Basketball, then, was a pretty sweet deal. Forty-eight minutes, no injury time, limited time-outs: it kept to the family schedule, didn't run over time (the 1993 NBA Finals Game Three was a notable and extremely tense exception), didn't ever finish before the final whistle, and legitimised baggy clothing with readily apparent logos and brands. Important, in 1993.
It's probably unfair to assume that it was solely a unit-driven upbringing that predisposed me to enjoy basketball – the spectatorship of which lives and dies based on a delightful formula whose end-product is a 24-second possession – and the appeal of that knock-off Chicago Bulls Starter singlet wore off pretty quickly. That formula, though. Try reverse-engineering the thing, imagining Commish David Stern's 1954 equivalent in your ear: "Fans want a hundred points per game from their team, and we've only got 48 minutes to give it to them. Twenty-five points in 360 seconds per team per quarter, divided by the average points per team possession (crunch the FG, FT and 3PT percentages, carry the one)…" It's a thing of beauty; it's finding a capital-'P' Proof based on first principles.
I'm now in a country where NBA games are free-to-air and live, and while Eastern Conference games can't be found for love or money, the battle for the West continues every two or three days. Or it would, if live coverage of the Socceroos' gripping press conferences wouldn't keep obscuring TNT's pre-game comment-off. Not that I'm missing much from Charles Barkley, whose co-hosts have to help him along every misstep of the way. Kobe gets in on the act, too – where players without shoes named after them have the humility to ask the Round Mound how to get the step on defensive boards, Bryant just offers a shit-eating grin and asks how many donuts CB34 got through in his career. Former Indiana Pacers swingman Reggie Miller can't quite make up for it, commenting just as he used to play, by keeping his head down and sniping in from left-of-screen when everyone else is tired.
The Mound is all kinds of interesting, but I want to hear Toni Kukoc telling us just why Goran Dragic thinks he can drive to the hoop again. I want to hear Clyde Drexler analyse Steve Nash's scoop layups, hear Spud Webb explain why Shannon Brown didn't quite manage to jump over Jason Richardson in Game One, hear John Starks belittle Derek Fisher. I want to hear Karl Malone laugh.
Though, maybe he could look at Pau Gasol's gameface.
With the series tied up 2-2, today's game was always going to be a barometer, a test to see whether Bryant and Gasol could push back against the Suns and their scarily efficient bench. Whether I'd be able to discuss the Finals with Wilburforce the Fucking Pro Wrestler without knowing – knowing – that my Eastern Conference underdogs, whoever they turn out to be, would effectively be swept by the guys in imperial purple and gold. Whether Los Suns could pull off an emphatic triple construction.
After losing two straight, Kobe was angry – in the pre-game interview, he almost threw his microphone out of the pram. The first scoring play saw Steve Nash milk an all-too-cheeky foul from Derek Fisher and hit two free throws. Robin Lopez's afro was ridiculously buoyant throughout, but it failed as a measure of the Suns' success. At the worst, the Lakers led by 18, and even a late run and an eventual 3 to tie everything up at 101 apiece couldn't do more than give Kobe another chance to take a game-winning shot in the final 3.5 seconds. Or, as the case may be, airball it straight into the hands of Ron Artest, who only had to appear to take the shot or be fouled. Back to Phoenix for Game Six.