As I begin writing this entry, the Mavs and Spurs just began the fourth quarter of their Game 6. Dirk is throwing in ridiculous bank shots. George Hill continues to make corner 3's. Ginobili is throwing his body around recklessly while sporting the most ridiculous tape job I've ever seen over his nose. Honestly, if that thing was a Breathe Rite strip, it might keep me from snoring. Even Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd look like they care tonight. And, to top it off, Reggie Miller is on pace to shatter Troy Aikman's record for stating the obvious in a single sports broadcast. In other words, every body involved in this Game 6 brought their "A" game tonight. And, frankly, isn't that what you would expect to see from two proud franchises in the most important game of their seasons?
Read that previous sentence again. What word stands out? For me, it's "proud". Unfortunately, watching these two teams go toe to toe while leaving their guts on the floor highlights even brighter what we learned about the Atlanta Hawks 24 hours ago: the Hawks are not a "proud" franchise. Think I'm being harsh? Well, would a proud franchise EVER allow a team led by a 19 year old kid and Carlos F. Delfino (for the record, I have no idea what Carlos' middle name is...I chose the F for my own reasons) to dominate it in the fourth quarter of a must win playoff game on its home floor? Would a proud franchise's players EVER start screaming and pointing fingers at one another as it's season was crashing down around them? (I'm conveniently choosing to forget the Scottie Pippen "If you are drawing this play up for Kukoc, I'm going to sit my ass right here on this bench like a four year old" game for the moment). And, if you want to go back two years (and, I do), would one of the best young players on a proud franchise ever willingly ditch that franchise and go play in Greece? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, I would kindly ask you to stop reading now. You aren't going to like what follows.
The truth is that I'm not angry at the Hawks for being a less than proud franchise. Instead, I'm angry at myself for getting sucked in and believing that, after a lifetime of disappointment and ineptitude, the Hawks had finally turned the corner. I'm angry at myself for spending the last three years constantly saying, "hey, we are getting better each year...we are really building something here." I'm angry at myself for spending the last six months saying, "I really think Jamal Crawford is the X factor that makes us a contender." And, most of all, I'm angry at myself for being shocked last night when the curtain came crashing down and the same old Hawks franchise was standing there exposed for all the world to see.
Again, I'm not angry at the Hawks. It's not their fault. They are what they have always been. They haven't changed. I'm the one that ignored all the signs that this team was no different from the litany of past Hawks teams that have left me empty (i.e. an embarrassingly weak Eastern Conference, a heavy crunch time reliance on one of the streakiest and most selfish NBA players of the past decade (Crawford), an even heavier crunch time reliance on an offense that makes Paul Hewitt's offensive sets look ingenious, and a complete lack of any scoring presence in the post). Most of all, however, I'm the one that ignored a lifetime of evidence that the Hawks do not have the wherewithal to be a proud NBA franchise.
The Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968. That's 9 years before I was born. In their 41 seasons in Atlanta, including this season, the Hawks have made the playoffs 26 times. Of those 26 playoff appearances, the Hawks have NEVER...I repeat, NEVER advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. I'm not talking about winning a championship. I'm not even talking about making the NBA Finals. I'm talking about making the Conference Finals. In other words, in their 41 years in Atlanta, the Hawks have never been one of the best four teams in the NBA. Hell, the proudest moment in the franchise's history came when 'Nique engaged in a legendary duel with The Legend in a second round Game 7 LOSS in '88 (I'm going crazy with the ALL-CAPS). Let me repeat, the proudest moment in franchise history came in a loss 22 years ago! To make matters worse, the first Hawks game I remember attending was a Game 5 home loss to Jack "The Perm" Sikma and Milwaukee in the first round in '84. And, oh by the way, for the past five years we haven't even known who owns this freaking franchise!
In the face of all that evidence, I somehow convinced myself that things were now different. Again, I can't blame the Hawks for that. I only have myself to blame. Allowing myself to believe in this team was the sports fan equivalent of Elin agreeing to meet Tiger for breakfast at Perkins. Sometimes, you just have to know better.
In light of everything I've just written, I imagine you are expecting me to now declare that I've finally learned my lesson. That I finally know better. That I will not be watching Game 6 tomorrow night. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. I'll be in front of the TV. I'll be screaming. At some point in the second half, I'm sure I'll be talking myself back into Jamal Crawford. If we win, I'm sure I'll start talking myself into how a Game 7 win will give us the momentum to steal Game 1 from the Magic. In other words, I will go down the same road I have since I left the Omni after The Perm broke my heart in '84. On the bright side, I hear Perkins serves a great breakfast.