The NBA’s Final Four begins today with the Orlando Magic hosting the Boston Celtics, and continues tomorrow as the Los Angeles Lakers host the Phoenix Suns. Each season, the media try to pinpoint a storyline that casual hoops fans will find interesting enough to follow.
This season, the storyline has fallen into our laps, and it’s one every man can identify with: redemption.
Intellectually, it’s easy to understand that you can’t relieve the past, that you get one good shot at each opportunity life presents you, and that’s it. Emotionally, however, past mistakes can be hard to stomach. They cut away at our insides like a host of razor-sharp kidney stones pushing their way through the ureter. We can’t help but wonder what if…
[ NOTE: Right now, I am currently in a bout with a host of kidney stones-- hence the short and sweet game recaps-- and I can personally attest to the pain they cause. Not fun.]
What if Boston had Kevin Garnett last post-season?
What if Orlando had a healthy Jameer Nelson in last year’s NBA Finals?
What if Los Angeles had a healthy Andrew Bynum against Boston two seasons ago in the NBA Finals?
What if Phoenix Suns’ players Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw hadn’t been suspended for leaving the bench in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs?
As F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of America’s most beloved novelists, once famously wrote:
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning —- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Miraculously, all four teams left standing have a chance to answer those what ifs, to redeem their past failures.
Orlando is one of the most interesting stories; not only do they want to redeem themselves for last year’s Finals loss to the Lakers, but they also have to prove to the world that last year’s victory over a Kevin Garnett-less Celtics team was no fluke. Over the last month of the season, Orlando looks like a team hell-bent on redemption–they haven’t lost a game. With the Turkoglu-for-Carter swap, an improved Dwight Howard, and a healthy Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic believe that redemption is on the horizon.
Though the Los Angeles Lakers are the defending champions, they too have a burning desire for redemption. Believe me, a championship hasn’t done anything to make Kobe Bryant forget about the 39-point beatdown his team suffered in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Boston Celtics–the biggest margin of defeat ever in a championship-deciding game. Kobe Bryant is maniacal about his place in history and, if the Celtics and Lakers face each other in the NBA Finals, redemption will be THE motivating factor for the Lakers. Back-to-back championships would be great, but beating the Celtics in the Finals would be the icing on the cake of Kobe Bryant’s greatness. Not to mention the Game 7 stink-bomb Kobe threw on the court against the Suns in the first round in 2006.
Of the four teams remaining, the Phoenix Suns are the ultimate underdogs, a team that has knocked on the NBA Finals door for nearly a decade with nothing to show for it but battle scars and psychological toughness. Before the season, this Phoenix Suns were written off by every analyst who forgot about one thing–Steve Nash’s greatness.
With the back problems that have plagued Nash’s career, it’s a miracle how far he has been able to carry the Suns on his back. But for Nash, a Conference Finals appearance is meaningless. Nash wants to redeem a career of personal accolades for the only real team accolade–an NBA championship. Nash and the Suns might be a long shot to make the Finals, but don’t bet against Nash– he has made a career ofredemption, and proving the skeptics wrong.
Barely recruited out of high school, Nash attended lowly Santa Clara, where– as a senior– he led his 15th-seed Broncos past second-seeded Arizona in one of the greatest upsets in the first round of NCAA tournament play. Drafted by the Phoenix Suns out of college, Nash played limited minutes behind Kevin Johnson and Rex Chapman before he became a star with the Dallas Mavericks. But, after becoming a perennial all-star with Dallas, Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban decided not to re-sign Nash, who quickly signed a deal with the Phoenix Suns. Nash’s history with the Suns is well-known: back-to-back MVP awards, good to great–but not great enough– teams that just fell short. And now, Nash has a chance to put the past behind him once and for all.
Finally, we get to the Boston Celtics, who have had redemption on their minds nonstop since they were unable to defend their title after losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Orlando Magic without The Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett. The mantra all year has been, ” if we’re healthy, we’ll compete for a championship.” Well, it’s the Eastern Conference Finals now, and Boston is as healthy as any team remaining. The time has come to redeem themselves for last year’s early exit.
For the Celtics and Magic, today is that tomorrow Fitzgerald wrote about.Today is that tomorrow, and each team still playing is dedicated to running faster, stretching out their arms further, hoping that one fine morning, they will host the NBA Trophy.
So, who do I think will earn the redemption? Lakers in six, Celtics in seven. And I’ll worry about the NBA Finals when the time comes. For now, I’m too busy being borne into the past, as I think about the future.