The potentially great NBA Finals and a favorite Zack Greinke story
The Kansas City Star
OKLAHOMA CITY — The two best players in the world are guarding each other, some 18,000 fans are standing and screaming as loud as they can and clapping on beat (as much as they can). If you’ve been to a big game at Allen Fieldhouse, you have a vague frame of reference, except this is the very best basketball in the world being played for the highest stakes and with more noise piped in.
The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the country, obviously, a monster grown upon a monster. And college football and basketball championships are terrific.
But there’s nothing quite like a major sports championship being played at home sites.
Oklahoma City has some inherent advantages in this, anyway. Even the high-rollers in the courtside seats act more like normal fans than celebrities. They’ll wear the blue t-shirts like everyone else. Even the 30-year-old wives of the old rich men will wear blue cotton over their meticulously chosen outfit.
It really is a scene worthy of some landmark basketball, which is what I believe this is. Lebron James has won three of the last four MVP awards^. Kevin Durant has won the last three scoring titles^^.
*^ Complete list of players with three or more MVP awards: Kareem, Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, Bird, Dr. J, Magic, Moses Malone.
^^ Complete list of players with three straight scoring titles since 1960: Jordan, Gervin, McAdoo, Chamberlain.*
I mentioned this in today’s column, but no lesser authority than Magic Johnson says the winner of this series takes the unofficial torch from Kobe Bryant as the league’s best player and biggest presence.
That seems about right.
As an added bonus, we get to see a player so ridiculously talented and who has endeared himself so little that he gets ripped after scoring 30 points with nine rebounds, four assists and four steals^.
^ Doyel has it right here. Dwyane Wade has turned into an erratic, unreliable, delusional whiner.
The NBA doesn’t always give us basketball this good with drama even better.
When it does, it’s as good as anything in sports.
(Pause for a plug: I wrote about the admittedly unlikely but endlessly complicated and possible idea of Greinke returning to Kansas City as a free agent here.)
When I did the Ball Star blog, I had a list of the 10 best things Zack ever said, but either that link is expired or I’m the worst google-er ever. Or both.
Either way, this story probably won’t make you like Zack more, or necessarily wish he’d come back this offseason. But I do think it’s a pretty accurate anecdote about what he’s all about, how he thinks, and why Buddy Bell once said: “Kid’ll never lie, even when he should.” All the quotes in here are paraphrased.
This was September of 2009, when Greinke was going all Bob Gibson on the American League during his Cy Young season. It was his last start at home, against the Twins, and since the Royals were finishing up the most disappointing season in franchise history they made this game all about Zack, the only bright spot.
That meant Zack highlights between innings, various Zack pictures and videos on the scoreboard, fans bringing Zack signs to the game and yelling out Zack cheers.
Zack, Zack, Zack.
He pitched well that day — eight strikeouts, two walks, seven hits and one run over seven innings — and afterward someone in the interview room mentioned that it must’ve been pretty cool to pitch in front of so much support.
“No,” Zack said. “Actually, it was kind of annoying.”
The rest of the group interview went on for a few more minutes, and later, someone from the Royals approached a reporter or two and said Zack didn’t really mean “annoying,” he meant “distracting,” that all he cared about was pitching.
Asked about this, Zack said: “No. I meant annoying.”
There’s a pause.
“I know it’d be better if I meant distracting, but I really meant annoying.”