August 02, 2021 at 08:20 pm
Nathaniel Dela Cruz
Greatness is awarded postmortem. That is why the task requires a kill.
And the Milwaukee Bucks, two games shy of a cadaver bag, did a 180 and went full Quentin Tarantino for a killing spree that will earn them a championship, and more importantly, the esteem and validation of being great, postmortem.
They killed the inconsistencies of their offensive impetus and the insecurities of their team play. Giannis Antetokounmpo killed the voice that tells him to avoid circumstances that will send him to the free throw line where he is most vulnerable, and look at the kind of game he is capable of when he is unafraid. Khris Middleton killed the cynic that tells him he is an inconsistent, third-class player unworthy of max contract and the spotlight, and look at how he galvanized his superstar legacy in this league. They went on a killing spree, slaying their demons, the monkeys on their backs, and the plans of just trying again next year, or the year after that. It was murder in the name of vindication and vengeance.
Year after year they are defeated by the monster that feeds on their inability to finish a fight, and whipped dogs that they are, they tuck tail and scamper shamed, while the monster they created has grown over the years, fed with a steady diet of frustrating seasons that has fomented fear.
Down 0-2, the monster that has crippled the Bucks in past seasons appears set on dealing the final blow, only to face a ferocious counter-offensive from a rangale of stampeding deer, antlers out like lances of a charging cavalry salivating on the prospect of skewering the enemy, committing to a task many believe they are capable of as a team that is great on paper. Now they are great, for real—greatness that was awarded post-mortem.
Greatness on paper, greatness on posture, greatness on power rankings —these are hollow praises without value until a great feat has been achieved. That is too high a price, and asking for too much upfront, but greatness is not for everybody and not everyone can afford to pay the toll. Others can merely look longingly at the other end of the bridge and watch with envy the people who are able to pass, wondering if their turn will ever come. Many have died there, on that sad end of the bridge, the dead taking with them that one wish unfulfilled, and their bones are swept away along with their forgotten names, so that others can step forward and occupy the space for dreaming.
The Bucks have been here many times, always turned away by a tempest they can’t survive.
They were not the favorites to win the Eastern Conference; truth be told they were one of the favorites to collapse again in the Playoffs as part of their annual song and dance routine: an impressive regular season and a disappointing playoffs for an encore. A great team that can’t do great things, Milwaukee was an anomaly, and for that, it was easy for fans to accept that the ECF title will land on Brooklyn’s lap. But the Nets—one arm on a sling, another one scratching its head—bungled the catch.
We watched the Bucks march to the NBA Finals pointing out the reasons why they will lose to Phoenix, lugging on their backs the same demons that have killed their dreams year after year. After Game 2, the same people who awarded the Bucks a runner-up finish before the series began felt they have been spot-on regarding the impending outcome of the Finals.
When Milwaukee was down 0-2, where Phoenix was the predator and the Bucks, somewhat quite fittingly enough, is the prey, everyone was a critic, and their words were shovels digging a grave for a dead deer that already lost two legs. When Milwaukee won, everyone abandoned their grave-digging and used the same shovels to build a lofty castle for the newly-crowned kings from the bones of the enemies they vanquished, lauding and approving the manner by which the kill was made—surprising, forceful, committed, unflinching, unforgiving, and decisive.
Now, all of these feels like it happened in the distant past, drowned by the ominous hum of the rising disquiet from those seeking to have their turn. The line is long and the names too many to mention—a mix of young talents hungry to win now and frustrated veterans to whom fate has been consistently cruel, and not everyone has the same longevity for the long wait and the long haul.
Call it the war of a thousand crownless kings, or the rebellion of the usurpers, or the rise of the assassins. The fact remains the same: everyone is out for blood with eyes on the kill count, knowing by now that greatness is awarded postmortem.
The weak and superficial will seek comfort in the thought that they were already anointed great - by the media, by the fans, by the league, by the numbers on a stat sheet. But here is an undeniable lesson about the one true and single most important eminence pursued by all, the one that puts a ring on your finger, so that you are wed to an accomplishment not everyone can bed:
Greatness is awarded post-mortem.