Another Finals, finally

One unfortunate side effect to our quest to save money by ditching cable is that my love affair with NBA basketball gets relegated to the nether regions of the schedule.

During the regular season, it’s only a Sunday afternoon indulgence. Through the first round of the playoffs, only one in sixteen games seem to make their way to the big three. And once the Conference Finals have started, basketball has disappeared from my life altogether (not including the Internet).

But here we stand, staring down the barrel of yet another NBA Finals. An NBA Finals that can be summed up as David vs. Goliath, that is, if David was a giant and his only weakness was that no one knew who the hell he is.

I expect this to be a long, tough and physical Finals. Tougher than last year, and (unfortunately) probably more exciting. As a fresh-faced Boston fan, it’s my contractual obligation to root against the Lakers. But barring a sudden rule change that allowed the Celtics to sneak into the Finals without actually winning anything worthwhile, there isn’t another team I’d rather root for than the Orlando Magic.

I was 16 when Orlando last made the Finals. There, they faced off against a Houston Rockets team that had already won a title the year before. By butting up against an established power, an Orlando team – featuring a fresh Shaquille O’Neal and blossoming Nick Anderson – sought to prove themselves against a league superpower.

They were underdogs. They had no chance.

And despite the fact that they knocked my Pacers out of the playoffs just a round or two earlier, I couldn’t help but root for them.

It was my conference, after all. My Eastern Conference. My pride was at stake – best be beaten by the team that won it all, right? Best be a footnote in the championship recap video, rather than missing entirely from it altogether.

This year is very much the same. Orlando knocked Boston out. Dwight Howard plays the part of Shaquille O’Neal, Rashard Lewis acts as Nick Anderson. And Kobe Bryant stands in the way – a star with three rings, a sure fire Hall of Famer, a man looking to cement his legacy, to prove that the three-peat in the early 00’s wasn’t a fluke. That he can do this himself, without the big man he once stood next to.

That big man. Shaquille O’Neal. Who brings this analogy back full circle. Who was able to win a title without Kobe. That big man, who knows what Dwight Howard is going through, understands, because he was in that position – facing up not only the best team remaining, but his own insecurity in reaching the Finals at such an early age.

Dwight would do well to ask Lebron James what it means to get to the Finals before you’ve even been able to live up to the hype. Maybe he already did. After all, he’s already gone Cleveland to get here.

No one expects the Magic to win this thing. No one wanted this match-up. We’re missing Lebron vs. Kobe. Or Lebron vs. Carmello. Hell, we’re missing a rematch of last year’s Finals.

Instead, we’re looking at something we didn’t expect. A team that has come into its own earlier than we thought they would. A manchild that’s just seconds away from becoming the biggest thing in the league. Both literally and metaphorically. And he’s going against a perfect foil. Kobe: the anti-Michael Jordan; blessed with so much talent yet none of the approachability, Lex Luther to Superman, respected yet hated.

These metaphorical side stories have been happening for the past four rounds. But I’ve missed them all, only picking up the static from the Internet and text messages.

My Amazing happened all through second hand sources.

Until now. The Finals start tonight. And I’ve got a date with another year of basketball history.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 4th, 2009