Sunday, February 17, 2008

Phoenix-Red Simplicity, Enshrined In That Not Extinguished Fire

The problem with describing basketball is that to be specific is to rob the description of its meaning. The stories of basketball are universal, eternal; to describe this hard-luck story, this single mother raising her tall skinny son to stay away from drugs and gangs, this nice boy from across the cornfields, is to take away that part of its power. But here I will be specific, and detail the most beautiful game I've seen in a very long time: the game between Phoenix and the Warriors.

It seems that Golden State is involved in a lot of these pretty games. And it's not hard to see why - if basketball is about speed, and skill, and shooting, and .0001 percent of humanity athleticism, then Phoenix is the epitome of basketball. And if that is so, then Golden State is the epitome of Suns basketball. (Plus a large helping of absurdity, an insane fanbase, and some of the best stories/tattoos in the league.) The Warriors are basketball in its purest form, and the Suns are close behind; and this was, therefore, the best game of the season, without a doubt.

When the Warriors are on, they are on. They're so on that they burn. When Stephen Jackson is pulling up threes in opponent's faces - when Baron Davis is hitting every shot he tries - when Monta Ellis is too fast to see, and Matt Barnes is making saves that seemed impossible - when Boom and Stack Jack and Matt Barnes are all getting technicals, not to mention Nelly - when Kelenna and the rooks are being exciting, and when Andris Biedrins is pulling in rebounds - rebounds! - it's every tired cliche possible to make. It's a circus, it's a choreographed dance, it's ridiculousness in basketball form, it's basketball the way it was always meant to be played. And the Suns, well. They're pretty good too.

There were times, in that game, when there wasn't a single player on the floor over six foot eight. In the same way that being separated from a lover will let one realize that one wasn't much in love to begin with, it's games like this that cause a spectator to think - Well, what's so great about big men anyway? Imagining Chris Webber (much as I adore him) and Shaq in that game - perhaps waiting under opposite baskets as the other players race by, glowering at each other from across the court and waiting for their turns to rebound and block shots - gave me, honestly, chills. No, this wasn't the National Basketball Association: this was basketball. This was five guys against five guys and see who scores more points. This was short-shorts and Julius Erving and only the showiest kind of D. This was perfect.

As interesting as the show the clicking, churning Warriors put on, as they always do, was the ongoing flux of the Suns. Are they, perhaps - heretical as it may be - better without Shawn Marion? Shaq will not, ultimately, make them much better, at least as far as basketball goes. But they played some of their best ball without Amare, and maybe they'll play better without the Matrix. Maybe Boris will remember that he's good at basketball, and try shooting sometimes; maybe Grant Hill will find his old glory; maybe Steve Nash's back will stay in one piece for that last half of the season. Maybe Brian Skinner will grow some hair and dye it purple, to go with that beard of his. Who knows? I want Steve to get his ring. And I hope that he gets it this year, while he can still stand up - even if it means that Iverson doesn't get it, or Jason Kidd, or Dirk, or any of the numerous others who should but don't. Maybe the Big Cactus, the Big Gaseous Body, the Big Knee Injury Waiting To Happen, can get Steve that ring. Or maybe the absence of Shawn will do it.

But that's half a season away; all one can pray for now is a playoff series between the Suns and the Warriors. The implications of that thought are, truly, goose-bump inducing.

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