The NBA Stays in the Picture

By: Dan Grant

This Sunday marks the 86th annual Academy Awards. Our resident movie guru Daniel Reynolds will have his take on the favourites, the hopefuls and the underlying stories tomorrow; today, we’re going somewhere a little more strange.

I was thinking about the various NBA situations recently and how ridiculous some of them are. This idea actually first hit me last summer when the Lakers boss, Dr. Jerry Buss, died. The ensuing fallout was worthy of Hollywood and led me to think, “I feel like I’ve heard this story before.” I filed it away as coincidence, but the corollary was born in my mind.

The Oscars and the NBA: forever linked in our minds?

The Oscars and the NBA: forever linked in our minds?

Over the next few months, I started to look for similarities between the situations of NBA franchises and movies: both feature big stars, intriguing plot-lines and the potential for both glory and disaster.

Lo and behold, it’s our first NBA/Oscar hybrid column. We’re going to have a look at which current NBA situations most resemble the plots of past Best Picture Award winners and then choose our own winner! Tis the season, after all.

Honorable Mentions

Houston Rockets = As Good As It Gets

Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt (James Harden and Dwight Howard) win both acting awards but the movie fails to win best picture. See any links here?

Miami Heat = The Godfather: Part III

Parts I and II both win Best Picture and an Acting award (Lead for Brando, Supporting for De Niro), with LeBron James winning MVP both seasons. Part III garners seven Nominations but zero awards.

The Nominees

Los Angeles Lakers = Gladiator

Let’s start where it all began. Last summer, Dr. Jerry Buss/Marcus Aurelius, long time owner of the Lakers/Emperor of Rome, died. Before doing so, he disclosed a dream to his protege, Maximus/Kobe Bryant. “Let’s give LA/Rome back to the people. Let’s give them glory once again,” he whispered. “Let’s bring Phil Jackson back.” Bryant was reluctant, but agreed to honour the old man’s wishes. When his son Commodus/Jimmy Buss found out about this plan… well, I’m not going to say Jimmy Buss murdered his father like Commodus (spoiler alert!) because I don’t have any proof, but he certainly spat in the face of his dreams. He spurned his father’s wishes, publicly toying with the idea of bringing in his sister Jeanie/Lucilla’s main squeeze, before bringing in the ill-suited Mike D’Antoni on a long term contract with a roster that didn’t work. LA/Rome was in turmoil.

Enter Maximus/Bryant and the part of the story that remains to be seen. After clawing his way back from exile/injury, Bryant helps bridge the gap to the next era of Lakers glory. He takes all the criticism (as well as all the shots) and leads the Lakers back to their next relevant season, in 2015-16. Or so Lakers fans hope. What they need now is a Senator Gracchus, someone to take the torch from Bryant and restore order. This could be Jackson, if he’s willing to come back once D’Antoni inevitably leaves. More likely it’ll be the next Lakers star, which is looking more and more like Kevin Love. But can you win a title with Kevin Love? It remains to be written. If so, his actions will echo through eternity.

Everyone is happy until Streep (Lebron) decides to flake out.

Everyone is happy until Streep (Lebron) decides to flake out.

Cleveland Cavaliers/LeBron James = Kramer vs. Kramer

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Kramer vs. Kramer is a wonderfully acted and completely heart wrenching film starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep at the height of their powers. Both won acting awards at the Oscars that year, a Lead for Hoffman and a Supporting for Streep, as well as the Best Picture award.

After the 2013-14 season is over, it will have been four full seasons since LeBron James last suited up for the Cavaliers. Nearly four full years since ‘The Decision’. James’ contract with the Miami Heat can potentially run another two seasons if he chooses, but he has the option to opt out and sign for a much larger amount, which is something he is widely expected to do.

Two seasons ago, whispers began. “He might go back,” they said excitedly. “He wants to make up for The Decision’,” they confided. “He still lives in Akron, you know,” they breathed. Wouldn’t it be such a great story? The Prodigal Son returns! The media salivated over the potential stories, the human interest: how would James be received if he went back? Would he even be welcome? Cleveland helped things along by looking like they were clearing cap-space, dealing away long term veteran deals and staying away from any commitments that would impede their cap space for this upcoming summer.

In Kramer vs. Kramer, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are an unhappily married couple with a young son. Streep, one day, has had enough and simply leaves. The second act of the movie has a newly single Hoffman struggling to raise his son alone, with the two of them growing closer and the shadow of Streep hanging over them, until finally, they’re starting to be in a good place. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not in a good place. They’ve botched several lottery picks and don’t look anywhere close to rising the heights of where they were when James was their starring attraction. But they’ve moved on. The city of Cleveland is the kid, Dan Gilbert/Kyrie Irving is the father. They’ve accepted the fact that James is not coming home, at least not now. In the movie, Streep changes her mind and wants custody of their son, and a heartbreaking court case ensues (the titular Kramer vs. Kramer). Streep eventually wins custody (as LeBron could easily return, if he wanted to), only to again change her mind at the last minute and leave the son with Hoffman. She jerked the kid around. LeBron needs to stop jerking Cleveland around. He hasn’t teased it or anything but come right out and tell Cleveland he’s not coming back. After ‘The Decision’ it’s the only fair thing to do.

