The Miami Heat team continues to be successful in the so-called Big 3 era. Basketball fans witnessed some memorable moments in the NBA finals series between the much maligned Miami Heat and Gregg Popovich’s always well-prepared and disciplined San Antonio Spurs. From Frenchman Tony Parker’s incredible shot to seal game 1for the Spurs, to the Heat’s crazy run in the third and fourth quarters of game2 with the bench players surrounding Lebron James who himself put an exclamation point on the run with an incredible block on Brazilian Tiago Splitter, to the record-breaking 3-point shooting clinic of the Spurs in game 3, to the great 85 point-performance of the James-Wade-Bosh trio in game 4, to the last stand of legendary Argentinian Manu Ginóbili in game 5, to the almost impossible comeback of the Heat in game 6 with former Buck, Sonic, and Celtic Ray Allen making an incredible shot to send the game to overtime, to Lebron James’ heroics against a valiant Spurs team in game 7, one could not ask for a better NBA finals series. However, as much as I enjoyed the high quality basketball in display by great athletes at the highest stage, I often found myself scratching my head at the media coverage of the series.
Much has been written and said about the problems of our media in the age of 24-hour coverage of corporate news giants and their negative impact on the well-being of our citizens and on the functioning of our democracy. Interestingly, sports media often gets a pass on that front, perhaps because it is dismissed as irrelevant by an elitism that looks down at sports culture in general. In all cases, my interest here is not in the role of sports in society or in the problems associated with sports cultures. What struck me the most these past few days is how much the coverage of the NBA finals on a daily basis reflects a number of larger trends in our society today. There are many elements to note, but I will retain two of them: superficiality and the focus on the individual at the expense of the group.
Most of the media coverage of the finals lacked any significant depth. So-called sports analysts and talk show hosts appeared to be stubbornly focused on the immediate moment, even when their myopic views of that day contradicted their equally myopic views of the day before. The larger picture rarely made it into the discussion. For instance, with the series going back and forth, and each losing team coming back with a victory in the following game, we had a chance to witness more flip-flopping than in the campaign season of Washington politicians. Every time the Heat won a game, almost everyone called them unbeatable, yet every time they lost, almost everyone insisted that the team needed changes in its roster. When the Spurs won, it was because of experience, but when they lost, it was because the key players were too old. When James passed the ball to his teammates, we were told that he needed to shoot more, but when he shot more, we were told that he needed to get his teammates involved. In some magical way, one day James is the best player ever, but the following day, it becomes a travesty to compare him to Michael Jordan. The same kind of crazy talk followed the steps of an injured yet valiant Dwyane Wade who still managed to come up big on both sides of the floor and the steps of a hard-working and unselfish Chris Bosh who accepted a limited role on the offensive side of the game to benefit the team as a whole, and even the steps of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, arguably the best coach in the NBA, who, to my delight, led post-game conferences that made Patriots coach Bill Belichick look like the most talkative guy in town.
A basketball fan only needs to close her/his ears in protection from the talking heads, to clearly see that the incredible success of the two teams stems from the fact that they are just that: teams. To take the most obvious examples, the Heat would have been in no position to win the title, had it not been for huge plays from Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, and Mike Miller in game 6 or for a memorable shooting performance from Shane Battier in game 7. This was not Lebron James’ victory, it was a team win first and foremost. Similarly, if Tim Duncan had huge numbers in games 6 and 7, it was in large part because the Spurs’ 3-point shooters were so good, that Miami was forced not to double-team Duncan on the post and to play him one-on-one in order to take away the potency of Danny Green and the other shooters. Does this take anything away from the great abilities of James or Duncan? Surely not. They should be congratulated and celebrated for the show they provided basketball fans.
Individual achievement matters and it should never be dismissed. The most memorable moments, as highlighted above, involve amazing individual skills. At the same time, however, individual achievement ought to be put in context, particularly in the day-to-day media coverage of sports. Team effort is crucial in allowing the gifted individuals to reach the highest levels, even as highly talented players often make people around them better (not to mention the roles of the members of the large staff of each organization). Yet, if one were to look at the media coverage to which our younger generations had access and which significantly participates in shaping their perception of the world around them, the overwhelming impression one gets is that the individuals matter infinitely more than the teams. There is little balance to speak of.
With all this in mind, it might be too easy and even misleading to simply vilify the mainstream sports media outlets. I would suggest that we need to start seriously looking at how the problematic issues that we see in our media are symptoms of a larger malaise in our “postmodern” society.
À bon entendeur, salut!