least we're getting beat by the White team." But maybe it was different elsewhere. Were white New Yorkers cheering for the Celtics? I kind of suspect not. (Plus racist Celtics fans would have to account for the fact that they were coached by a black man).
The thing that stuck out to me the most was the joy with which Magic Johnson played the game, and with which he continues to talk about it now.

It's a joy I haven't seen in any professional player in any sport, save for perhaps Brett Favre. The Warirors' game in general, and Steph Curry in particular, are almost joy personified. They are a joy to watch.

But, in general, the players seem to carry themselves with a more business-like manner than the joy that personified Magic. I've written before how LeBron James almost always seems to be carrying some unbearable burden. I think the Warriors are having fun, but I'm not as sure as I am with Magic.

Why is this? Magic was certainly under pressure. He was the #1 draft pick. He signed a big contract and forced his first coach out. He had the Lakers' legacy on his shoulders, as well as, the documentary would have you believe, an entire race.

Some mitigating factors:
  • He had Kareem, who would not take on the media burden, but was the best player to begin with.
  • He had Bird and the Celtics. There is not much shame in losing to a team like that.
But I think the biggest factor is that the template for modern superstars is not Magic but Michael Jordan. His competitiveness bordered on the pathological. He berated his teammates, and even had to step away from the game for a time. To this day, he remains bitter at those who slighted him. That's whose legacy LeBron is chasing, not Magic's.

Jordan eclipsed Magic in terms of NBA accomplishments. But if I had a son with elite NBA talent, I'd want him to emulate Magic's attitude rather than Jordan's.

It may seem that I am placing an additional burden on James -- not only do I expect you to win championships, but I expect you to look happy doing it. But I want LeBron to enjoy what he accomplishes, and if that means, he accomplishes slightly less, that's fine with me.
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