Shaq is too good for the NBA’s good

The most dominant force in basketball history squashed his rivals like bugs. Too bad he also squashed the viewers.

Topics:

Bummer, man. Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen, Susan Sarandon and Kirsten Dunst never showed up. Neither did Keith Van Horn, as Kenyon Martin reminded the world after the Los Angeles Lakers weathered the New Jersey Nets’ early fury and coasted to a fourth-period victory and a sweep.

It wasn’t exactly like all of New Jersey lowered the flags to half-mast. The real truth of the matter is that the majority of potential Nets fans scarcely knew of the existence of the team until the New York-based papers, fed up with the Knicks, decided midway through the regular season that the Nets were the NBA’s big story for 2002. In truth, aside from a few dozen louts who hung around to hoot NBA commissioner David Stern as he handed out the post-game trophies, the only fan who seemed truly devastated by the Nets’ loss was the local boy most responsible for it: Shaq himself. O’Neal spent more time talking about revisiting the old neighborhood in Newark and introducing his relatives to Bob Costas than he did talking about going back to L.A.

Nobody seemed to feel particularly awful about the loss, but nobody seemed to feel particularly good about it either. The rest of the Lakers reacted with a kind of laid-back smugness appropriate to a team that has easily won its third straight championship (well, easily once they got to the finals) and knows damn well that this time next year it will be winning its fourth. Only two of the Nets, Martin and Jason Kidd, seemed stressed about the loss, and that’s what led to the post-game ugliness.

There wasn’t anyone who thought the Nets had a chance in this series; the only real question was whether they’d lose in four, five, or, miracle of miracles, six games. Aside from a cluster of missed foul shots in Game 1 — an easily understandable and easily forgivable transgression, as the game was played in Los Angeles — what was particularly frustrating for the Nets was that they really did play almost letter-perfect basketball. And despite that, they not only failed to stop the Lakers, they often failed to get their attention.

L.A. played the entire series almost somnambulistically, lurching through the first three periods with a mechanical calm bordering on indifference, and then awakening in the fourth period in a cold fury to put the game away. It’s ironic, really, that Martin should have dissed his own teammates for showing a lack of emotion, and not just because Game 4 was the only one in which Martin himself showed up.



In truth, it was the Lakers who played without emotion, ignoring the Nets’ precision backdoor passing on offense and sweeping aside the carefully plotted thickets placed around Shaq on defense. When the Nets played basketball, the Lakers would throw a pass to Shaq and he’d dunk it. That simple. When the Nets played Shaq, the Lakers drew straws and shot threes (hitting 11 of 19 in the final game).

The utter lack of tension in the series is the probable cause of the near-disastrous television ratings for this year’s finals, down more than 10 percent from last year’s L.A.-Philly final, and those ratings weren’t so great, either. Commissioner Stern tried to put on a good face for the camera, but there was no way to disguise the fact that this was not the kind of final series he wanted to see on the day the NBA and NBC parted company. Stern would have loved a rousing seven-game series between two powerhouses. Actually, the Lakers and Sacramento would have been just peachy as the championship series instead of the Lakers and the fourth- or fifth-best team in the league, but that’s the way it goes. The real problem for the league is the shocking drop in regular season ratings, more than a 25-percent drop over the last two seasons, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that viewership is declining because everyone believes that no matter what happens during the regular season, Shaquille O’Neal will show up in the postseason and simply squash every opponent.

I wonder how many people who came to East Rutherford last night who weren’t related to Shaquille O’Neal will remember the evening fondly? Years from now, will people who were there say, “I was around when Shaq proved he was the most dominant force in basketball history”? Will people who weren’t there lie and say they were just to claim a piece of history? Or will they even remember at all? Is it possible to be as over-hyped as Shaquille O’Neal is and still be underrated as a player? Shaq’s performance in the playoffs trashes any notion of a most-valuable-player award that doesn’t rank him No. 1.

O’Neal graciously placated the home folk during the post-game interviews by referring to Jason Kidd as the “real MVP of the regular season” — gracious, that is, until you realize he was slighting his closest rival, Tim Duncan, who did win the award. But Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs put up a heck of a tougher fight against Shaq’s Lakers than did Kidd and the Nets, who, despite a couple of close scores in the series, seemed no closer to beating the Lakers than the Washington Generals did when playing the Harlem Globetrotters. The argument for Jason Kidd’s MVP candidacy was supposed to be “But he was the most valuable player to his team,” but as everyone could clearly see, if you took Shaq away from the Lakers and replaced him with anyone in the league besides Tim Duncan, L.A. would be eminently beatable, Kobe or no Kobe. (A Tim Duncan-led Lakers would have beaten the Nets in five or six games.)

Oh, well, at least now we can all indulge in the “Wait until next year” fantasy that we’ve heard so many other fans invoke. In New Jersey’s case, it might even be better than that. Who’s to say that in a couple of years Shaq might get bored with L.A., get a little homesick and move to Newark?

Since nobody else said it, or seems to want to, I’ll say it: Nothing in Mike Tyson’s boxing career did him as much honor as his manner of leaving it. OK, maybe he will fight again, but no one who watched last Saturday’s fight between Tyson and Lennox Lewis can doubt that Tyson’s career as a big-time boxer is over. Like everyone else, I’ve been calling Tyson a bully for so long that it never occurred to me he had the courage to take the kind of beating he took against Lewis. If he had gone down and out in the fifth round, no one would have blamed him. Joe Frazier did not show greater courage in the Thrilla in Manila against Muhammad Ali.

Now that I’ve said something good about Tyson … Bye, Mike.

Allen Barra cowrote Marvin Miller's memoirs, A Whole Different Ballgame. His latest book is Mickey and Willie: The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>