Monday, June 20, 2016

The Futile, Asinine Task of Determining The Greatest Team of All Time

A championship has returned to Cleveland.  The Oracle Arena, described by the press and the Warriors' ownership as a virtual reality laboratory for the development of New Age basketball by players wearing those ping pong ball motion capture suits, may already lie in smoking ruins.  The Warriors capped off a historical run, won 73 games, and nearly clinched their second straight title. Instead, LeBron James did the one thing more impressive than that by actually winning a Cleveland sports championship.  The effort required a mythical performance; when James somehow outraced every player in the history of organized basketball to impale an Iguodala layup against the backboard, he all but came down from an ancient frieze.  The win capped off the Coming Home chapter for our most narrative athlete, embodied the hopes and dreams of American sports' most loudly martyred fanbase, and vanquished a team considered the greatest ever with an unprecedented comeback.  So let's talk about the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls have cast a dunkman-shaped shadow over this NBA season.  The Warriors not only broke the Bulls' wins record, but did so with a freewheeling style utilizing absurdly long jumpshots that directly refuted the theology of 90s basketball.  All season long, the old players made their pilgrimages to television and radio studios to talk about how the Warriors were soft, how magical basketball sprite Stephen Curry would have been drawn and quartered by Antonio and Dale Davis, and how Michael Jordan would have broken into the Warriors' hotel and poisoned them because that is the type of competitor he was and then while they were bent over vomiting they would have been roughed up by Bill Wennington and Dickie Simpkins.  There is nothing a retired basketball player loves more than shitting on current players by threatening them with hypothetical violence.  But as the Warriors demolished all comers, the howling from the veterans of the Pat Riley Wars sounded like what it always had been: the anguished shriek of man against his own mortality and the diminished use of post moves.

Then the Warriors made history as the first team to squander a 3-1 lead in the Finals.  Their effortless shooting ground to a halt against a lineup featuring the mummified remains of Richard Jefferson. Basketblogger punching bag Kyrie Irving outplayed Steph Curry. Draymond Green became the Icarus of penis clobbering.  Their wins record is for naught.

Joe Lacob, the Warriors' swaggering tech-goblin owner made it easy to root 
against them when he said “The great, great venture capitalists who built 
company after company, that’s not an accident. And none of this is an accident, 
either...We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in 
planning, in how we’re going to go about things," embodying the irritating hubris 
of Silicon Valley's aspirational App-Warlords. This feeling will last exactly as long as 
the first appearance of the Cavaliers' swaggering mortgage-goblin Dan Gilbert 
when he tries to take credit for James's unprecedented investment in the civic 
identity of Northeast Ohio even after Gilbert attacked him in the world's dumbest 
Corenlius Vanderbilt letter written in Crayola

As the Warriors closed in on the record, I was surprised by how much I became invested in their failure.  Nothing the Warriors did could rip those banners from the United Center. Nothing they did could take away their six championships.  They could not make Jud Buechler fade from those hideous '90s caricature shirts like a McFly sibling.

Phil Jackson looks like a generic evil businessman, all grace and manners and you and me 
we're not so different speeches until Dolph Lundren threatens his production of 
Cocaine II: The World's Most Potent drug.  Scottie Pippen is about to burst forth from 
someone's chest cavity

My own desire to see the Bulls' 1995-6 season enshrined at the top of an arbitrary hierarchy has no basis in any sort of value system.  I have nothing to offer to the Michael Jordan Take Industrial Complex or manifestos on the superiority of hand checks and apostate illegal defenses.  I only want the team I like to remain garlanded in whatever accolades I can cling to, and one of them is a claim to the nebulous title of the Greatest Team of All Time.

The decision to anoint the Greatest Team of All Time is such a fool's errand that we throw our most foolish hot take jesters at it.  Teams from past generations cannot play each other without folding space-time against itself.  Sports grow and evolve with new strategies and rules and, as movies and television tell us, into inevitable future death sports.  The whole enterprise devolves into hypothetical games of ghosts against ghosts.  It rests on a the deployment of numbers stripped of context and an-almost religious fervor.  There is no Greatest Team of All Time.

For Bulls fans, though, it is all we have.  Twenty years ago, they obliterated all comers, an overpriced sneaker stamping on the forehead of Karl Malone, forever.  Now, they remain, like their nemesis Eastern Conference Teams from the '90s, trapped in irrelevance because of a single dominant player. The same LeBron James who safeguarded the '96 Bulls' claim to Greatest of All Time status has simultaneously ruined any hope the current Bulls have of contending.  Chicago's great hometown hope has been strangled by his own knee ligaments.  They now have fallen into the pits of NBA despair: lottery picks, trade rumors, and a uniquely Bulls tendency to coat all of those things with a thick layer of unnecessary back-biting and soap-opera intrigue.  So forgive me if I forgo reading another article about whether or not Jimmy Butler is a leader to argue about Michael Jordan hand-checking Steph Curry down to mouthpiece and goatee particles.  The Bulls have been organizationally posterized, now only capable of reflecting the greatness of today's champions.

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