The NBA haters are everywhere. I’ve tried all this week to generate some conversation on the Finals. I’ve tried at the office. I’ve tried in the lunch room. I’ve tried at the neighborhood grocery store. I’ve talked to people at the games I’ve covered. I keep getting the same response.

“Who cares?” they grunt. “The NBA sucks.”

If the discussion continues, the bashers often reveal that they loved the NBA in the `80s and `90s, and how they wouldn’t have missed the Finals if Larry, Magic or Michael was involved. But instead, they’ll be looking for Law & Order repeats to watch rather than subject themselves to one second of Cavs vs. Spurs.

I can relate. I went through about a six or seven year period where I wanted nothing to do with the Finals. A lot of it had to do with the Lakers and their phony fans and the Knicks and their plodding style being involved for five of those years. And yes, part of it was that I missed Larry, Magic and Michael.

But Larry, Magic and Michael aren’t walking through that door again, and acceptance of that fact is long overdue. Even though it seems the league has been overrun since their departure by selfish or thug types such as Kobe, Iverson, Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest, there are still a lot of great players who play the game the right way. And we have an opportunity to watch the two best examples go at each other for all the marbles over the next two weeks.

To the uninformed, Cavs-Spurs looks like a battle of one-man teams. The bashers probably envision another series of one-on-one basketball between LeBron James and Tim Duncan. They could not be more wrong.

LeBron James is a team-first guy on the court. Forget the 48-point performance in Game 5 of the conference finals. That was LeBron flipping the bird to his critics for allegedly coming up small in the big moments. Game 6 was the real LeBron. Unable to get his shot going, he muscled his way to the free throw line, crashed the boards and found the hot hand (Boobie Gibson). He plays basketball like a combination of a linebacker and quarterback. He’s part Adalius Thomas, part Tom Brady, and yeah, part Larry, Magic and Michael, too. There’s never been anything like him in the NBA, and if you can’t appreciate that, just go back to admiring your MJ poster.

Then there’s Duncan. Basketball purists should love him just for his nickname, the Big Fundamental. Despite having a McHale-esque array of low-post moves that would allow him to score 30 per game, Duncan sets the tone for the Spurs, who are a T-E-A-M team. They play team basketball the way the Patriots play team football. They are the closest thing there’s been to the `80s Celtics since the `80s Celtics, and it’s because of Duncan’s unselfishness, court savvy and passing ability. If you don’t like watching him, and, by extension them, you don’t like the game. You’re more interested in dunking and showmanship and all the crap that almost ruined the NBA in the first place. Please, just stay away.

And I’m sure a lot of people will stay away. The NBA has been taking a major hit in the ratings this year and it will probably continue with this series involving two smaller markets. That’s fine.. If the rest of America is typical of the people I’ve talked to, they can’t appreciate the game for what it is anyway. So good riddance.


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