Chicago and Miami kicked things off last night in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with the Bulls’ surprisingly lopsided 103-82 victory over LeBron and company. Here’s a look at some story lines that will take you a little deeper than what happens on the court:
I-35 NBA playoff series an NBA first
Okay, so Oklahoma City has only had its own NBA team for three seasons, so the historic nature of the first-ever “I-35 Series” between the Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks may not be a huge deal. But take it from this Tulsa native who’s traveled to OKC and Dallas more than any other cities. It’s a huge deal.
For most fans on either side of the equation, the drive is roughly three hours, and just like another great regional rivalry, college football’s OU-Texas game, this series has the makings of a good old fashioned barn burner. Dallas shocked the world with a four-game sweep of two-time defending champions Los Angeles while Oklahoma City took out the scrappy Memphis Grizzlies in seven. Look for this one to go the distance with a slight advantage to the higher seeded Mavs.
But it’s really hard not to root for a young, exciting team like the Thunder who are led by one of the most likeable (and most genuinely nice) players in the league. Kevin Durant is a legit superstar and at the age of 22 has put himself in the conversation with NBA greats like Kobe Bryant, LeBron, D-Wade and Dwight Howard. In an interview earlier this year, he said to me, “My gift back to (God) is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can.”
I believe the kid.
Plus most of his teammates are just as down-to-earth as he is. That’s a true rarity in today’s over-hyped environment where arrogance is often rewarded and selfish play and showboating is (to a certain extent) encouraged. It will be interesting to watch Durant in his attempt to remain humble as the spotlight surrounding him gets astronomically bigger every day.
Korver and Wade on different (but similar) missions
Even though the Bulls won the top spot in the Eastern Conference, most pundits assumed Boston or Miami would emerge as the Finals representative. But after the Game 1 drubbing of the star-studded Miami Heat, Chicago, led by MVP Derrick Rose, proved they’re for real. Keep an eye on sixth man Kyle Korver who comes off the bench and adds a serious deep threat to the Bulls’ arsenal. We’ll have more on Korver in the coming weeks including a story about his charitable clothing company called Seer Outfitters, which benefits his African missions initiative.
For the Heat, the most inspiring storyline is the return of Dwyane Wade to his hometown of Chicago, where his mother Jolinda Wade pastors Temple of Praise. Wade, who donated nearly $2 million to help his mother purchase property for the church, revealed last week that last summer he came very close to signing with the Bulls instead of the Heat. It’s safe to say that his hometown ties made the decision to stay in Miami that much harder.
Here’s a great feature that tells the Wade family’s incredible story:
And in case anyone cares about my predictions: Chicago in six and (please forgive me fellow Okies) Dallas in seven.