If you care about a basketball game, it is an immersive process. It is the hyper present at the expense of other considerations. It is a vacuum, an unsustainable suspension of “now” as the viewer waits on the hemming and hawing of a capricious ball. Once the stupid ball finally decides a winner, external context comes rushing in like a puddle reclaiming the territory rented by a footstep.
When I watch the Heat and Thunder, the games are gripping, but my usually present thoughts are drowned in the context of the future. For both these teams, what is happening so obviously has implications on what will happen.
Defeat brings Miami’s future to the fore. High expectations have led to some disappointment, which imperils certain actors. It is assumed that Spoelstra is coaching for his job, and that Bosh may get traded if Year 2 of The Big 3 ends in failure. When I witness Miami slipping in a big game, I see the experiment crumbling under the weight of its former ambition, and the weight of how that particular brand of ambition has been received by the public. Every missed shot hints at something bigger than simply losing.
Success is the ecstasy that haunts Oklahoma City. Victories validate the Thunder U project while threatening its sustainability. Every game that James Harden helps them win is a loud reminder that someone else will offer him enough money to diamond emboss that beard. Every jet-stream-altering Serge Ibaka block is a reminder that only one power forward can do this while also reliably hitting an 18 footer. Can they pay both? Are we witnessing an incredible team that will become better, but simply cannot be?
The actors themselves are probably taking it one game at a time, as the cliche goes. I’m certainly not compartmentalizing like that when I watch. Because, it so often feels like one game threatens past and future plans all at once.