Links: NBA Finals Diary, Day 0

by Lang Whitaker

Here we go again. Starting tomorrow, I’m on the road for the next few weeks, all depending on how long the NBA Finals runs. You guys know I travel regularly for SLAM stuff, but the Finals is completely different. Last year was the first time I covered the entire thing, and it was a total grind. It’s completely unlike All-Star Weekend, where the goal is to cram as much stuff into 3 days as you can. At the Finals, the goal seems to be to stretch things out as much as possible. There’s a game tomorrow night, for instance, and then there’s nothing on Friday…nothing on Saturday…nothing all day Sunday…then a game Sunday night. And you get to spend two weeks mostly surrounded by sportswriters, which is always interesting.

All of this means one thing: Introspection. Living in Manhattan, there’s always something going on, always some place else to be, some other place to go. For the next few weeks, I’ve got nowhere to be except at NBA Finals games. It may not sound like it at the moment — I’m pacing myself — but I’m very excited about this. I always tell people that if you love sports, I have the best job in the world. And for the next few weeks, I’m being paid to watch, in person, the championship series of the NBA.

I am also being paid to write about it. I’m purposely not writing much for the next issue of SLAM, because I wanted to be able to focus on writing stuff for the site during the Finals. We’re going to call it the Finals Diary, because inevitably I will end up sharing too much information over the next few weeks. Take this entry I wrote from Miami for last year’s Finals reports…

I’ve now been on the road for so long that things are starting to seem unnatural. Over the last 22 days, I’ve spent a total of three nights in my own apartment, in my own bed. I’m like an NBA player when the circus is in town at my home arena, and it feels as though I’m not able to return home even if I wished I could. My apartment in NYC isn’t exactly plush or luxurious, but I miss my couch, my TV, my PlayStation, my shower, my toilet, my closet full of clothes (as opposed to a bag full of the same dozen items I’ve been mixing and matching for three weeks; luckily, had my laundry delivered by the hotel a few hours ago). At least I switched out all my shoes this week when I stopped through New York, because having different shoes to choose from make me feel really pretty inside, like I’m Imelda Marcos.

Nothing against hotels, where they seem at least happy to pretend to be happy to see me, but I like walking into my apartment and smelling the way it always smells. For some reason, these big hotels always smell like liquid soap to me. You walk in the lobby and it overwhelms you. I’ve stayed in a few top-end hotels in my day, and they never smell like soap. They generally have candles burning or incense smoldering, and it imparts an exotic and warm scent, like being in an Abercrombie and Fitch. I like hotels, because you can stick the do not disturb sign on your door and live freely inside your room. Dirty clothes end up in a pile. I didn’t brush my hair all day today. And it doesn’t bother anyone. The best part about this hotel is that I have a balcony and, even just sitting here at the desk, I have a perfect view of Biscayne Bay and, way over across the water, South Beach. I don’t know what it is but the water is just so calming, so serene.

Down the street last night near the Arena, the NBA held their annual media barbecue, where it appears a few horribly unlucky members of the media were pulled aside, had an apple stuffed in their mouths, a stick jammed down their throats and out their stomachs, and then had their feet bound and tied to the stick. The whole contraption was loaded onto a spit and they were slowly roasted over an open-wood fire, preferably hickory wood as it imparts a sweet/smoky flavor to the meat. I did not attend the media barbecue for reasons that should be apparent to anyone sane.

Sanity, it turns out, is playing with me. Yesterday I started wondering if people can read my mind. I went down to the lobby to get a cup of coffee. I boarded a down elevator and after about twenty floors, the car stopped on the fourth floor. A man got on board and hit the button for the third floor. Just one level down. I studiously avoided making eye contact with the man and thought to myself, Couldn’t he take the stairs? Unprompted, the man spoke up, “Believe me, if I knew where the stairs were, I would have taken them.” How did this man know what I was thinking? Was I sharing an elevator with The Amazing Kreskin?

Last week in Dallas, I went over to hang out with my friend Matt at his apartment. Ryan decided to stay behind and chill at the hotel. A few hours later I called to see if he wanted to go grab dinner with us, and he declined, saying he was enjoying his “alone time.” Ryan is married, he has a young kid, and this requires constant attention. So I understand him embracing the chance to sit in his room, read his book, watch a movie, order some room service and basically put himself first for a few hours.

