Most NBA fans root for greatness; I sure as hell don't. I'm a Knicks fan born in the early-eighties, so true basketball greatness has never really been a friend of mine. More often, the best in the game have stood between the Knicks and real success. Later this week, you're going to hear many an ode to Tim Duncan, perhaps the greatest power forward of all time. You might even hear a passing reference to Duncan's first triumph, way-back-when, against the '99 Knicks - the last Knicks team to make the Finals is now but a footnote in the Duncan legend. The Knicks came oh-so-close in '94, with the great Patrick Ewing, only to be thwarted by the even-greater Hakeem Olajuwon. Oh, and there was this this guy named Jordan, back in the nineties...look him up, if you'd like. Why would a Knicks fan root for greatness? Did Sisyphus root for the boulder?
That being said, I'm about to go against my very nature as a Knicks fan tonight. Lebron James - best player of his generation - will play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and I'll be rooting for him. There, I said it. I need a shower.
This sure doesn't come easy for me. For any non-Knicks fans who may be reading this, let me clarify my LeBron hate. This is not only about the usual post-Decision queasiness, or the casually arrogant New York fan attitude about players who dare turn down the Knicks. Pat Riley is involved, you see, and to a Knicks fan, Pat Riley is the Antichrist. Did you know that Pat Riley forces the TNT cameramen to check with him before each closeup, so he knows when to hide his goblet full of lizard blood? It's true - he drinks it for its regenerative properties. Riles is like 40 years older than me, and yet I know in my heart that he will outlive me, and my children, and my children's children. When Skynet finally comes online, and the machines enslave mankind, you'll find Riles behind the scenes, filling in the machines on our weaknesses.
If all this Pat Riley stuff is true (and it is), then how can I possibly be rooting for his man Lebron tonight? I wish I could say that I've had some beautiful revelation, and that I've put the hate behind me, but in fact the opposite is true - this series has provided me with so much hatred, on both sides, that I've achieved a sort of equilibrium. While I couldn't root for the Heat in this series, how could I root for a Pacers team I've hated since childhood, the same team that just eliminated my Knicks? As the series has progressed, the Heat have looked more and more vulnerable and the Pacers seemed primed to take advantage. From a standpoint of pure fan pettiness, how is all this supposed to make me feel better? If anything, the Heat's lackluster performance in this series is a further twisting of the knife. This was supposed to be the Knicks' one (and possibly only) shot - they filled their squad with geriatric ballers and sharp-shooters, grabbed the two seed, and hoped for their shot to dethrone the Heat. Just get to the Conference Finals and who knows what might happen - maybe Wade gets hurt, maybe Chris Bosh stops playing basketball (and/or gets hurt), maybe Ray Allen miraculously forgets how to shoot threes, maybe, just maybe Chris Andersen somehow becomes their second-best player and then gets himself suspended for a game.
The fact that all these things have happened for the benefit of the Pacers is devastating to me as a Knicks fan. Look at Indiana's roster - they're so....what's the opposite of "old"? Paul George has already made the leap, Roy Hibbert is completing his leap, Lance Stephenson will probably make the leap next. The Pacers will be a contender for the foreseeable future. Who knows, maybe their fans will show up for the next regular season (25th in regular season attendance). Why, God, why?
The only silver lining in this seven-game festival of Knick fan bitterness is that it has allowed me to come back to LeBron James. Like many I was disgusted by his departure from Cleveland, the fact that he ran to Wade and Riles for help. Now, Wade is a shell of his former self, Riles hasn't been able to summon his patented "let's use a goon to start a fight and trick the other team into leaving the bench area" magic, and Bosh is either shedding his exoskeleton or transforming into his pupa stage or whatever the hell his species does when they start sucking at basketball. LeBron is alone, soldiering on, and playing like a champion, win or lose. This series is everything the world wanted to see from him in Cleveland, when their front office failed to surround him with the necessary talent, and it has been a privilege to watch, regardless of hatred for every single person involved. When I saw him driving the ball into Roy Hibbert in Game 6, the phrase "dumps like a truck" popped into my mind; I thought it must have been from some bad-ass action flick, but I googled it and apparently it's a lyric from Sisqo's "Thong Song." Still, I think it's an apt description.
As much as it pains me to say it, I'm hoping Lebron continues to dump like a truck in Game 7. I'm hoping for a performance for the ages, Riley or no Riley. And then, when it's all said and done, I'll go back to rooting for the Spurs in the Finals.