Have you ever gone to a restaurant that was your favorite as a child--or had some food you loved as a kid--and it just wasn't as good as you remembered? That's the way I feel about the NBA--which tip off tonight in Boston.
When I was a kid in the 80's, a matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics was pretty much the norm every June. And it was absolute must-watch TV. Sure, it would have been nice to have the Milwaukee Bucks make the Finals one of those times but LA and Boston were obviously the two best teams of that era--and as far as I'm concerned, the best in NBA history.
The talent on those teams was outrageous. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish forming the greatest front line in basketball history. The Celts were so good they had all time greats like Bill Walton and Quinn Buckner COMING OFF THE BENCH!! The Lakers were just as loaded with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo.
Being young and full of vigor at the time, Magic was my guy. Run and gun, Showtime at the Forum with behind the back passes that was the way I wanted to play the game--usually driving my grade school and high school coaches crazy--because they wanted to set it up and run the offense with seven passes before we shoot. I hated the Celtics, with their plodding style. But as I haved aged--and the court has somehow become longer on every trip--my appreciation for the Boston game has grown. How Larry Bird became one of the all-time greats with a four-inch vertical jump and average at best ball-handling skills is testament to hard work and desire. Kevin McHale turned out to be one of the final great "true" low post players in the NBA--with a myriad of back to the basket moves that bafffled defenders. Nowadays, big men just catch the ball, bump into their defender and try to dunk.
The NBA has been trying to play up the LA-Boston finals this year as a return to those glory days of the Association--but we all know it won't be the same. Kobe Bryant is great--but he is no Magic. And Pau Gasol and LaMarr Odom don't hold a candle to Kareem and Big Game James. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are a solid trio--but are they Bird, Parish and McHale? Hardly. And the new Garden in Boston isn't close to the venue the old Garden--with its uneven parquet floor and lack of air conditioning which turned the finals games into a steamy sweat-soaked battle of attrition.
While it won't be the same, I'll still watch the games--complaining to everyone younger than me that the game was much better when I was a kid--which I hated hearing as a kid. And my prediction? Lakers in six.