Celtics, Lakers, Cynics, Fakers

The Celtics' Paul Pierce (left) rediscovered his corporate resolve and fire, while the Lakers' Derek Fisher is the ultimate corporate climber, says Chris Matyszczyk.

This commentary was written by Chris Matyszczyk, an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.


Thus far, the NBA playoffs have enjoyed all the excitement of walking two very hairy dogs in a monsoon.

But now the floods have subsided, the dogs have been bathed and dried and your sports channel wants to tell you a story.

It's the Lakers and Celtics, basketball's equivalent of "Law and Order." You think you've seen this episode, but then a new character crops up to keep you glued. Look, that old cop has a new sidekick.

If you happen to delight in historical bathing, your mind will be full of Russells, Wilts, Magics and Birds. Tales of 20,000 women and the two men who most created the modern NBA. (Just the two men, not the 20,000 women.)

But if you can still touch your toes without your belly meeting the second of your chins, you'll know that the Los Angeles Lakers encountering the Boston Celtics represents the ultimate in modern professionalism.

These are the bankers and the lawyers-- the corporate survivors ready to play dirty for the big bonus.

This is where the artistry gets swallowed by the Artestry.

That's the thing about professionalism. While it can be respected and admired, it lifts the spirits about as high as Jessica Simpson lifts 350 in the gym.

Emerging from the eastern wing of offices, the Celtics represent the corporation that returned from a share price in single digits.

They were down, out, hung, drawn, deep-sixed, halved, quartered and heading for the Fifth Dimension.

But, having stumbled into the Playoff Bar like a drunk who's just lost his best friend, they looked around as if the scene was all too familiar, as if their wife had left them for another man just the week before and the Playoff Bar is where they got over it.

Kevin Garnett's face, which contorts far more than his body these days, willed the corporation to cut costs and increase profits under threat of, well, being covered with angry spittle.

Paul Pierce rediscovered his corporate resolve and fire.

He had (almost) literally and (definitely) comically come back from the dead a couple of years ago when his body was removed from the Finals court in a wheelchair, only for him to return within what seemed like five minutes.

It seemed like five minutes because it was five minutes, as Pierce had only been removed to reclaim his shot, which he'd left under a towel in the locker room.

This wasn't art or drama. This was pure manipulation.

In the Playoff Bar of 2010, Pierce recommitted that lost shot to the organization.

And Rajon Rondo suddenly emerged from a long hazing, during which the Celtics were rumored to be willing to trade him for someone, anyone who wore his headband straight and wasn't Rajon Rondo.

Now, Rondo looks like he might have been promoted to CEO. Chief Energizing Officer.

These are all players of power and efficiency. They understand organization and defense (both the individual and team kind).

They also understand guts. They show guts, they spill them and, on frequent occasions, they stick their sharp elbows into them. Pretty, this isn't.

The only grace allowed at Celtics HQ comes from renowned piano player, art collector and occasional brush-stroking shooter, Ray Allen.

Allen is perhaps the one player of star billing in these Finals to whom, at one point or another, one cannot find a solid and justifiable reason to dedicate a snarl.

This is not something one could say of the West Coast offices' most renowned individual, Kobe Bryant. He thinks he's Michael Jordan. He might, one day, rival Jordan's record.

But who can be neutral about his face? One part arrogant smirk, one part malevolent stare and, when at rest, several parts blissfully insincere.

Would you want your kid to have a Kobe Bryant shirt when he could have left the back blank?

This is the man who had to create his own nickname--The Black Mamba--because no one with a mind, a heart and a laptop would do it for him.

Bryant has the skills of a killer. Sadly, he appears to have the loneliness of a killer too. He could win another four NBA titles and still would attract all the love of that blank-faced boy who runs Facebook.

But Bryant is surely not even the most ruthless character on the Lakers. He couldn't hold a candle or wear a cassock at any service presided over by Derek Fisher.

Fisher represents the least succulent traits of the venal corporation and enacts them on a nightly basis at a basketball arena near you.

He is the ultimate corporate climber. He presents an angelic, diplomatic expression, while at the same time being prepared to consign his opponent to an unjust ending. With a discreet shove, a jab, an elbow, a flop or even, one suspects, a pinch here or there.

While many a hypemeister will offer you dramatic scenarios that revolve around Garnett, Pierce and Allen of the Celtics and Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers, it is to Derek Fisher you should turn if you want to know what these Finals truly represent.

Kobe Bryant's supposed best friend on the team, the President of the National Basketball Players Association, Fisher has, over the years, used his nefarious methods to incite other people's madness. In the corporate world, that can happen.

The NBA Finals, this time around, represent less the Lakers and the Celtics and more the efficiency and ruthlessness of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

There is no team that feels natural to root for and barely any players whose skill can raise a neutral roof. There is no Steve Nash, no LeBron James. There is no daring, no flash, no hint of surprise. Unless you count Ron Artest's hair.

When you're hoping for some vintage Nate Robinson, you know things are looking bleak.

These Finals are a sign of our times. Those who have more skill, more daring, more artistry (it's all relative) will likely cede to those who are more cunning with their derivatives.

At least it should be close.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Watch Now

New Android App

For your Android phone and tablet, download the FREE redesigned app, featuring CBSN, live 24/7 news.

Download
The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App