Tonight, the Miami Heat play the Chicago Bulls in Chicago. The San Antonio Spurs play the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. And if you have even the slightest interest in sports as a form of entertainment or a worthwhile slice of American culture, you will watch these two games.
You will watch these two games because:
1. You want to see LeBron James, titan of basketball, one of the greatest human bodies ever created in the United States of America, a nearly flawless physical technician worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a force of mind and charisma who leaves black holes behind him, ply his trade as well as or better than any profesional athlete has ever or will ever plied his trade.
2. You want to see the rest of James’ well-oiled machine, a deftly coached team buoyed by an ideally intense and creative sidekick (Dwyane Wade), an avian and elegant near-seven-footer (Chris Bosh), savvy and pedantic role players (Shane Battier and Ray Allen), and indomitable oddities (Chris “Birdman” Andersen, the Chalmers/Cole point-guard hydra), further develop basketball, like a virtuoso painter evolving his canvas.
3. You want to see the tattered roster of the Chicago Bulls, so injury-and-illness-riddled that they feel like a sequel to Contagion, keep getting surprising and bizarre performances out of the effectively one-footed Joakim Noah, one of the few star athletes to ever turn a personal narrative of popular hatred into public adoration, and Nate Robinson, an improbable dervish who is a coach’s nightmare except when he’s not.
4. You’re curious about how a team can even summon the confidence to take the floor, much less succeed, when its two best players — Derrick Rose, with a torn-up knee and shattered psyche, and Luol Deng, so ill he’s had to be drained from the spine and lost 15 pounds in a week — are debilitated mentally and physically.
5. You want to see how the city of Chicago, a sports mecca of durable fanaticism, will react to the return of its limping squad and the arrival of Miami, whose fans treated the Bulls with severe disrespect and disgust two nights ago.
6. You want to see the bacchanalia of the Warriors’ backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, which, despite having a combined age of 48 and a combined appearance of 25, has been firing off three-pointers so beautifully and seemingly without effort that when coach Mark Jackson hyperbolically called them the greatest pair of shooting guards (as in, guards who shoot) in NBA history, people paused for a second and realized he might even be right.
7. In particular, you want to watch Stephen Curry, the curiously toddlerish son of an NBA great, become more and more of an ultra-dynamic scorer and supremely creative offensive maestro, equipped with a crossover so fast it seems like something made in Final Cut and a release that’s even faster.
8. You want to watch what might be the last stand of the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker Spurs, an NBA institution whose permanence has been so taken for granted that Duncan having one of the best years of his career at age 37 seemed not only appropriate but somehow scripted. You wonder if Parker can take hold of the carrot that’s always seemed to dangle in front of him, and if Ginobili’s disintegrating body can keep pace with his hyper-aggressive brain.
9. You think Gregg Popovich, the game’s consistently greatest coach for more years than seems logical or fair, can deploy his role players and bench guys, like knights and bishops on a chessboard, to great-enough effect to overwhelm the Warriors’ surge of youthful confidence. (But what if he can’t? You’d want to see that, too.)
10. You know that the Thunder — once the easy Western Conference favorites — are injured and vulnerable with Russell Westbrook out, and the path to the Finals is wide open. You know that the Spurs have looked shaky. You know that the Warriors’ crazed, rabid, insane home fans know both of these things, and know that their underdog sixth-seed team suddenly has a very good shot to make its first-ever NBA Finals in 38 (!) years. You know that Oakland is going to be LOUD tonight.
This is why you’ll watch both of these games. You can still drink beer and talk to other people; that’s why our forefathers invented bars with televisions. But if you understand the way five men, a ball and 20,000 fans can turn a concrete-and-steel stadium into a boiling cauldron of pure adrenaline, you’ll keep an eye on that TV tonight. You don’t want to miss something great.