It’s back, baby!
After 196 days of withdrawal, anticipation, lockouts, light-hearted twitter declarations by rightfully beloved owners, and over-reaching punishments by an overly eager commissioner, life is back as it should be.
Tomorrow, at 2:30 pm, we get Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh in a game that matters. We get to settle in, grab some turkey, crack open a beer, and, that’s right, watch some NBA basketball.
You may have cursed the players. You may have cursed the owners. You may have considered quitting the game altogether. You may have forgotten what it looked like, sounded like, felt like. It all seems like a distant memory now.
But the lockout, the one that was supposed to wipe out the entire 2011-12 season, is over.
Forget the “nuclear winter” references. There’s no more need for nifty marketing tricks by a league that threatened to undermine itself during the offseason. No need to feign interest in tired exhibition games or world tours.
We’re past trying to convince ourselves that hockey is an acceptable replacement. Past trying to rely upon one lousy game of football every seven days to carry us through.
We’re past hearing that damn phrase “basketball-related-income,” as it relates to how many dollars the players should be pocketing. Past hearing about the struggles of those poor owners trying to make ends meet. Past the audit reports, the tax forms, the lawsuits, Dwyane Wade and David Stern lashing out at each other from across the board room table.
We’re past trying to convince ourselves that all those hours we had free from the sport would somehow pour, seamlessly, into making us better people, more learned, the kind who understand what the hell is going on in the world and can start to appreciate the finer things in life. Now things are, thankfully, back to normal; all attempts at self-improvement will have to work themselves around the NBA schedule.
It’s time to start training that one eye to keep constant watch on the flow of the game, while the other peeks over at those half-naked cheerleaders. It’s time to start utilizing the halftime break as a means to scout the talent around us. It’s time to celebrate, say, 49 home victories with 20,000 of your closest strangers.
Sure, the now-settled labor dispute will, without a doubt, make the season more challenging. An entire offseason’s worth of predictions, rumors, scouting, speculation, signings, trades, injuries, scandals, preparation, practice and training have all been crammed into three short weeks. The compacted 66-game schedule will require every team to play games at a pace of more than one every two days, including games on three consecutive days at least once.
As a result, there will be sloppy play. There will be fluctuating intensity. There will be injuries. But those challenges only heighten the thrill of accomplishment.
Which brings us to the Miami Heat.
This year is going to be better.
The starting rotation will be the best in basketball. D-Wade, Bron and CB1 are going to find a way to simultaneously extract the best of each other. Mario Chalmers is going to build upon his playoff success and become the type of floor spacing guard this team so desperately craves. Joel Anthony is, well, a lost cause (let’s not get carried away).
The second going to deliver in a big way. A healthy Mike Miller is going to lead the league in three-point shooting. A healthy Udonis Haslem is going to lead the league in bench rebounding. Shane Battier is going to prove he remains a solid wing stopper with an effective (if not necessarily graceful) three-point stroke.
Norris Cole is going to deliver the breakout season he’s capable of. His quick first step will push the tempo offensively and make the game faster, more thrilling, and harder to defend. His dogged defense is going to be exactly what this team needs.
Coach Spoelstra is going to learn from past mistakes and, with an off-season of reflection, deliver an efficient offensive strategy for half-court success. Combined with what is already the game’s best transition offense and perhaps the game’s most suffocating defense, this team will blow out its opponents on a nightly basis.
This time, we will not be denied. This time, we will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Tip-off is less than twenty-four hours away. This is our time. This is our stage. Let’s get motivated. Let’s get this thing done.