Monday, June 16, 2008

State of the Franchise

Sometimes the most casual, unintentional comment can sum everything up perfectly.

At halftime of Game 5 last night, in what looked more like an attempt at holding back on making negative criticism, Bill Walton stated the Lakers would pull out the win because it was a solid franchise that wouldn’t let this one slip away. You could tell Walton didn’t even really believe it himself when he said it, but who knows maybe the Father’s Day spirit got to him and he decided not to bash his son’s team.

That 19-point first-quarter lead that HAD slipped away, just like the 24 point lead they lost late the previous game, became irrelevant when Walton reassured everyone a franchise like the Lakers were better than that. I have never been a fan of the franchise tag in basing outcomes; to me it’s the players in the game at that time, not a compilation of that organization’s past accomplishments that dictates success. Never stops the facts from being presented though: Team A has never lost at home versus Team B in the playoffs over the history of the franchise, and while they haven’t met in the playoffs over the past decade this still clearly puts Team B at a disadvantage heading in!

Since neither of these groups of players have had much of a history together before this season, it’s really quite useless to point to the franchise past as support for either of these teams in any game. But everything has turned that way, almost as if it was always meant to. Beginning with the hype leading in and further enforced with each game moving forward, the teams are taking priority over the highly recognized players.

Marketing-wise the Face-Off/Highlander ads the Association has run throughout the Playoffs, the ones which taught fans the proper person to cheer for/against for each respective team, turned the franchise angle by pairing up Bird with Magic. And this team over superstar theory is being further reinforced on the court now too. The inconsistent play of the star players has meant each win has come thanks to a tandem of players contributing over one doing it on their own.

As ESPN’s J.A Adande points out, although it was the stars who got these teams to this point it’s the supporting cast that has now taken over. The stars importance aren’t grabbing the headlines like once previously thought would be the case, which is kind of ironic when you consider it was blockbuster trades for a handful of players that allowed these two opponents to meet up here.

Doc Rivers made a comment at the end of Game 4 and reinforced this idea, an idea I personally thought was dead in the NBA; “This is a player's game. It always will be, and it really should be.” And as Adande further emphasizes; “As much as we fixate on the stars in the NBA, basketball remains a sport where the collective means more than the individual.”

It’s almost as if you get the feeling that this series was never supposed to be about anything BUT the franchises! And to that extent it may be possible that the only person anywhere near as happy as David Stern right now would have to be Chuck Klosterman (Chuck, if for whatever reason you're reading this blog PLEASE get a spot either on halftime or pregame or whatever to tell everyone what they're feeling this series - not only would I LOVE to see this but it'd likely help book sales too!).

It’s true the Lakers history had nothing to do with holding off another late surge by the Celtics, the banners in L.A.’s rafters had nothing to do with Boston’s all around poor performance last night. But it’s just a lot easier to see the teams over the stars right now; it almost makes sense to recognize the whole, which is rarely the case in the NBA these days.

Bill Walton’s analysis did little to sell me on the merits of the Lakers holding onto their narrow halftime lead, but he likely summarized the entire series in that one awkwardly stated comment. A series with a plethora of superstars has become an examination of the teams, not specific players, for a pleasant change. NBA basketball has returned from the brink of superstar oblivion, if only for a moment, for one championship series.

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