At this point, though, I’ve had enough of me. I’ve been sitting around writing the last two days, with World Cup soccer and HBO on in the background. Right now I’m watching Ocean’s 12 for about the fifteenth time in the last three years. There’s a volume issue with the TV — it’s always either a bit too loud or it’s not quite loud enough. I’ve been shifting the volume back and forth and back and forth and I can’t find the happy medium. Also of note is that there’s a mini-refrigerator in my room that doesn’t work. I’d guess that prehaps there’s a mechanical problem or something, but what’s particularly strange is that this is the second consecutive hotel room I’ve had where the refrigerator doesn’t work. Coincidence? Or is this just some new way to store beverages: room temperature, but inside a non-working refrigerator so that you just think you’ve got a cold beverage?

Earlier yesterday, we went over to the Arena for practice. Came back to the hotel after that and then last night Khalid and I led a field trip of a few other NBA writers over to Little Havana, and I took them to Versailles, one of the greatest old-school Cuban restaurants in the world. From there we went over to South Beach, where we convened a roundtable discussion (actually sitting around a round table) featuring NBA writers from ESPN the Magazine, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Orlando Sentinel, SLAM and others, and for over three hours we sat at a few tables under the stars and argued about basketball. Does Dirk Nowitzki qualify as a superstar? Where does Kobe rank among the greatest players of all time? Is Shaq the greatest center of all time? If you put KG on Dallas instead of Dirk would they have made the Finals? Is Elton Brand better than KG? Should Dwyane Wade re-sign with Miami? Who is the all-time greatest power forward? The most dominant college player of the last two decades? We went like that forever and time flew by. There were a lot of heated arguments, a lot of terrific points made and a lot of flat-out hilarious lines spit. It was like “The Sports Reporters,” except good.

So I’m ready. I’ll be filing stuff pretty often from down there, both game notes and practice notes, plus whatever other random stuff comes to mind. Also, I’m not shaving until the NBA Draft. I could end up looking like LJ by the time the Draft comes around. Although, with the way my facial grows, I’ll probably look more like Benny Feilhaber.

Anyway, moving on to the actual games…

No matter how much I think about it, I just can’t see Cleveland winning this series. I know they were 2-0 against San Antonio during the regular season, and I know they have that LeBron guy, but San Antonio is San Antonio. They dismantle good basketball teams for a living. Someone on ESPN the other night was talking about the Spurs and saying they hadn’t played against a defense as good as Cleveland’s defense. Really? I know the Cavs are leading the postseason in fewest points allowed, but then, they haven’t really been playing against the Suns, either. Other than knocking off Detroit, the Cavs had a relatively easy road to the Finals, playing Washington without Gilbert and Caron and Jersey without any post players. And even Detroit didn’t really seem to be on track during the EC Finals.

Now Cleveland gets a San Antonio team operating at full-blast, coming off an unprecedented 9 days of rest. Mike Brown is a fine coach (regardless of the media piling on him lately), but Gregg Popovich might be the best coach in the NBA. Pop will not get out-coached by Brown in a seven game series. And don’t think Pop hasn’t installed a few hitches for the Cavs over the last 9 days. Detroit was able to derail Cleveland by switching to a simple full-court zone; Pop surely learned from that.

The thing is, however, I didn’t think Cleveland was going to beat Detroit, either. But they did.

A few other things to get to…

• I’ve heard everyone talking about how Kevin Durant couldn’t bench press 185 pounds at the combine. My response is, If I was drafting guys for a Mr. Olympia competition, I’d be worried. But I’m not. Kevin’s going to be awesome, regardless of what his bench press is. Was Reggie Miller (and his 25,000+ career points) a bodybuilder? Or even a guy like Bob Pettit? Oden’s speed and agility were impressive, but I don’t think he’ll be able to sprint around Shaq or Dwight Howard or even Erick Dampier. What I’m saying is, I suppose all these numbers are interesting, but I prefer to look at these numbers.

• Billy Donovan is expected to be released from his Orlando contract today to return to Florida. And while it sucks for Orlando fans, you do not want someone coaching your team who doesn’t want to be there. I’d definitely make him pay some cash money, though — he put the team through a very embarrassing situation in a very public way. Making him sign a non-compete is a good start, but make him at least pay for the lawyers sorting all this out.

• Look who’s going to the D-League! Hope they have extensive hair-care products available. And in other D-League news, Miller Lite is giving you a chance to play in the D-League. Click the link for details, but basically you create a video, upload to and, if you make the cut, you’ll get an invite to the official D-League tryout camp. Also, Mikki Moore is somehow involved in all this. If a SLAMonline reader makes it, I expect frequent reports.

I guess that’s it. I’ll check in with you guys tomorrow from deep in the heart of Texas.