My uncle recently proclaimed that we are “in a golden age of television.” While other people have certainly made similar statements of late, they did not register with me until my uncle held court and talked about the many great shows that are or have been on the air over the last 10 years. Since this isn’t a popular culture blog, but a place to write about basketball, I figured I’d compare ten basketball teams to the shows that I’ve seen the majority of the episodes. The one clear omission on the TV show side is the Sopranos, which I haven’t seen yet. I plan on rectifying that situation later this year. Some of the comparisons fit very well and others required some finagling. We’ll start with a pair of teams that are already looking toward next year:
The Los Angeles Lakers are Lost
The Lakers not only lost, but they are much like the science fiction series of the same name. This year’s Laker team was much like the 2003-04 Lakers which tried to add Karl Malone and Gary Payton to Shaq and Kobe, although this year’s fearsome foursome had even worse results. They were a glorious failure, which is what I feel about Lost. Like Kobe and Dwight at their best, Lost had some excellent moments. I particularly enjoyed Seasons 1 and 5 (I’m a sucker for time travel stories). However, Lost seemed to lean on its finale explaining some of the mysteries. Like being swept by the Spurs, the finale failed completely. Another remarkable thing about Lost was how international the cast was, but the stories were always xenophobic (how many sets of “The Others” were there?).
The Milwaukee Bucks are Battlestar Gallatica
I don’t think that Battlestar Gallatica belongs among the best shows of the current era. But neither do the Bucks (who are nominally my team). I have to admit that I am struggling to finish the fourth season of Battlestar, but I’ll get it done eventually. There are pockets of interest in the way Cylons are presented and the witch hunt for the sleeper Cylons. However, the show does not have a sense of humor (and it takes itself very seriously, although that may be redundant). The Bucks are a mediocre team that has been unable to get a transcendent player despite having the top pick twice in the last 20 years. Both times they missed out on point guards (Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson over Jason Kidd and Andrew Bogut over Chris Paul). I used to be a fan, but I now see why the rest of the country thinks of them as a minor league franchise.
The Golden State Warriors are The Simpsons
Since the Warriors are on the west coast, and I generally don’t stay up very late, I don’t get to see Stephen Curry and the 3-point bombardiers as much as I’d like. The reasons for not watching The Simpsons of late are somewhat different. I was an avid fan through the show’s first seven or eight seasons, but fell out of the habit and they do not show Simpsons’ reruns in the Deep South. Still, Homer Simpson is the Curry of television comedy. Like the deep cast of characters (Barney Gumble being my favorite), the Warriors have a deep bench and the ability to surprise. I’d also equate Barney’s rudeness to Andrew Bogut’s play in the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies are Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm
With all due respect to the Simpsons, Seinfeld is my favorite comedy with Curb coming in second as a first cousin. The comparison of Seinfeld to Memphis is not a particularly strong one. I guess I could use the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph frontcourt like a kind of Jerry Seinfeld-Larry David combo in which the two talents help accentuate the strengths of the other. Mike Conley Jr. would be Elaine and the Tony Allen would be Kramer. See? It works. I enjoy Curb very much as well, but I think Larry’s aggression tends to wear at times. I am glad he brought in Leon as a kind of Kramer character.
The Indiana Pacers are Downton Abbey
I know, I know. Downton Abbey is a PBS soap opera. I mock it and myself while I watch it, and that’s part of the enjoyment. However, the other part of the enjoyment is that the show is actually pretty good. To me, Downton Abbey (as well as Treme) is about trying to preserve a culture in changing times. The Pacers (and the Bulls) are teams that resemble NBA squads from 10 to 15 years ago in that they are defensively oriented. The Pacers may not have any name players (although Paul George is coming along), so they are like Downton Abbey which has mostly British (and not famous) cast.
The Chicago Bulls are Treme
The main thrust of Downton Abbey is trying to preserve the lord-servant relationship in a time of rising equality. A large part of Treme is how to preserve the unique New Orleans culture after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the city. I like the way David Simon tells a story, although Treme is far less cohesive than The Wire. It is also hard not to like the way Tom Thibodeau coaches. He is getting the most out of previously spare parts such as Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson. Joakim Noah (like Antoine Baptiste) also steals every scene he is in. I thought Noah would be a good pro at Florida, but he is much better than I thought he’d be.
The New York Knicks are Justified
I am not quite caught up on Justified, but through two and a half seasons, I have its flavor. Like the Knicks, it is a good show, but not worthy of a champion. Timothy Oliphant is a charismatic lead, but he may dominate the show like Carmelo Anthony dominates the ball. Rather than becoming deeper (like The Wire) over various seasons, Justified remains the same depth (and that is not very deep). My guess is my fellow southerners aren’t crazy about the way they are portrayed on the show, but that’s Kentucky, not Louisiana. To sum the show up in a sentence, I’d say “well, Raylen Givens, as I live in breathe.” To sum up the Knicks in a sentence: “Carmelo is a great scorer.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder are Breaking Bad
The Thunder were broken bad by Russell Westbrook’s torn meniscus, but they still have one of the transcendent players in the league in Kevin Durant. Can Durant lift the Thunder back to the finals, the way that Walter White lifts Breaking Bad from becoming a terrible descent into evil? The transformation of the character has been one of the best things on television, but the show has some goofiness about it that keeps it from being a classic. There’s a little too much reverence for Pulp Fiction. However, I have a feeling that it was written with a specific end in mind and this last half season should be really good. The Thunder may miss James Harden like Breaking Bad misses Gus Fring, but both are very fun to watch.
The San Antonio Spurs are Mad Men
When I first started watching Mad Men, I thought of it as a costume drama that wasn’t much more to me than Downton Abbey. That’s not a bad thing, but the show has matured and grown on me to the point that I’d say it is my second favorite show. Don Draper is such an amazing character, but he gets plenty of plaudits. There may have been a time in which Tim Duncan was much the same way, but he doesn’t get as much praise as he should. He’s an incredible two-way player. Both the Spurs and Mad Men feature deep benches of role players who help nurture a pleasant environment. Matthew Weiner and Gregg Popovich can be compared for their steadying roles in the productions.
The Miami Heat are The Wire
I realize there is a certain backlash when people oversell The Wire. I watched the show’s entire run in a five-week period in which my wife and daughter went back to Indonesia for a wedding and a birth. It is an incredible, incomparable show. I think it helps to have a certain political point of view, but the characters, depth of storytelling, and depiction of America failing are amazing and sometimes heartbreaking. The show’s depth has clearly influenced other recent shows (which generally fail when trying to go as deep). Meanwhile, LeBron James is showing why he is the best player of his generation. I think what separates James from previous superstars is his ability and willingness to pass. He may hold the ball a bit too long from time to time, but he has clearly realized his potential. I never really cared that he left Cleveland for Miami (who, in their right mind, wouldn’t?). The Decision was a mistake, but a minor one in the grand scheme of things. He is a pleasure to watch. And I have put The Wire at the bottom of my Netflix queue for another run through its five seasons. Don’t be a hater – enjoy LeBron and The Wire.