Cup subplots make NBA look quaint
Was the basketball star being disloyal? Blasphemous? Impish? Or just accurate?
Look: Steve Nash isn't an unbiased source. He's Canadian, with suspicious rock-star hair. He's cheering hard for his Vancouver Canucks, even showing up on the hostile planet of Boston to support them behind enemy lines. His brother-in-law, Manny Malhotra, plays for Vancouver. Nash isn't a celebrity bandwagoning for blue-and-green laundry. His investment is authentic.
But it still was a striking comment. This wasn't coming from Wayne Gretzky or Don Cherry wearing a suit made from Mariah Carey's shower curtains, but a two-time MVP of pro basketball's top league, a bona fide hard-court lord.
"Nothing compares to the Stanley Cup Finals," Nash said on his Twitter feed the other day. "I could watch 9 periods."
Now it's not like the Phoenix Suns guard has been a passive observer of this year's NBA's title dance -- he has been openly rooting for his old Dallas Mavericks teammate and close friend, Dirk Nowitzki. It's not like Nash doesn't care about his own game and his livelihood. He was spied at Game 2 of the basketball finals, after returning from a trip to Jamaica. (Where do we apply for Steve Nash's life?)
But maybe Nash was giving voice to the under-appreciated obvious: that in a year in which the NBA and NHL championships have both been melodramatic, thrilling and a little haywire, the Stanley Cup -- which continues with Monday night's Game 6 from Boston with the Canucks leading three games to two -- has managed to be even more delicious and outrageous.
How is this possible, in a year that the narcissistic NBA Finals offered the hot furnace of outrage featuring LeBron James and the Miami Heat? At times in the past two weeks there has been so much psychobabble over basketball -- and preening about the NBA's ratings surge -- that it's as if the Cup is some strange Danish art film shown in smoky basement theaters.
But the 2011 Cup has offered its own authentic, wildly entertaining edge. Dallas and Miami met just five years ago in the NBA Finals, but Boston and Vancouver are hard-luck franchises that have been itching for a title since Nixon was secretly dancing to "Ziggy Stardust" in the Oval Office. The Canucks have never captured a Cup. When Boston last won, hockey was played on ice floes with whale jawbones serving as goals.
With a guarantee that at least one of these overdue franchises will end its drought, the already-bonkers Vancouver and Boston fan bases have kicked it to record bonkers levels. Nash hasn't been the only Canuck fan sneaking into Massachusetts. As The Journal noted Sunday, Vancouver fans have found it cheaper to fly a staggering 2,500 miles to Boston and buy a ticket there than to rob a bank in order to purchase one in their hockey-mad hometown.
And the hockey home crowds? Zero comparison. Dallas got loud for its Mavericks, but Miami fans have been ridiculed as late-arriving, passive, disengaged. Not a problem in deafening Vancouver, or Boston, where the Boston Globe actually asked Bruins fans to calm down and not antagonize visiting Canucks fans so much.
And there has been plenty of reason for antagonism; this series has been far from genteel. In the Cup's most serious moment, Canucks' defenseman Aaron Rome flattened Boston winger Nathan Horton, giving him a concussion and ending his season. Rome's season ended too, with a four-game suspension by the league.
But other confrontations have been more comical. Game 1 started with a biting controversy, when Boston's Patrice Bergeron tangled with Vancouver's Alex Burrows and found his digit munched on. Did Burrows really bite? Was it intentional? Was the finger organic farm-raised? The next game, Canucks provocateur Maxim Lapierre taunted Bergeron by wiggling his fingers in Bergeron's face.
Somehow the Stanley Cup skated onward. Under similar circumstances, the NBA Finals may have flown off the rails. The Journal's Kevin Clark notes that had, say, Dwyane Wade or LeBron bitten Nowitzki, ESPN would have launched a new channel devoted to covering it. (The channel would have probably just featured Jon Barry running around a studio with a police siren strapped to his head.)
Then there's the odd friction between the Stanley Cup's goalies. Tim Thomas has been phenomenal in net for Boston -- six goals allowed in five games. Somehow, he's down a game on Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, who had terrible nights in Games 3 and 4 in Boston, but posted a 1-0 shutout in Friday's Game 5 and then tweaked Thomas for the one he let in. "An easy save for me," Luongo said, noting Thomas' aggressive style.
Luongo also said, "I've been pumping his tires ever since the series started. I haven't heard one nice thing he's had to say about me."
Now, that's some passive-aggressive trash talk: Not only does Thomas let in easy goals, he doesn't have the decency to slide a return compliment across the rink! If you're looking for cruder trash talk, the television analyst Mike Milbury derisively referred to Vancouver's underperforming Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel, as "Thelma and Louise." (If Milbury thinks that was an insult, he needs to re-watch "Thelma & Louise," and apologize to Susan Sarandon.)
All of these Stanley subplots make the sturm und drang of the NBA Finals look quaint. LeBron and D-Wade mocked Dirk's cough? And that's it?
Even on its biggest stage, hockey is different -- passionate, personal, not inclined to star-gaze or put on airs. When Steve Nash visited Boston, he was posing for a photo in front of a statue of Bobby Orr when a loud woman began howling at him for standing his Canucks-loving, basketball-dribbling body next to the Bruins legend.
Then Nash reminded her that before Orr was a Bruin, he was a Canadian.
That's how back-and-forth and tasty this Cup has been.