It's Rocky Balboa versus Rocky Marciano. It's cheesesteaks versus clam chowder. Mostly, for historians into the return of the once mighty to prominence after years of mediocrity or worse, it's the Philadelphia 76ers versus the Boston Celtics Monday night during their opening game of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
Not sure if the NBA needs this.
Or Major League baseball, for that matter.
Or anybody who isn't into the "T" word that made Derek Jeter squirm like crazy during a recent episode of HBO's "Real Sports."
In case you missed it, Bryant Gumbel wanted to discuss "tanking" with the New York Yankees icon turned whatever he is nowadays running (or should I say ruining?) the Miami Marlins. Such questions arise when you're Jeter, and you're starting your first season as the Marlins' grand pooh after a winter of gutting your roster of Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna and anybody else your dwindling fan base might have cared a little about watching this season.
Teams do tank, you know, and this doesn't help the situation: The rise of the 76ers after two, four, five years of trying to dribble as badly as possible.
Since the 76ers' self-imposed fall into purgatory, they've dribbled toward the gates of the NBA heaven, but they've danced with the devil. That's because they're encouraging copycats, and they're not alone. They're combining with the last three World Series champions to make life miserable for a whole bunch of NBA and Major League Baseball fans who are opposed to paying big bucks to watch years of has-beens and never-weres sprinkled between a bunch of rejects.
The Houston Astros, the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City won those baseball titles in 2017, 2016 and 2015 respectfully, and they preceded the 76ers and (fill in the blank with multiple entries) with this formula: You tell everybody you're building for the future, and then you destroy your present by taking a plunger to your roster. The big names go first, because you have to (ahem) save money for the rebuild. To soften the blow over the next few years for your pocket book, you might even do something like the Atlanta Braves by building a new ballpark, stadium or arena. Hopefully, your customers will ignore your overmatched third baseman and spend more time studying the circus act around the water display near the yoga classes behind the right-field wall.
Historically, all of this buys you time.
Ethically, the whole thing reeks.
To paraphrase Herm Edwards, you don't play to LOSE the game. Not that everybody agrees, especially since the "T" word has been embraced by the Grizzlies, the Reds, the Bulls, the Royals, the Hawks, the Braves, the Kings, the Knicks, the Lakers. . . I need to catch my breath, because I could keep going for a while. All of those teams, along with several more, believe that "brutal" for long stretches is better than "mediocre" or even "pretty good" in the present, and I won't totally disagree.
Just lower your ticket prices by a bunch when tanking. Well, that, and make sure the items at your concessions stands are as cheap as your current roster, and what's wrong with free parking in some lots?
So much for fantasy, because tanking isn't new. The 1983-84 Houston Rockets suddenly ran out of gas during the last third of that season along the way to snatching future Basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon in the draft. That was tame compared to the stuff of now, and we haven't a better example than the 76ers.
OK, many are thinking the Celtics belong in the 76ers' category, but they're wrong. Even though team president of basketball operations Danny Ange blew up the Celtics not too long ago, he knew what he's doing. By the end of the 2012-2013 season, he ousted the significant likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, and then he hired supposedly overmatched NBA coach Brad Stevens from Butler University. Ainge made 70 major moves over four years, including that time he showed why the Brooklyn Nets are the Brooklyn Nets. He suckered five players and three first-round draft picks out of them, and his supposedly overmatched NBA coach led the Celtics to the playoffs three of his four seasons entering this one. It didn't hurt Stevens' cause that Ainge kept getting him an Kyrie Irving here and an Al Horford there.
What the 76ers did was tanking. They did everything they could over the past five years of 34, then 19, then 18, then 10, then 28 victories to position themselves for Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and the rest of those among the NBA's most exciting collection of the young and rising
That's great. No, that's terrible.
By "trusting the process," the 76ers are the exceptions. As for the rule, see any given season with its equivalency of the Grizzlies, the Reds, the Bulls, the Royals, the Hawks, the Braves, the Kings, the Knicks, the Lakers . . .