Since the final buzzer sounded on Thursday night, there has been a mad scramble to make the 2013 NBA Finals about anything or anyone besides LeBron James. Yes, that’s an exaggeration—it isn’t as if LeBron James is bereft of plaudits right now—but there seems to be a conscious intent behind making sure we all remember everyone else that made the Finals so entertaining, as if people fear Tony Parker’s buzzer-beater or Danny Green’s barrage of threes will be forgotten.
One one hand, this worry is a tad silly.
Technology in 2013 affords us the ability to etch every moment in stone, to make endlessly looping GIFs that replay an important moment for all eternity. As long as the Internet exists, there will be proof that, for at least a week in June of 2013, Gary Neal mattered to a whole lot of people.
Yet this fretting about how the series between the Heat and the Spurs will be remembered isn’t completely unfounded or outlandish. It is in fact a legitimate worry, a sober realization of how powerful the media big dogs are and how powerless we appear in comparison.
The 2013 NBA Finals didn’t teach us anything about basketball we didn’t know before. It’s a shame, yes, but it’s not shocking.
We learned things in the realm of degrees, not in the realm of truly novel insights. People who follow basketball already knew Kawhi Leonard was good, so what we learned was just how good he could potentially be. The same goes for Danny Green’s shooting. Ray Allen’s clutch shot at the end of Game 6 wasn’t out of the blue. Allen is arguably the best pure shooter of all time, and as “unexpected” as that moment was in terms of the context of the Heat staging a frantic, mesmerizing comeback, it was entirely pedestrian in terms of the larger context of Ray Allen shooting a three from the corner.
We live in a world so saturated with information, so full of stats and breakdowns and analysis and infographics, that it is frustratingly difficult to experience true surprise when it comes to watching sports.
With that in mind, the 2013 NBA Finals did teach us a lot about ourselves as fans, as a community of strangers obsessed with basketball. There are numerous takeaways and lessons here, but the most important one regards how we treat, if I may trot out the most threadbare and tired phrase currently permeating sports commentary, narratives.
Outside of diehard Heat fans, we don’t want these NBA Finals to be solely remembered for LeBron James; we want the journey emphasized as much as the destination. In some ways this is mature, fair, and reasonable, but at a deeper level it speaks to an insecurity regarding the way mass media influences memory, a discomfort with how the passage of time allows dominant powers to shape, mold, frame, and distort narratives into bite-sized morsels of story, uncomplicated and self-evident.
One of the Internet’s qualities is that while it is a receptacle for an unfathomable amount of information, it is also not necessarily good at making sure all the information is equally accessible. (If you have a personal blog geared towards a specific subject yet constantly find your blog buried deep on page five of a Google search, you have a small understanding of this phenomenon.) The responses of many NBA fans, bloggers, and analysts in the two days after Game 7 seem to acknowledge this state of inequity, as if these people know that to achieve any future semblance of balance when it comes to folks in, say, 2075 learning about these NBA Finals, the Internet discourse market must be flooded with praise for Popovich, accolades for Duncan, applause for Parker, etc.
There is what appears to be a paranoid fear of these key individuals for San Antonio being forgotten by “the masses,” a fear that the mainstream corporate voices who control sports media—and, more importantly, control how we collectively remember sports via highlight packages, reflective articles, where-are-they-now? segments, and other such forms of memory making—will eventually/inevitably push the Spurs to the side, turning the narrative of the 2013 Finals into being almost exclusively about LeBron chasing history. By ensuring the Internet is filled with non-LeBron stories, people are creating what are effectively little time-capsules, little protests, little contradictions to what they (rightfully) imagine the future narrative of the 2013 NBA Finals will be.
It is easy to be cynical and pessimistic, to decry the efforts at preserving the “true” story of these NBA Finals as nothing more than empty gestures. Let’s be realistic: the 2013 NBA Finals will be remembered for LeBron getting his second ring, not for the Spurs battling the Heat. The NBA is a star-driven league where the performance of an individual tends to transcend, at least in terms of immediate coverage and future recollection, the communal effort of a team (see “Magic’s Laker’s,” “Bird’s Celtics,” “Jordan’s Bulls,” etc.).
What is important to remember, however, is that people on the Internet are aware of that tendency, cognizant of that bias towards elevating a person over a group. The Internet is a nostalgia factory, and people right now are hard at work making sure the assembly line isn’t void of all things San Antonio. Even if the following months and years of mainstream discussion partially nullify these efforts, they are still commendable. They show that people care.
Of course, all of this is based on conjecture/projection stemming from a deep personal distrust of the mainstream media to represent events fairly (or at least in a way that isn’t merely slobbering praise bestowed upon one star). Hopefully that distrust will prove ill-founded. What is satisfying and placating, though, is the knowledge that other people, not just Spurs fans but fans of basketball in general, feel the same unease.
The 2013 NBA Finals wasn’t an event of fans and writers battling against LeBron James, but an event of fans and writers battling against the treatment, both in the moment and projected into the future, of LeBron James. We learned that people have a genuine interest in making sure the performances of all the players, not just the biggest star, are preserved for future generations to discover. And that’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.