Friday, June 13, 2008

The Finals are here

The Finals are here.

The Celtics have had NBA Finals expectations on their shoulders all year, and are now a game away from the title.

The NBA got its wish - not just the two best teams in the regular season, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences meeting in the finals, but the league's two most storied franchises - the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics - meeting for the first time since 1987. Not since Bird, McHale and Parrish faced Magic, Worthy and the rest of the Showtime Lakers in the Boston Garden and the Forum in L.A. have these two met, and you always knew if they met up this season it would be wash of white-noise and hype leading to the games.

Two things are keeping this series from being great right now: One, the Lakers self-detonating when it counts the most (aside from their Game Three win back home in L.A., which they even almost choked away in the fourth quarter) and two, disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy has raised his ugly head and the NBA is now fighting a PR nightmare.

It's almost only fitting that as the NBA gets its dream finals, accusations are coming in that there might be somebody behind the scenes pulling strings. Donaghy has apparently accused the NBA of influencing the referees, who in turn are supposed to influence the outcomes of playoff series - to try and improve ratings, it would seem. The crux of some of this is around the Kings-Lakers Western Conference Finals in 2002, in which the Lakers won game six to take it to a seventh game, which they won en route to the title.

NBA fans have been cynical about referees in the past, and many have conspiracy theories regarding the NBA front office that should earn them honorary tinfoil hats. Frozen envelopes, make-up calls after non-calls in games, doctored playoff series, refs in on it...all of it sounds too familiar, and where there's smoke there's eventually fire.

I just hope this doesn't completely cripple the league. That would be a shame.


The world's best player, Man United's Cristiano Ronaldo, tries to lead his Portuguese national side to glory

The Finals are here. After a year and a half of qualifying matches, the European Championships - aka Euro 2008 - are upon us. A week gone, three teams have qualified after winning their first two matches, the first few uninspiring matches have given way to some scintillating soccer, and pre-tournament conceptions on the favorites have already been changed.

The Dutch are flying high and Portugal is strong, whereas the Germans have slipped up and Italy - current defending world champions - are in danger of going out at the first hurdle.

I've been watching the matches every morning, and I'm actually enjoying ESPN's coverage - shocking, I know. They're putting a real effort into improving their coverage, going as far as to hire Scottish commentator Andy Gray onto their team, as well as showing three games a day (one is repeated) and doing a studio show every night. They didn't even put this much effort into their World Cup coverage two years ago.

So far, for me, the Dutch have been the story of the tournament. With no in-camp squabbles, it looks like the Oranje are finally united. Their defense isn't outstanding, but with one of the best keepers in the world - Edwin van der Sar - marshaling the back line, they're organized, and they're incredibly dangerous on the break. They've scored 7 goals in two games - against the World Cup winners (3-0 over Italy) and runners up (4-1 over France).

Watching both these finals is an exercise in drama. I wish the NBA Finals didn't have two days between games, and I wish the Germans can get through their group to the knockout rounds of the Euros. I wish I was there, too - maybe I could pretend I'm Dutch for a few days.

No comments: