Even after Midnight In Paris, it is tempting to assume that we would have been better off living in the past. Lives were simpler, love affairs were more passionate, time moved more slowly. Likewise, we are easily seduced into thinking the future will bring improvements to the human condition: we’ll live longer, everything will be more convenient, we won’t have to deal with a lack of flying cars.
Rarely do we assume that the present is where we’d rather be. But as far as the NBA is concerned, the present is perfect.
One of the obvious questions in these NBA Finals is the following:
Who’s better, LeBron James or Kevin Durant?
While the question might be obvious, the answer is not. On one night, James looks like he might be the best athlete our planet has ever spawned. On another, it is Kevin Durant who makes us forget about every Jordan, Bird and Doctor before him. But neither is consistently the obvious choice.
Why? Because each is flawed. LeBron James doesn’t shoot all that well from beyond sixteen feet, and his hyperactive personality means that at game’s end he’s jumpier than a cokehead in front of a firing squad. Kevin Durant is always calm, but he gets lost in the game’s shuffle more often than is becoming for the reigning scoring champion.
And it is exactly these flaws that make it possible that our NBA is the best NBA that will ever be.
Before, in the days of Cousy and Russell, Robertson and Hawkins, Magic and Bird, basketball wasn’t a worldwide game. It wasn’t even a nationwide game; the only kids who played basketball were the ones whose parents couldn’t afford to live near a baseball field. The players in basketball’s past were deficient, victims of a lack of competition.
In the future, in the days of O’Neal Jr. and Chen, Little Kobe and Gupta, LeBronito and Sergei, the players will be so honed – so perfect – that basketball will be unwatchable. Every uncontested shot will go in. Every player will have an inside game AND an outside game. Udonis Haslem III won’t have a chance.
But now? Now, we’re in basketball’s sweet spot. We’re pretty sure that Kevin Durant is going to make that three-pointer from the wing, but we’re not certain. We’re relatively confident that LeBron James is going to hit that leaning baseline jumper, but not we’re not so positive that we’ll risk a bathroom run. The plays that bring us to our feet are spectacular enough that we’re awed, but not so routine that we’re bored.
NBA basketball is better now than it was, because the players are bigger and faster and more skilled. But it’s better now than it will be, too, because the players aren’t quite as big and fast and skilled as they will become.
And so, for once, we can be happy with Father Time. We may not live in the right era for storybook love affairs or cars that don’t need roads, but when it comes to the NBA, our timing is perfect.
The Spanish version of this article appeared in the June 18, 2012 edition of El Pais. For that version, click here.
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