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NBA

Is That All There Is?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 30: Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers reacts to the crowd after a Phoenix Suns foul during the first half in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center on June 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Comrade Thompson’s ode to the Los Angeles Clippers is the sports blog of the summer, in that by correctly identifying the Clippers as a POG (Pile Of Guys), he has praised their level of industry while pointing out the thing that eventually doomed them. In defeat, the Clippers were ushered offstage and are simultaneously being considered noble for perhaps the first time ever.

But there is a larger point, and that POG Syndrome explains the assorted 2021 postseasons, the entire sports season, and maybe even the entire year. Time has become as compressed as the schedules as we try to reassemble what we think we remember from the pre-COVID times, and we are left with a wholly dissatisfying year to date at the halfway point of the calendar.

The NBA playoffs are solely a tribute to the powers of attrition, and while you will be bombarded in the coming days with redemptive tales of Chris Paul (even though he didn’t need to be redeemed), the real narrative has been about who was hurt and how badly, how as a result the games were disjointed and untrustworthy as harbingers of anything other than getting to the end, and how whoever wins will be an unsatisfying champion. This may be part snobbery, since the semifinal field of Buffalo/San Diego/LA, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Buffalo/Moline/Milwaukee/St. Louis/Atlanta, has produced two winners in the entire history of the league, and none in the last 50 years, but the NBA is all about snobbery and always has been, going back to the time when the Lakers were Minneapolis’s problem. It does not do upstarts well, and whether the Suns, Bucks or Hawks win the title, they will probably be forgotten almost immediately, like the 1978 Seattle SuperSonics.

The Stanley Cup doesn’t have that same problem, but only because the Tampa Bay Lightning are becoming the stealthiest dynasty since the San Antonio Spurs. They are halfway through an expected sweep, in four games or otherwise, of the hopelessly outgunned Montreal Canadiens, who got to this point on the backs of nine one-goal wins (10, if you discard an empty-netter), six of those in overtime. In other words, puck luck and a classic jersey crest that made Brendan Gallagher seem like the logical successor to Henri Richard, which he isn’t—although he does do good bloodface.

The pre-Olympics are trying and, other than Simone Biles, failing to catch the casual imagination. Baseball has gone from gunk to domestic violence to Rob Manfred, whose entire image is of a five-day beard and whose very name invokes the dread that comes with a statement by him pretending to do something. Next to him, Bud Selig is Conan O’Brien. College sport is doing the image and likeness okeydoke, taking a tiny victory for a few athletes and using it as proof that it has their best interests at heart. Put another way, they allowed that begowned oil stain Brett Kavanagh to look progressive in that “Hey, at least I’m not James Clark McReynolds” kind of way. Baylor won the NCAA Tournament and finally shed itself of Kim Mulkey, which is a win-win for a university that has mostly been a hard watch as an athletic power. The NFL is letting Tom Brady be its dancing monkey until the start of training camp when fans pretend that backup quarterbacks throwing 12-yard outs repeatedly are the same as new scientific discoveries, at least until Aaron Rodgers and the Mannings get into their long-anticipated fight to be the game show hosts of the future.

In short, it’s July 1, and other than being Canada Day, today’s real value is that it can be used as a bookmark for a year that needs to get a whole lot better to be considered stultifyingly mediocre and only occasionally irksome. Why don’t we just hedge our bets at this point and hope for a better 2027?