Thursday, April 17, 2008

4/17/08 Nash and CP3

I was the shortest kid in the class for a long, long time - probably until midway through high school, and remain undersized. I also love playing basketball. These two things are, sadly, not the best fit. They would fine if I were quick (I am slow) or had a really solid outside shot (which I do not), but the fact remains that without that nigh-essential basketball skill, height, my abilities are always going to be on the bottom end of the average pickup league.

For that reason, I am consistently enthralled the the players that are able to dominate while being short. While I can barely conceive of what it must be like to tower over the paint, throwing down vicious dunks and sending impertinent perimeter penetrators' shot attempts into the 5th row, I can at least at the outer edges of my fantasies imagine myself weaving into the land of the giants, deftly passing or scoring. This never happens, but it is at least less ludicrous to imagine myself playing that role.

It is that reason (if not that reason along) that my coming back around to the NBA had a lot to do with Steven Nash and the Suns. Telegenic, media-hyped, surely, but I've never had NBA allegience (perhaps I was lined up with the Hornets, but I never liked the NBA growing up and then they left Charlotte and the Bobcats just don't feel like mine) so I flit about from style to style, player to player, narrative to narrative. In terms of allegiance, I am the definition of the casual, bandwagon fan, but the more I follow the league the more my fandom of the game of professional basketball itself deepens. It is the polar opposite of my NCAA fandom, in which I live and die by one team and one conference and could really care less about the rest of the CBB universe until March rolls around.

So, a short, white point guard, playing the position the way that in my wildest dreams I could very faintly imagine - this has the resonance that makes a person sit up and pay attention. I could never legitimately say that I'm a Suns fan, but a Steve Nash fan, absolutely. I could rehash all of the reasons that he's such a compelling player to watch, but that is all covered better elsewhere. And, with the the Shaq trade trimming back the Suns' wings a bit, Nash has played off the ball more this season, which from a strategy perspective is better but from a selfish perspective (mine) means there are less opportunities for him to work his particular alchemy.

And then, staying up late, watching game 1 of NO-Dallas, the Chris Paul tsunami. Now, this is a man who I should have seen play- after all, he was the PG for Wake Forest for 2 years, and is born and bred North Carolina. But these two years were among my years in the sports wilderness, so to my shame I hadn't yet seen the MVP candidate play all year. Well, except for in the All-Star game, in which his talent shone bright enough for me to declare that he was fantastic. Which he was.

But good Lord. The All-Star game is a basketball themed party. The playoff are basketball through and through. I tuned in shortly before halftime to watch Kidd (who I find repulsive more for his off-the-court domestic abuse issues than with any flaws in his game, but, like I said, when it comes to the NBA I'm a cherry picking fan) help push the Mavericks to a dozen point lead, and saw Paul not do much special.

2nd half. Paul WENT OFF. It actually felt like watching an explosion, or a series of them, like the climax of a bombastic 80s action movie. Paul with a step-back, good. Paul with a hesitation teardrop floater, good. Paul to Chandler, alley-oop. Paul with a flurry of 15 foot jump shots. Paul stealing the inbounds from what looked like Croatia. And on and on and on and on. At a certain point, I thought Kidd might actually cry. It was the sight of the future machine-gunning the past down with with extreme prejudice.

And Chris Paul is legitimately six feet tall. And a hardcore bowler. And I caught his appearence on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and damned if the guy isn't effortlessly charming, as well. Unlike the dry reticence tinged with humor of Nash's public demeanor (when asked who he supported in the Democratic primary, he remarked that it was no secret that he was a "liberal young gentleman"), Paul is open, engaging, and seemingly regular.

And, like Nash was before Shaq arrived, Paul is 80% of the Hornets offense. Not to take anything away from Amare Stoudemire, David West, et. al, but Paul dominates the NO team the way that Nash did in his two breakout seasons, and it's just so damn rare to see that kind of dominance from the shortest player on the court (Iverson is the only example that leaps immediately to mind, although from what I've read it seems that Isiah was similarly dominant - I just didn't watch the NBA when he was playing). Watching it is watching David and Goliath, over and over, competing in a state of aethletic grace for 45 game-minutes.

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