I’ll be the first to admit that the US sports marketing machine often has me hypnotised to the point of lacking objective clarity.
But dagnabbit, they put on a good spread.
This month, the baseball post-season has been constant entertainment and tonight the Red Sox take a 3-2 World Series lead back to Boston that will either lead to a historic overall victory or a mouth-watering Halloween finale.
The NFL is warming up nicely, thanks to a general dip in standard which has no team dominating to any significant extent.
Major League Soccer enters its play-offs phase this weekend and if hockey is your thing, just having it back at a normal stage of the season is reason enough for fans of that persuasion to enjoy life a little more.
Now into that heady mix is thrown a resurgent NBA, which launched its season last night amidst a canny promotional build-up that both centres around the undeniable quality of its many top stars and a refusal to be hung up on any conventional presentation of the product. The respective national television presenters and analysts are refreshingly irreverent — if a little lacking in substance — while the players themselves are fond of antagonising each other with sound-bytes which are slam dunks for controversy.
It’s a little trivial but all the better for it. When the professional game is as strong as it appears to be, all that big talk is more often than not backed up by what happens on the hardwood. Of course, the Miami Heat’s LeBron James personifies the newly invigorated confidence of a sport that — when taking into account the previous 30 years — was in the doldrums a decade ago.
His unprecedented athleticism is world-renowned but in many ways it’s even more impressive how happy he seems to be to take the entire league on his shoulders.
All the better to win the thing you dominate… I suppose that’s the logic.
That said, the all-time greatness he so badly craves remains delicately poised and this season will tell a lot. Can he be the first player since Larry Bird did it in 1986 to win three straight awards for overall Most Valuable Player?
Can he bring Miami through to the finals next spring for the fourth time in-a-row? Win his third title in-a-row? Be the first since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2000, 2001 and 2002 to win finals MVPs over and over?
Conventional wisdom still has Michael Jordan as the greatest and, naturally, the ultimate justification of a career’s grandeur is the amount of championship titles garnered. Jordan has the edge, as do the old school guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell who won multiple rings with the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics respectively. And although Wilt Chamberlain never enjoyed the team success to match his own pioneering abilities, it’s tantamount to blasphemy to place LeBron above him at the moment.
Then there’s the more recent greatness of Kobe Bryant who has been sauntering through rehab on a devastating achilles injury to try and salvage a potential late burst in his illustrious career. There’s no greater threat to the Black Mamba’s modern era dominance than LeBron James and it would pain Bryant deeply if, after all the work he has put in since going straight from high school to the professional game in the late 90s, he were to find himself overshadowed for posterity.
A truly fascinating season awaits. Apart from Miami’s probable canter to the Eastern Conference decider, the other teams a level down bring with them myriad possibilities to shake things up and make it difficult for the Heat.
The Chicago Bulls have their star playmaker, Derrick Rose, coming back from a serious knee injury. The Brooklyn Nets have strengthened their squad with proven talent, thanks to an eyebrow-raising move that brought Boston Celtics legends Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the New York borough. The west is even more intriguing. The past-their-prime LA Lakers will probably find themselves sidelined by their city and arena rivals, the Clippers, while Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have a serious amount of unfinished business and will be as focused on legacy as anyone. The San Antonio Spurs will be a shade weaker but still a threat while the Houston Rockets are the dark horses, having quietly put together a team capable of ruffling feathers.
In reality, none of the games which take us to Christmas will have any long-term consequence. The NBA structure and season could do with a little trimming.
But the powers-that-be are no fools. They have us exactly where they want us, greedily craving more and more.
* johnwr...@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan