OKLAHOMA CITY -- What an NBA Finals this is going to be; epic in every way. It's the superteam from the glamour market against the young but tough-minded group that grew up together in a small market. It's star versus star.
It's LeBron versus Durant. Who wouldn't want that? Well, besides Seattle. My condolences, Seattle. As you will read below, we feel your pain.
These playoffs have been way more than the NBA expected or deserved coming out of a lockout that was unnecessarily long and nasty, one that came within a few sprouts of Kevin Durant's chin fuzz of canceling the entire season. Now, these NBA Finals will be the most watched, compelling and engaging basketball event this side of a Lakers-Celtics matchup. Better, even, than my pick before the postseason began: Lakers-Bulls. How dumb was I?
With all due respect to the Celtics -- and plenty is due -- this is the matchup we all wanted to see. This is the one that will ignite the NBA's vast arsenal of engagement tools -- online, mobile, every last tentacle of social media and yes, good ol' network television -- in ways that will have a lump in David Stern's throat at the very real possibility that this almost never happened.
A lot of good will come out of this. But alas, some bad, some ugly and plenty annoying. So before we get to the good stuff -- the games -- here's my unfiltered, politically incorrect rundown of what's not going to be good about these Finals and what's going to be irretrievably bad. And after a drum roll, please, from the Miami Heat Rhythm Section (more on them later), it goes a little something like this:
"LADIEEEEEEEEEES AAAAAAND GENTLEMENNNNNNNNNN .... STAAAAAAAAND UP ...... AND MAKE SOME NOOOOISE ... "
1. Michael Baiamonte, Heat public address announcer: His signature phrase above, an ear-splitting, blood-curdling assault on the ear drums and what little decorum remained at live sporting events, will be by far the most insufferable aspect of this series. Now, let me tell you that Mr. Baiamonte is a nice fellow. Very nice. Much nicer than I am. When I called him a doofus in a column during the season, he sought me out at a game and we shared a laugh. He was gracious, good natured and had a sense of humor about my impatience for his alter ego. But none of this changes the fact that his schtick is the worst game-operations stunt in the league, and it isn't even close. Even Heat fans are tired of it; they don't even respond with "minutos" when Baiamonte bellows, "Dos!" with two minutes left in each quarter. I would rather be trapped in an MRI machine for 2 1/2 hours with audio of Erik Spoelstra spewing endless clichés piped in on an endless loop than sit through this guy's circus act for potentially three more games.
2. The Big Dig: Sorry, Oklahoma City. You might have a loud, rollicking college-like atmosphere that is the envy of most NBA teams -- notwithstanding the pregame benediction, which I find more than a little weird. But your city ... I'm sorry, but your city is a mess. Virtually every thoroughfare into, out of and around downtown is a festering crater of incomplete construction. (This coming from someone who lives in New York, which has been and will be under construction for the duration of my natural life.) Who spearheaded the long-term planning for Oklahoma City? Isiah Thomas? It certainly wasn't Sam Presti. It's called "Project 180," which means, in effect, that the construction will be completed in approximately 180 years. They are literally picking up and moving a section of interstate highway. If I lived anywhere near there, I'd pick up and move myself. The stories I heard from colleagues about the disarray around the arena during the conference finals were fairly epic, including a warning from one who said, "Beware of cement!" That colleague got cement in his shoes when he stepped in what he thought was a puddle, but actually was, um, cement. Wanting to be proactive, I called Avis and asked to have my compact rental car upgraded ... to a backhoe. Apparently, Howard Beck of the Times got the last one.
3. You can't get there from here: Flying between Miami and Oklahoma City is the rough equivalent of going to hell and back in a metallic mint green 1964 Buick Skylark convertible (which, of course, doesn't have positraction, and thus is rendered inoperable in Oklahoma City). Media and support staff attending the series are likely to spend more time in Atlanta or Minneapolis than at the actual arenas. One colleague, desperately seeking a sensibly priced and scheduled series of connections, pulled up an itinerary with a layover at ... LAX! That's not a layover; that's a kidnapping.
4. Pack your earplugs: In addition to the asshattery from the P.T. Barnum wannabe at the courtside microphone in Miami, you have the "Miami Rhythm Section" at Heat games. This noise pollution endlessly tortures everyone within earshot -- i.e. everyone alive -- with non-stop percussion until you swear your eyes are bleeding, but it turns out those are just tears. After quickly dabbing those salty drops off your laptop keyboard, your only option is to, well, "STAAAAAAAND UP!" and move to the aisle, where it might just be best to swipe one of their drum sticks and jab it quickly and cleanly through your skull, right in the temple. Until you realize that you can't get out of the aisle, because there is no room for you to get out of your seat without making 20 other people get up to let you out. If you've never asked 20 cramped, tired, cranky sports writers on deadline and victimized by a relentless assault on the senses to get up and let you through, let me put it this way: You'd rather be in a middle seat on a flight from Miami to Oklahoma City, via Salt Lake.
5. Faux fashion shows: We will quickly learn that Russell Westbrook's hot pants and Garanimals shirts are the least of our problems. Now ascending the podium at the Finals are LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. They primp, they preen, they color-coordinate. If Oklahoma City wanted to undertake some worthwhile construction, it should've built a catwalk in the postgame interview room. Among LeBron's highest priorities for Game 7 of the conference finals Saturday, as he faced one of the most important moments of his career, was to procure a pair of Air Yeezy 2s in which to prance to and from the postgame interview -- on the very first day they were released. Air Yeezy 2 is the new line of Kanye West Nike sneakers, resplendent in their faux animal skin and, as it turns out, metallic mint green soles and toe guards. They retail for upwards of $399, but a pair recently sold on eBay for more than $90,000. (I'm pretty sure LeBron got the gratis edition.) James and Wade, of course, also have been sporting their customary, black-rimmed, fake eyeglasses. Between these two, and Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Finals are going to be quite the exercise in eyeware modeling. They should all be sentenced to undergo Lasik surgery, even if they don't need it. At one point during the Eastern Conference finals, Wade appeared at his locker wearing black-rimmed, big-eyed glasses ... WITH NO LENSES! My plan is to find a Dollar Store in OKC that carries these and buy 200 pairs to distribute to all my colleagues so we can wear them in one of the postgame press conferences. Hey, the media can have some swag, too. One caveat: Executing this plan requires that I don't accidentally drive into a ditch on my way to the arena.