Steph Curry just drilled a 28-footer, corralled a rebound on the other end and followed with a step back 27-footer for six points in less than 30 seconds. The Warriors do not lead because Kevin Durant is playing under control. Which means he is extending strangely long arms, draining his own long-range daggers that are impossible to defend. The Thunder are playing instead of resting tonight because Klay Thompson went crazy Saturday night, draining 11 three-pointers of his own, several from 30 feet or more. Thompson’s heroics were needed because Russell Westbrook took over the first four games, looking like he was playing little league with a forged birth certificate.
Superstars populate the Western Conference finals and they play a game with which I am only passingly familiar, to steal a quote from Bobby Jones. Most weekend warriors who still play ball do so on courts marked with the college three-point line. When someone in the YMCA lunchtime game “drains a trey” they have hit a 21-foot shot, usually with no one within five feet of him. The NBA line is up to three feet deeper. For mere mortals, that extra three feet turns a jump shot into sort of a modified set shot. Move back another three to six feet, as the aforementioned players do all the time and my shot is heave. Steph and his comrades however, still snap the shots off with perfect form, as if the beast right in front of him is not even there. Not to mention the fact that all of them can dribble like the ball is magnetized to the back of their hand.
Michael Jordan revolutionized the game with athleticism and unparalleled competitiveness. LeBron has taken those traits to another level. Basketball had always been for tall people; MJ added strength, speed and grace. To “be like Mike” one had to be genetically gifted and a weight room freak. Basketball, however, has moved on to another plane.
All of the superstars playing in the Warriors-Thunder series are superbly conditioned and trained athletes. But they are changing the game with a skill level that is almost indescribable. We are witnessing what happens when someone takes a million practice shots. And not just a million practice shots–a million shots taken with purpose and most under the watchful eye of a coach who knows what he is doing. For instance, both Thompson and Curry had dads who excelled in the league. You just know if little Steph’s elbow flew open a ltiny bit on his jump shot, Dell (his dad) saw it and corrected it. We are witnessing the triumph of the gym rat.
Sport exerts an outsized influence on our society and too often that influence is not a good one. Athletes are set apart, the normal rules fail to apply to them. Aggressiveness on the playing field translates to simple aggression off it. The lesson we learn is that if we can physically subdue the opponent, the spoils will be ours.
I love this series not only because it is beautiful to watch, but because it teaches different lessons. Rewards come from hard work; craft matters. Life is about more than genetics. The biggest and the baddest are not always the best. It is a live-action cliche fest. Whoever wins, the gym rat will be ascendant.
As you know by now, Curry and his Golden State Warriors captured the series, proving their ultimate Ratness in the second half of Game 7.