Much like Heston, Chris Paul commands respect.

Much like Heston, Chris Paul commands respect.

Los Angeles Clippers = The Greatest Show On Earth

Now that the Clippers have signed Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis, I think they’re the favourites to win the Western Conference. Russell Westbrook has looked shaky in his return from knee surgery, and even though he has some time to shake that rust before the playoffs, I think this is the Clippers year.

The Greatest Show on Earth was the next to last film from movie pioneer Cecil B. DeMille. In this analogy, he’s Doc Rivers. Rivers became a star during his playing days (DeMille during the silent film era) and then toiled on some under-appreciated works (in Orlando) before once again finding the big time late in his career. Rivers won a title in Boston in 2008, before his highly publicized move to the Clippers this past off-season. Given the talent level of this team and the excellent job Rivers has done at its helm, it seems like an NBA title at this stage would closely mirror DeMille.

The film was a sprawling epic, set inside the Ringling Bros. and Barnham and Bailey Circus. It included many of the real circus performers and animals, which are quite clearly mirrored when you look into the stands at any LA sporting event and see who’s there: celebrities, crazies, crazy celebrities, you name it. The story centres on the day to day life of the circus and the problems of a hard-ass ringmaster played by Charlton Heston, who you may know better as Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Throughout the season, Heston/Paul has had to deal with a variety of problems, keeping the various different acts happy, massaging egos and always keeping the plates spinning. The show must go on!

Despite injuries to Paul and J.J. Redick, a lack of a real third big man and myriad people wanting the ball, the Clippers have come together and night after night people get what they pay to see:

“A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds: That is the circus — and this is the story of the biggest of the Big Tops — and of the men and women who fight to make it — The Greatest Show On Earth!”

New York Knicks = Titanic

This one is pretty self-explanatory isn’t it? James Dolan is the ship’s captain, Carmelo Anthony is Kate Winslet (only because he might escape this disaster) and Amar’e Stoudemire is Leo. Their love had so much potential, but it wasn’t meant to be. The ship is sinking.

Much like the Pistons, these are three guys that just can't play well together.

Much like the Pistons, these are three guys that just don’t play well together.

Detroit Pistons = The Departed

I love The Departed. For all its flaws, its a great gangster movie, full of suspense and some fantastic performances. That said, every time I watch it, I realize how bad Jack Nicholson’s attempt at a Boston accent was. ‘Just remember who you work fahhhhrrrhhhhhhhh’. Ugh. Why even try Jack? Your own voice is crazy enough!

The 2013-14 Detroit Pistons have been miscast similarly. Joe Dumars is Martin Scorsese; he peaked ten years ago, with the 2004 Pistons title team. That was his Goodfellas. He’s got nothing left to prove, but he’s going to keep on trying.

This past off-season, Dumars decided paying Josh Smith, a ‘hybrid forward’ who really should only be a power forward, would be a good idea. This is because because… well, nobody really knows why. Smith has a load of talent but he needed to go to a situation that would force him to use his great skill around the basket more and keep him away from the perimeter. Instead, Dumars did the exact opposite. Smith, like Nicholson, thrives when he’s in a role that demands subtlety and depth. He has a ton of talent but if allowed to run amok, that talent can go awry. It needs to be focussed. Now-fired coach Mo Cheeks was not the man to put it in said harness.

This analogy also works because of the Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon roles. Both are informants, one a mob informant posing as a cop (Damon) and the other a police informant inside the mob (Leo). They’re two sides of the same coin and more alike than they’d readily admit to each other. They work beautifully in the movie, just like Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond work when they’re on the floor together. Monroe and Drummond compliment each other, are both young and supremely talented and, unfortunately, it looks like Monroe (Leo) is going to leave (die) because there isn’t room for him. Drummond gets to be Matt Damon because he’s the youngest and he’s going to be the one who survives the situation once everyone else is dead. He’s also forcing out Monroe (Leo), much like Damon (Drummond) killed Leo to save himself.

That brings us to the end of the movie and our last comparison: Brandon Jennings as Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg garnered an Academy award nomination for his mostly improvised role; Brandon Jennings gets compared to him only because he’s so sullen and has such bad body language that a rage-filled character who has witnessed the death of those he held most dear actually fits. The final nail? In the end Wahlberg (Jennings) puts a bullet in Damon (Drummond). If the Pistons let Jennings play with Drummond for much longer, I worry that his bad habits will sully what could be an otherwise exciting NBA career.

A potent visual metaphor.

A potent visual metaphor.

And the Oscar goes to…

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers! Congratulation LeBron. Even after four years of re-invention and almost unparalleled success, people will never forget that you took a dump all over your hometown on national television. Joe Dumars is grateful to you for taking the heat off his inability to move Josh Smith at the deadline.

And so concludes our first annual NBA/Oscar parallels column! I hope you had as much fun as I did. Let’s hit the San Antonio Spurs after party. I hear Gregg Popovich is imitating Patton.

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