I’d been struggling to enjoy the NBA playoffs this spring and unable to put my finger on what was wrong. The games, in my opinion, lacked cohesion, lacked a focus, a strategy.
It took Mark Jackson, former NBA-player-turned-broadcaster, to crystallize what I had been feeling into an ah-ha! moment. And he did it with a single comment. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Late in the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, LeBron James made yet another incredible driving basket, at which Jackson blurted out, “There it is. Great offense always beats great defense.”
And with a single pronouncement, Jackson unlocked my dilemma.
In the game of basketball, there’s no way to stop the best offensive players in the world anymore. A player — even a team — can play perfect defense on a particular possession and it won’t mean a thing to the Kobe Bryants, the LeBron Jameses, even the Baron Davises of the world. They will score … regardless.
Sure, those players miss. They’re human. But at the NBA’s highest level, missed baskets seem to be a development of that athlete’s individual moment, not something forced upon him by the defense. And that, basketball fans, is a big problem.
A team game is not right when the offense has the advantage overthe defense. It’s simply an equation that can’t sustain itself.
In baseball, great pitching beats great hitting. In football, defense wins championships. These truths make these games great to watch. It turns out that it is the majesty of the obstacle a team or player must overcome that dictates a game’s greatness.
The NBA has to figure out a way to make defense mean something again. The game depends on it.
The U.S. Open qualifier scheduled for Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City on Monday brings up one of my favorite golf memories. I covered a similar event there in 1992 when Johnny Miller was making a long-shot bid to play at Pebble Beach that year.
Walking with Miller, who was obviously not going to qualify by the time I arrived, was fascinating because of how relaxed he played. Totally opposite of the way tour players appeared in competition, but his running commentary on his play that day was a precursor to his obvious talents for the TV booth.
Most of all, I remember him effortlessly hitting a driver off a tight fairway lie. It was the shot that was called for, so he hit it. Simple as that. The shot — which would push 99.99 percent of the rest of us to nausea — didn’t so much as interrupt his monologue. He made par, by the way.
All these years later, that moment still serves me as a marker for how the best in the world play the game of golf compared with the rest of us. It’s not the same game.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.