I suppose that Hillary Clinton is doing us all a favor by waiting until Friday to declare her campaign suspended. That way, over the next 48 hours, we can focus on the real business at hand: the NBA Finals.
I grew up in Los Angeles and have been a Lakers fan for as long as I can remember. The 1984 Finals might be my worst sports memory, and the 1985 and 1987 ones my best. Not surprisingly, the press and the league are trying to recreate that time, and I can hardly blame them.
But it doesn’t quite feel the same this time around, and I have at least one reason: race.
The racial subtext of the 1980’s rivalry was palpable. It wasn’t just Magic and Bird, although it helped. Bird was a truly great player, but the press grabbed onto him at least in part because he was a truly great white player when there really weren’t any others. Bird himself didn’t give a damn about any of it, and one could even argue that Magic’s upbringing was more stereotypically white whereas Bird’s was more stereotypically black. (Bird was raised in an impoverished single-parent home; while Magic was hardly wealthy, his father was a long-time unionized auto worker).
But the real reason for the racial subtext was that the 1980’s Celtics tried so hard to find as many white players as they could. McHale of course was a no-brainer, a great player. A fading and injured Bill Walton, okay. Danny Ainge? Greg Kite? Scott Wedman? Jerry Sichting? Michael Smith? Michael Smith picked ahead of Tim Hardaway? Fred Roberts? Brad Lohaus? Conner Henry? Conner Henry?
This used to be a Boston thing. The Red Sox were the last major league team to start an African-American. It was a Boston fan thing. Larry Bird was a legend. Bobby Orr was a legend. Carl Yastrzemski was a legend. Ted Williams was a legend. Bill Russell was not a legend.
Now, it’s all different. The Celtics are all African-American. The Lakers have lots of white guys, but they are virtualy all European (except for Walton’s son Luke). David Ortiz is the most popular member of the Red Sox. Red Auerbach–whose victory cigar put today’s trash talkers to shame–is dead. A multiracial man is the Democratic nominee.
It will be a great series, and I will be miserable if Boston takes it, which I fear they will because of home court advantage. But it won’t quite be the same. And that’s probably just as well.