Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saturday Catch-Up: UNC and Michael Jordan.

UNC Alumni Game
Last weekend, the Dean Smith center in Chapel Hill played host to an exhibition game made up of former UNC basketball players. It was, in short ridiculous. Some highlights: Vince Carter dunking off a ball bounced off the backboard (twice). Wayne Ellington dunking on Antawn Jamison. Ty Lawson crossing over Raymond Felton. Danny Green, the surprising high scorer, was draining threes from all over. Everyone was there (except Rasheed Wallace), and it was beautiful. LIKE A DREAM.

Here are some highlights:

Here is the box score.

The others were all there. You'd see them around town all week. It was UNC basketball nirvana. Some bits of related miscellany:

Rashad McCants Still Looking For A Job

I love Rashad. He treats his fans pretty well, despite anything I may have said in the past. How many NBA players give out their Xbox Live handle, their AIM, and their BlackBerry Messenger info in an effort to keep talking and playing with all of his fans? Not too many. He's a good guy and a helluva baller, but his inablity to get a job right now apparently got the Carolina family concerned. This is a nice article about the resulting discussion.

Marvin Williams Middle Name
I love Marvin. I may have, however, unfairly called him a nerd. Why do I now step back from this? His middle name is Gaye. Marvin Gaye Williams. This man can not, by law, be a nerd. Apologies all round.

The Man
Also at the Alumni Game, there was a Man. His name is Michael Jordan. Last night he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Now, thousands of words have already been written about this event and MJ and what he means. I just want to make two points: When people talk about the greatness of Carolina Basketball, they usually link it to Dean Smith, and this is indisputable. The first NCAA Championship that Dean Smith won, however, is owed to Michael Jordan, that final winning shot against Georgetown. Without Jordan, Dean Smith has one championship. A great coach, but not one of the greatest of all time. Carolina Basketball, as an institution, plays down the role of Jordan, instead emphasizing a grand tradition of which Jordan is only a small part. Amazingly though, this is one area in which Jordan maybe doesn't get enough credit. Dean Smith is the Man in Chapel Hill, but what would he have been without Jordan?

The second point I want to emphasize is one about the NBA. The NBA, unlike most other sports leagues, is one where the central driving narrative of the league is easily and readily apparent. The individual struggles of the various cities and teams to win championships is a tiny, minor part of the NBA. If I were trying to explain to a Hollywood studio guy what the NBA is about in terms of it's spine or central story, the answer is easy: Who is the heir of Jordan? Is it Lebron? WILL HE FULFILL THE PROPHECY?

Jordan was the Greatest of All Time (some proof) and anyone who suggests otherwise is flatly wrong. Basketball since his reign, and even during the latter part of it, has been preoccupied with the search for a worthy heir. This is what has been driving the story of the NBA. For a while, we thought it was Kobe, but the sun is setting on him and it looks like he was merely a mirage. Unless he wins the championship every season for the next three seasons, and even if he does, it's hard to credit Kobe as a credible heir.

But what of Lebron, the Chosen One? Well, using some projections, it looks like he's going to have a real chance at surpassing the statistical achievements of Jordan, at least. The guys at Basketball Prospectus break it down here. Will he win six championships though? Much harder to say. But, this, the underlying thought behind this question, is the reason we watch the NBA. The spine, the essence, the main plot of the NBA is whether Lebron will meet expectations and surpass the achievements of Jordan. There are subplots, rivalries, and championships; these are interesting and entertaining details, but they really are just subplots. When boiled down to its bare essence, the question is as simple and elemental as you might imagine: Will anyone ever be as good as Jordan?

This is why we can't take our eyes off the Chosen One. The era of Jordan is officially done. Now, we live in the time of Lebron.

That is all.