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Hostage Crisis: Chris Paul and the NBA Ring Chase

July 25, 2010

When I was a kid, I loved Cracker Jacks.  I used to always open the box and jam my whole forearm down into the layers of caramel-coated popcorn.  My whole arm grew sticky and came out smelling like a warehouse full of cardboard, and if I hadn't gotten hold of the prize I so desperately sought, I might have felt dirty.  The thing is, every Cracker Jack box guaranteed a prize.  There was no doubt, so it was always worth it.

One of the best prizes was a plastic ring.  A ring at the bottom of that box could transform any kid into Frodo or the Green Lantern.  I could fly with a ring, become invisible, shoot lasers out of it, or make all my servants kiss it.  Rings transform the ordinary.  They are by the nature of their shape eternal, that is unless one believes in counting them, and the importance shifts not just to the issue of "do you have one" but to "how many do you have."  The ring chase defines the NBA.  Every great player is judged by it, driven by it, redeemed, or torn apart by it.  It's how we compare the generations.  They know it.  We know it, and no one questions it, or even second guesses it.  The ring is worth it.  Always.  And that's why we have a problem.

Originally, this article was to focus primarily on Chris Paul's trade demands, but then I saw Bethlehem Shoals had already covered Chris Paul's trade demands--making my thoughts on the matter like a South Park episode where all we hear is "The Simpsons did it"--but the fact  that Chris Paul is now doing more than toasting his desires to leave New Orleans at weddings gives all of us an angle on how history might come to view LeBron's departure from Cleveland and, ultimately, the NBA's ring chase.

Aside from the fact that New Orleans is not Paul's hometown and he is not quite the player that LeBron is, the motivations to take the perceived "easy road" to a championship are the same.  While many people believed LeBron's destiny was to become the best player in the history of the game, many people also believed it was Paul's destiny to become the game's greatest point guard.  So if James' legacy was damaged by leaving Cleveland to play with Bosh and Wade, then wouldn't Paul's legacy have to be damaged for leaving New Orleans to join Amare, Dwight Howard, Carmelo, or Kobe Bryant?

There are two views that surfaced in the wake of LeBron James' Decision.  There are those who cling tightly to the old MJ paradigm that stars stay grounded in the franchises that drafted them, hope they were drafted on fertile soil, and then fight the good fight.  This old paradigm also holds to the perception that stars are supposed to do this alone, even if none of them have.  However, the new paradigm, created by LeBron and Wade, allows for players to move as their hearts dictate, and there are several reasons that fans and the old guard of the NBA frown upon this new way of doing things.

For one, it creates an NBA that relies solely on personality and individuals for creating fanbases; it's as if geography does not matter.  In a time when people move with regularity away from the family homestead etc, sports teams have served as the geographical anchors in our lives--they are in a sense what connects us to our past.  This may no longer be the case because  LeBron just drove a stake in the hometown hero archetype.  It's essentially the biggest question in modern sports: if the players are not loyal, then why should the fan remain loyal?  The answer is both entirely chaotic and freeing because if the players are free to do anything, then aren't we also?

Another issue with the new paradigm is that it goes against the idea of the alpha dog, and this seems to be the most troubling for fans.  Disloyalty has been dealt with before, but never have fans felt that a player chose the "lesser" legacy.  The choice seems unfathomable to so many of us who would love to be the alpha of anything.  We project this desire onto our sports stars, and we grow angry when it appears that they do not want what we want.

We also love lists and categories, but LeBron and Wade just made it nearly impossible to truly determine the alphas from the betas; after all, their whole careers each has been an alpha.  And at this point, it's difficult to determine if the Heat accepted LeBron like a lone wolf, or if LeBron just invaded another pack's territory.  Plus, when LeBron signed, it's not like there was even a pack in place.  In the wild, wolf packs are actually led by a pair of alphas that mate for life, until one of them dies.  No NBA team has won a title with just one great player; it usually takes at least two.  Fans of the old paradigm may very well be upset because list making just became more difficult because now the accomplishments of the pair will have to be discussed, and if more super teams form, it will grow even more difficult.

LeBron has caught a lot of flack for his decision because the words "Chosen One" are etched across his back.  We all assumed that the tattoo meant chosen to be the next Jordan, when what it may have always meant was chosen to tear down the rules that Jordan built.  Messiahs, Christ figures, savior archetypes etc are often not what everyone hoped for and expected.  Most people expect them to usher in a return to past glory, when, in truth, their objective is to render the past irrelevant.  There is a generation of fans out there who never saw Michael or Magic play, never saw the Bulls run over the League during Jordan's first comeback.  If the Heat are successful, these fans will grow up thinking that how the Heat manifested is the norm and the standard of greatness, especially if Paul gets his wish and joins his own cast of stars, which will show that the game's present and future are down with King James' decree that players are free to choose whom they run with.  

LeBron ushered in a new age--whether anyone wanted it or not-- and he may have done it much quicker than anyone expected, but LeBron does not deserve all the credit, or blame, for tearing down the old walls.

The old career path was under siege before LeBron "[took] his talents to South Beach."  Jordan, Barkley, Magic, and the game's older generations may harp against this generation's willingness to form co-ops, but it was actually their generation that planted the seeds for being rail-hopping hobos onto the championship trains of other great players: Barkley?  Pippen?  Karl Malone?  Gary Payton?  Shaq?  Even Patrick Ewing's telling Dwight to go and win Patrick a ring wreaks of how an older generation made the definition of ring counts so pivotal in determining their own greatness.  They sewed the foundations for what LeBron and Paul are reaping.

This path has been walked for ages--the guys traveling now are just younger than they used to be--which is why so many of the game's past players have to speak out against these secret alliances and back room deals. If the Heat, or any team made in their image, meet their potential, then don't they threaten the legacies of the past even more than they risk their own?

Footnote: Technically, Barkley and Pippen were both traded to the Rockets.


戴昀黃慧婷德 said...
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Langston said...

I can't wait for Pat Riley to trade Bosh for Chris Paul.

July 28, 2010 at 7:44 PM
Teach said...

Just for the hell of it he should have named Miami as one of his desired places to play. That would have been hilarious

July 28, 2010 at 7:53 PM

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