For the Love of the Game

by Jonathan Gault | 4/21/13 10:00pm

April 20 is famous, or infamous, for a number of things. In 1889, Klara Polzl gave birth to Adolf Hitler in Branau am Inn, Austria. In 1916, the Chicago Cubs played their first National League game at Weeghman Park, now known Wrigley Field, and 97 years later, they still have not won a world series. And every year, April 20 is celebrated as an unofficial international holiday by the cannabis culture, which I do not consider myself a part of.

But April 20, 2013 carried only positive connotations for me, because it marked the beginning of the NBA playoffs, the annual two-month journey that culminates with the crowning of this year's NBA champion. Every year around this time, I am reminded by playoffs of years past and the memories, positive or negative, that I have come to associate with those seasons.

I remember 2007 for going through driving school while the 67-win Mavericks' season slowly crumbled at the hands of the eighth-seeded Warriors. And in 2009, my senior spring of high school was awesome. I had no homework and nothing to stop me from watching the playoffs every night, including the epic Bulls-Celtics first round series. It was the most exciting basketball series I have ever watched try topping seven overtimes in seven games.

And while I did not watch as much of the 2010, 2011 or 2012 playoffs as I would have liked being a full-time college student will do that I loved heading down to Late Night Collis, grabbing some pasta and a baked good and sitting down in front of the TVs to catch a quarter or two of a game. Now that the TVs are gone for a couple of months, which might as well be permanently for a senior like me, I really do not know what I am going to do when I am craving that post-dinner snack around 10:30 p.m.

Well, that's not really true. As someone who has bought enough baked goods to single-handedly fund the Collis construction project, I have accepted that I will inevitably find myself at Late Night Collis many nights this term. But I will miss having Kendrick Perkins' snarling mug glaring back at me from one of the TVs.

That will not dampen my enthusiasm for the playoffs that much, however, because this year's edition promises to be outstanding once again. There isn't much drama in the Eastern Conference until the finals, and even that series might be a bit anticlimactic if the Miami Heat get in a groove similar to the one that led them to 27 straight wins earlier this season. That doesn't mean that you should tune out the East entirely though, since LeBron James is playing at the highest level of anyone since Michael Jordan's heyday.

Though I root against James and the Heat, I cannot help but admire the way he plays the game. Between his otherworldly athleticism, uncanny ability to make the right pass and his distinctive run-down blocks the ones where James catches some unsuspecting opponent who thinks he has a clear path to the basket, only to find his shot pinned to the backboard by an out-of-nowhere James he is simply a joy to watch. That said, I hope the Heat lose every game they play this year from here on out.

The real action will be happening out west. For the second time in NBA history, five teams, the Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers and Grizzlies, won 56 or more games in a single conference. The Clips and Grizzlies will square off in the first round, and it's more than likely that those other clubs will be responsible for two or three great series before all is said and done. There is no doubt that whoever emerges from those five clubs will have earned it.

But more than just the games, what makes the NBA playoffs so great to follow is that every series impacts the legacy of its player. If Carmelo Anthony's New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics, he will have made it out of the first round for just the second time in his decade-long career. Another championship for Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs would give him titles 14 years apart, five overall, and confirm his status as one of the most consistently brilliant players in any sport. And a repeat for James and the Heat would give him a pretty convincing argument for one of the greatest five-year stretches in NBA history: two titles, two Olympic gold medals, four MVPs (assuming he wins this year) and a 27-game winning streak.

I can't wait to see what happens.

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