Saturday, April 02, 2016

Some Records Get Broken, Others Just Sit and Collect Dust in the Basement

The Celtics upset the Warriors last night. Boston is a poor matchup for Golden State, probably because they are similar in structure, just not quite as good. Mirror image teams are hard to play in any sport.

National if not local news this morning is focused on how the loss ruined the Warriors' chances to become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated at home, and as its eighth loss, seriously damaged Golden State's hope of breaking the 1996 Bulls' mark for best regular season ever of 72-10. Either of those marks represent an astonishing feat of consistent excellence in a grueling endeavor. Yet any time the Warriors have spent thinking about either record has been a dangerous waste of time and energy. Without playoff success and a repeat NBA title, their prowess from November until April will be forgotten at best, a badge of shame at worst.

Every historic NBA season by any team has either been capped with a championship or it's not considered historic. If the '71'72 Lakers hadn't been champs, their record 33-game winning streak would be denigrated as yet another example of how Wilt choked in the clutch. Had the 1985-1986 Celtics failed to dispatch the Rockets in the Finals, their 40-1 home record would mean nothing to anyone, themselves least of all. It's been 20 years now, and what folks remember about the '95-'96 Bulls was that they were the fourth of six titles for Michael Jordan and Co.

Of course, the NBA has been playoffcentric since forever. I was taught as a small child in the '50s that the postseason was the actual season, with the regular grind of 82 games just a means to pay the freight for the entire enterprise. This idea, which sure seems counterproductive from the economic point of view (three-fourths of our product is inferior to the rest),  is even more pronounced in the NHl, Where the team "playoff hockey" is a proud synonym for "hockey when everyone cares." But as far as team accomplishments go, it's true in every team sport. Don't win a title, don't expect anyone to recognize what you did before you lost it.

No game venerates and obsesses over its single regular season records like baseball does -- as long as the record is compiled by an individual and not a team.  Just to take an example, no fan is unaware of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, even though since it was set in 1941, few of those fans were alive to see it. Only obsessive historians of the sport can cite the record for a TEAM's winning streak. It is 26, set by the New York Giants in 1916.

Nobody dwells on this feat because the Giants finished in fourth place that year. Incidentally, the team's streak came on the final 26 games of the year, making it the greatest salary drive ever, too. You'd think at least the Players' Association could rustle up a plaque for those guys.

The record for most regular season wins is jointly held by the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners at 116. Neither team won the World Series. The Mariners didn't even get there. So their record is widely ignored or disdained. I'll bet most of you readers right now are thinking "116 and they didn't win the Series? How Cublike of them."

Bostonians ought to know the score when it comes to regular season records. The score of Super Bowl XLII, Giants 17-Patriots 14 to be precise. It is noteworthy that when Patriots management put a banner up at Gillette Stadium to mark the team's 2007 16-0 record, fan embarrassment and I'll bet an internal expression of humiliation from the likes of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, forced the banner's removal.

Good for any and all of those who objected. Sports isn't entirely zero-sum. A team can have a most successful year if it doesn't win a championship, this season's Celtics being a prime example. It just can't have a truly great one. It has compiled numbers, not made history.

The Warriors will have their chance to make their records stick starting in a couple of weeks. For now, they're marking time. We note that the team considered to be Golden State's most dangerous playoff rival, the Spurs, are famous for how coach Gregg Popovich would rather tank a game than deprive his stars of the regular season rest he believes they need for when history gets made.


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