Whether you are Steve Jobs or LeBron James, there is so much value in having vision, in seeing things before others do or can. You will witness that for yourself Sunday as the defending champion Heat face the old and broken Los Angeles Lakers, who are now playing catch-up in more ways than one.
The Lakers are basketball royalty, but they fell behind big in the blueprint game. Willful Kobe Bryant can rally you in the fourth quarter of a night or even the fourth quarter of a season, but he can’t do much of anything about the decaying predicament he finds himself in Sunday — trailing big in the fourth quarter of his career while trying to rally during what might become Miami’s era.
In terms of construction and architecture, Heat versus Lakers is calm vision versus breathless desperation.
Pat Riley groomed his coach for years, from video coordinator to throne, and then stuck with him during turbulence when things literally got bumpy with LeBron James. The Lakers fired their coach five games into this season.
Very quietly, without rancor, the son of the Heat’s owner recently took power over the legendary Riley, who has produced two championships for the organization. This while the son of the Lakers owner rebuffed legend Phil Jackson even though Jackson had won for the organization before and was dating the owner’s daughter.
Riley spent years trimming his roster so he would have the available money and plan to sell LeBron And Friends on taking discounts when free agency arrived. The Lakers went 0-8 this preseason because so few of their thrown-together pieces were even healthy — and now it looks more likely with every loss that the youngest, most valuable one will be there for only this one miserable season.
The Heat way
Wade, an aging superstar, willingly and consciously handed the ball, the team and the city over to LeBron, his long-time friend, while Bryant, an aging superstar, keeps lecturing Dwight Howard on the Laker Way, both of them playing and acting like strangers who don’t like one another. It is not insignificant that Miami’s stars chose to do this together while Bryant and Howard were foisted upon each other. You are vastly more invested in a plan when it is yours than when it is someone else’s. The Van Gundy brothers say the toughest thing to coach in sports is an aging superstar — because confidence is the last thing to go and the mirror is the last thing to know — and Bryant, who has missed more shots than anyone in the history of the game, continues to get more shots up than anyone in the league not named Carmelo while Howard wonders where all his touches went.
Bryant, who nicknamed himself “Black Mamba,” actually hisses like a snake whenever he thinks he is open on the court, and you have to think at this point Howard finds not only that sound poisonous but the entire environment that surrounds it. The Lakers’ pieces ought to fit better than Miami’s, given that James and Wade have redundant skill sets, but somehow Pau Gasol kept getting benched for Earl Clark, which is not unlike Chris Bosh losing minutes to Jarvis Varnado.
Like everyone else, the Lakers fell behind the Heat’s way, and now they are trying to scramble through a tiny must-win-right-now window with a lot of very old parts surrounding the injured one they have at center. Given the expectations, and given how many teams make the playoffs in basketball, and given how many future Hall of Famers are on the L.A. roster, and given that Milwaukee, Portland and Utah have a better record than L.A., what you are witnessing in today’s Lakers might be the single biggest disappointment in the history of American team sports.