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VOL 3. NO. 22 Monday, June 11 - Sunday, June 17, 2001
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(NOT) NUFF RESPECT & Why Philly Must Lose
Present reflections on the NBA championship series between Los Angeles and Philadelphia can cause a brother sudden, euphoric shutdown, especially if you happen to wear the pride and legacy of the latter challenger-town on your chest like an invisible, life-long tattoo. Indeed, this is by all accounts in recent memory, the best and the hardest of professional basketball finals. The competition is mean, the spirit as fierce as a NCAA tournament head smash, the stakes as surrealistically high as an unprecedented power shake-up in the Senate. Well, maybe not as serious, but this once improbable match-up has now left many jaws gaping loose and lips parted as wide as Moses opened the Red Sea. It is far from the days of the usual sets of suspect whom we always expected to reach sports immortality - remember the days of old when you just knew it was a Bulls year? When Michael Jordan was as familiar and permanent a world figure as the President? Remember how predictable and so suspiciously rigged it all seemed? As though we were looping through a space-time continuum and traveling through the same cycle of events.

Now, it's finally different this year. This is the year when basketball was worthy enough to catch my eye and attention, a championship series tightening into nerve crashing train rail brake sounds because energy once lost is now found. Most who know me will tell you that I'm not one to pay homage to commercial sports, especially basketball - particularly when I'm convinced the multi-million dollar endorsements are as important as the game itself. To me, the beauty in sports is the excitement of the struggle; the war engaged. Watching coaches like two generals in pursuit of an opening in the front as their players cross the court like soldiers running in a bayonet charge. This series feels like that - not just because it's my hometown long due the praise it deserves for its undying loyalty to its teams. But, mostly since this war rages on in evening, prime time skirmishes between two great coastal Titans of the East and the West.

The Lakers/Sixers final speaks to more than even that. It is emblematic of an even larger struggle, transcending lines of race, of class, of politics and money. Beyond coastal locations, each city has a distinct heart and life of its own. Each city character is starkly different from the other, as marked as the distance between them. The City of Angels is the town of paradise, of Hollywood, beaches and suntans; it is the original "Tinsel Town," a Pacific paradise where palm trees grow and where all sorts of dreams have been made ... or broken. Money and celebrity status flow through Los Angeles like volcanic lava. It is where the term "star" holds grossly un-scientific meaning, a place of incessant lights, camera and action.

Power resides in places like L.A. This is the center of cinema and mass public entertainment creating billions of dollars a year. Hence, the Lakers are a long-term investment. Therefore, as the Bulls of old, the Lakers must win at all costs.

Philadelphia gets very little to no respect in this equation. It ... just .... doesn't fit into the larger plan. While sports critics and commentators have slept on Philly all year, amazed in disbelief by coach Larry Brown's outstanding rally of a once laughing-stock franchise, the sports and entertainment world itches like a stuffy jock strap for a Lakers' championship re-sweep. Despite Philly's historic place as the colonial port town where this great country and its principles were founded, it must at all costs not win. Philadelphia is a classic working class town, an asphalt jungle where dreams are not attained: they are instead worked for. At least, that is the reigning perception. In L.A., the impression is that dreams, and the money that follows, grows on trees. Philly, on the other hand, is a place where eyes are forced to realize the unpleasant extremes of working class life.

Philly's sports teams, including the embattled, but Eastern Conference supreme 76ers, accentuate the traditional Philly stone face. Philadelphians have always defied the city theme of Brotherly Love through concrete attitude and perseverance. This is why we love our Iverson cornrows and skin biting tattoos; our cool ass Snow. We love the fact that Mutombo is among those rare sorts in the NBA who show no fear when the "Shaq Attack" blitzes through the middle - Shaquille O'Who? What? Puh-lease: pass the ball and play. We crave to watch Allen I. Get scraped in the knees, bruised in the thighs and busted on the lip because he represents that hardest element which makes this city what it is.

That's why Kobe Bryant gets all the endorsements. In many respects, as Game 2 displayed, this is a fight between rich and poor ... House and Plantation, some might suggest (you didn't hear it from me). Known for his flagrant arrogance both on court and off, Bryant gets mad respect as Jordan reincarnate - as of late, he throws the signature Jordan tongue when flying to the rim for a show-stopping slam. He is the most well rounded player in many respects, while his counterpart must count almost entirely on speed, precision and old-fashion spirit. But, his constant edge against Iverson, highlighted by his anger once the former Georgetown Hoya and infamous rebel baller made MVP this year, symbolizes something much deeper and much more threatening. As Bryant pulls in endorsement after endorsement (and Iverson gets all but outright snubbed by the media establishment), he cannot handle the reality claiming siege to his every thought: how the hell did this scrappy, project-livin', ghetto-azz band of professional sports misfits make it here? And who is this no-talkin' fast hand with the braids? "Let me guard him," Bryant begs L.A. coach Phil Jackson in player hating glee. As fate would have Bryant hate it even more, the Sixers toast the Lakers in Game 1. Bryant, outraged, must stop the pariah Public Enemy of professional basketball as though life and limb depends on it. The old school gods - Jordan, Barkley, Ewing - conspire to instigate behind the scenes.

In the end, who the better player is may greatly depend on the better attitude. But, Iverson doesn't care: all that matters is his ability to play .... and win. When asked about the obvious Game 2 beef between he and Bryant, Iverson simply shrugged: "Ask him about that."

C.D. Ellison is Contributing Writer to Metro Connection. He can be reached at againstthegrain@metroconnection.info.

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