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Why let truth get in the way of the story?

If the worldwide leader says it's a dream season, it must be a dream season.

June 14, 2009|MARK HEISLER

Is it over yet?

This near the end, we're still knee deep in idiocy, so I guess that means we're right on schedule.

In real life, the NBA has managed to slow the gears of its voracious justice system down to permit a nice ending to a great postseason.

Without LeBron James or the Boston Celtics, but with competitive games and the high-scoring Orlando Magic, the Finals have higher ratings (8.5) than the Lakers and Celtics did after four games last spring, or last fall's entire six-game World Series (8.4).

Of course, real life was always elusive and these days it's so beside the point.

ESPN is still airing its joint venture with Nike and NBA Entertainment, titled:

"DREAM SEASON 23 & 24"

It's a heartwarming documentary about Kobe Bryant and James' collision path (and actually moving in places, such as the one with LeBron and his mom.)

It starts as the rivals eye each other warily as U.S. teammates before becoming friends, winning the gold medal, and going home to lead their teams to a climactic duel.

"As these friends grow closer to a showdown," muses narrator Justin Timberlake, "you have to wonder, what are they thinking?"

I have to wonder if they couldn't have edited that part after the Cavaliers were ousted.

I know what one of them is thinking. When "Dream Season" comes on, James changes channels, assuming he hasn't already hurled a coffee table through his 60-inch flat screen.

A Kobe-LeBron matchup would indeed cap a dream season -- it just didn't happen this season.

Nevertheless, with all the time and money everyone had invested, ESPN went ahead and aired it, hoping no one would notice, or care.

The game is still the thing, and as Jack Nicholson says, the only drama he can't figure out is the ending ahead of time.

However, the game isn't the only thing.

The coverage, whether by ESPN, Tribune Co., or anyone else, is another performance, and may or may not have any meaningful relationship to the game.

I'm as big a customer as ESPN has. If people in the business resent it, that's how it goes. It's what everyone looks up to, and envies as well as admires.

Throw in the fact it's as imperial as ancient Rome, having just opened, with next; only recently stopped stealing every story and claiming it had it first; and still says things like, " reached out to a variety of sources throughout the NBA and college basketball," and you can see how resentment could happen.

Someone has always been biggest, most admired, most hated.

In the '80s when I covered the Dodgers, I roomed at Vero Beach with Gordy Verrell of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the greatest guy in the history of sportswriting, and the reason the beat was a party that never ended.

Like everyone with the other papers, Gordy hated The Times, after years of seeing Dodgers stories that broke nationally attributed to us, even if he had the same stuff.

ESPN is a new multi-tiered, all-eclipsing phenomenon, televising every sport smart enough to know it has to be on its air, with endless time to hype it promotionally, or cover it journalistically.

Unfortunately, the end result isn't coverage or discussion but obsession.

With so much of it blather, the end result is a nationwide Tower of Babel.

This was whatever that guy's name is who does "SportsCenter" with Hannah Storm, after Kobe Bryant scored 40 points in Game 1 of the Western finals:

"Kobe Bryant, perhaps responding [to] Jerry West earlier in the day . . . saying LeBron James had now passed Kobe Bryant as the league's best player . . . making a statement, and how."

And perhaps not.

If Bryant probably was stung, how out of it would you have to be to think Kobe, whose ferocity is legendary, wasn't already psyched to the max?

Then there was Derek Fisher's three-pointer that tied Game 4 of the Finals, prompting a banner headline over the top of Saturday's front page in the Orlando Sentinel:


Underneath was this:

"That's what Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi dubbed Stan Van Gundy after the coach's latest inexplicable and baffling decisions that led to the Magic's overtime loss in Game 4. Van Gundy is the best coach in team history but remains a walking, talking contradiction, Bianchi says."

Let's hope Van Gundy isn't a bigger walking, talking contradiction than that paragraph. If he's the best Magic coach, I'd hate to see what Bianchi says about No. 5.

Meanwhile, on ESPN, analyst Tim Legler explained that bringing the ball up the court made Fisher's shot easier.

Fisher rarely shoots three-pointers off the dribble, and the few times he does, almost invariably goes to his left, his strong hand, rather than his right, as he did this time.

If bringing the ball up the court helped, you'd think Legler, a fine shooter in his day, would have tried it, because he, like Fisher, was a pure spot-up guy.

Van Gundy, who knows a lot more about sportswriting than writers know about coaching, joked last week that the stories are already written, we're just waiting to see who wins to see which cliche to run.

That may not be baffling, or inexplicable, but it's true. As a friend said: "He must have seen my screen."

The time to pay attention is when somebody says something skeptical about the winning team, or something positive on behalf of the losing team.

If you want the other stuff -- winners are heroes who did everything right, said the right thing, etc., and losers are lowlifes who deserved what they got -- take your pick, there's a torrent of it.

Not that you should stop reading my stuff, even if I black out at my computer, awaken to find out I took a cheap shot at someone, or otherwise sold out my principles. I need the gig as much as anyone else.


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