Itâ€™s a damn shame that Iâ€™m not a neurologist/bio-physicist/actually smart. If only I could worm my way into qualifying for any of those 3 categories, I could explain â€“ or at the very least, make a semi-valid attempt to explain â€“ why the hidden mechanism responsible for our memory is so detached from reality.
Iâ€™m hardly the first person to raise this question in basketball-related scenarios. In fact, right above the computer screen through which IÂ monitor what Iâ€™m typing, stands Bill Simmonsâ€™ 700 page roundball magnum opus, proudly proclaiming its purpose as â€œevaluating why certain players and teams mattered more than othersâ€.
Say what you will about Simmons â€“ god knows that I frequently find myself reading his stuff while vigorously nodding my head either horizontally or vertically â€“ but his book does a fantastic job of tackling this very question. Nitpickers will surely gloss over the gallons of unadulterated basketball knowledge to point out the seemingly obvious Boston-bias or the abundance of pop culture references, while ignoring just how well-researched every Russell-over-Wilt or 86-Celtics-over-96-Bulls argument is, or how Magic is ranked over Bird, or how the pop references are what makes Simmons Simmons.
Now, Iâ€™m not here to offer a belated-review to The Book of Basketball, which has been on the shelves for over a year. But my mind immediately wandered to Simmons and his guiding question when I read this quote from John Hollingerâ€™s breakdown of the awfulness that is Cavs (ESPN Insider):
â€œ[The Cavs are] so bad that Toronto has lost 13 straight games and nobody is paying them any mind.â€
(Note: the Raptors have since broken their losing streak. Thank you, Minnesota!)
Both the Cavs and the Raptors have been absolutely horrendous at basketball this season, no doubt about that. And the Cavs have far outdone the Raptors both in the depths to which they have plummeted, and in the heights from which they fell. But one canâ€™t escape the feeling that the coverage has still been quite disproportionate. Why would one teamâ€™s ineptitude be such a bigger story than the others? In fact, let me one-up that question: why would any teamâ€™s ineptitude be a story to begin with? Why celebrate the weak? Why, to use Simmonsâ€™ word, does it matter? If youâ€™re awful, you should be the exact opposite of mattering, shouldnâ€™t you?
This fascination with the futile isnâ€™t a new thing. Just last season, the Nets were getting more coverage out of their 12-70 run than during 2008-2009, when they were featuring Devin Harrisâ€™ breakout season and a still-alive Vince Carter. Watching a team getting blown out night after night isnâ€™t very interesting on the court, but as is the case with your proverbial train wreck, we canâ€™t avert our eyes. And eyes were unaverted as the Cavs fulfilled their destiny-of-terrible Saturday night, when they broke the NBAâ€™s record for most consecutive losses, and Monday night, when they spiraled further downward still.
Still, I struggle to find the appeal. I canâ€™t make an apt comparison to baseball because Iâ€™ve never been interested in it, but it does seem like records mean far less in the NBA â€“ perhaps because they are so unobtainable. Winning more than anybody else is impossible thanks to the Auerbach Celtics, the 95-96 Bulls and the 71-72 Lakers. Scoring more than anybody else is impossible thanks to Wilt, everybody inÂ the 60s in general, and to a lesser degree, the 80s, with your Showtime Lakers, Doug Moe Nuggets, and others of that ilk. Even secondary records are completely out of reach for the mortal basketball player â€“ who will ever approach 55 boards, 30 assists, 11 steals or 17 blocks in a single game? Itâ€™s what made Kobeâ€™s 81 so special â€“ as far as the record book is concerned, itâ€™s only the second best performance ever, but given the perspective of time, itâ€™s impossible not to rank it first.
Of course, itâ€™s unfair to penalize current NBA players for what happened in past generations, when the pace was faster, and the discrepancy between the top and bottom tiers was much wider. Itâ€™s harder to set records when your team is playing slower and against better competition. It only makes sense.
And so, we cling to any record we can get. If itâ€™s something as marginal as the (still awful) Toronto Raptors scoring a three in whatever-that-pointless-number-was consecutive games, or records that are symbols of awfulness. However, as a person who values the human mind and processes of learning (though I rarely actually follow through on this oh-so-modernistic promise), I struggle to muster excitement in the face of a record which teaches us … well, what does this teach us?
Does it teach us that the Cavs should blow everything up? Trade the few remaining assets they have for pennies on the dollar and go through the entire process again, this time doing it right by not giving a narcissistic 25 year old veto power in every decision the franchise makes? Everybody remotely involved with basketball, excluding people whoâ€™s names rhyme with Gan Dilbert, has known this for months.
Does it teach us just how great Lebron James is? In theory, it should solidify Lebronâ€™s stature as this games’ greatest active player, showing us just how bad those teams he carried to 60 wins really are. But Lebronâ€™s case is such a polarizing one, that the Cavsâ€™ implosion without him was almost inevitable, and anything but educational. Those who recognized Lebronâ€™s greatness feel validated, while those who didnâ€™t will always find a way to diminish from him, until he wins that ring and maybe beyond.
Does it teach us that Christian Eyenga is not, in fact, the messiah? It strongly hints in that direction, and yet, we refuse to truly believe.
The Cavs being this bad, ultimately, means nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you need proof, look no further than Sunday, when the Wizards and their winless road record are expected to visit the Cavs and what will then be, barring some kind of upset along the way, a 27 game losing streak. Two wounded beasts, fighting not for their lives, the ends of which are a forgone conclusion, but for the remaining ounce of dignity still in their bodies, the ultimate gladiatoristic â€œare you not entertained?â€ kind of moment.
Except â€“ weâ€™re not entertained. Not by the Cavs, we arenâ€™t. For this wounded beast, the wound is so severe, the beast so weak to begin with, that if Julius Caesar himself were forced to watch, he would probably just spend the night waiting for the t-shirt toss while staring into his iPhone. I wonder how â€œEt tu, Brute?â€ sounds in T-Painâ€™s voice.
And thatâ€™s the craziest thing with the Cavsâ€™ tumble into the depths of basketball hell: It doesnâ€™t interest us. It does the opposite â€“ we donâ€™t sit and stare in horror at the prospect of an NBA team with Daniel Gibson as their best player and Joey Graham, Manny Harris, and messiah-Eyenga functioning as their wing rotation, we just shrug sadly and change the channel. It doesnâ€™t stretch our viewing senses beyond their original boundaries, since every single one of us knew this was a possibility, whether we viewed it as a worst case scenario (as things have indeed developed) or an absolute certainty. It doesnâ€™t even make us sad: the most tragic thing about this entire ordeal is that the Thunder wonâ€™t be able to trade for Anderson Varejao. And ultimately, it will soon be forgotten, as this is by far the best way for the Cavalier ruins to build themselves up again.
By allocating pity, we somehow make ourselves feel better. â€œOooh, look at me, I care! How dare you sign with Miami, Lebron, you selfish bastard! Why yes, I am a Knicks fan, why do you ask?â€ But the bottom line is that with these Cavs, our senses arenâ€™t stimulated enough to activate the pity glands. Not when deep down, we love that Lebron signed with Miami, because, for crying out loud, how often do you get to see teams like that?
And the Cavs will be fine. Somehow, franchises always are. Their owner is way too rich for contraction to be any kind of a threat, theyâ€™ll have great draft positioning from now until forever, and, as mentioned before, they have Christian Eyenga. It probably sucks real bad to be a fan of theirs right now, but for the rest of us? Maybe itâ€™s time to listen to Derrick Rose and just leave Cleveland alone.