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How the NBA Playoffs is Just Like Game of Thrones

Now that we’re eight episodes into Season 1, I think it’s time to welcome Game of Thrones into the pantheon of can’t miss cable dramas. It’s a great series. Borderline brilliant. The writing is terrific. The cast is fantastic. And the plot is paced  just right — slow enough not to confuse the audience, convoluted enough to be unpredictable and keep people guessing.

GoT is quickly becoming the gold standard for medieval dramas thanks to HBO’s holy trinity of television production: sex, violence and, ahem, little people (sound familiar, Boardwalk Empire fans?). It’s Lord of the Rings meets Braveheart with a whole lot of nudity and backstabbing mixed in.

What makes the show so popular, though, what keeps people hooked, is how relatable the characters are. The action takes place among kings and knights and 14th century prostitutes, but the character types are straight out of your local bar.

There’s the schemer, the bully, the outcast, the b****, the pretty boy, the honest Abe, the tomboy, the guy in the corner cracking jokes, the good wife (yeah, you’re right, she wouldn’t be at the bar), the rebel, the nitwit, the hot chick, the alcohol-soaked person in charge, and, of course, the crazy lady who still breast feeds her 6-year-old son. Okay, forget the last one. That’s just plain weird.

Independently (or, in some cases, dependently), these characters are fighting for the same goal: the right to sit on the throne (which looks like something straight out of a Tim Burton film, by the way). Like Kanye West, they want all that power. And they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Along the way, egos clash, battles are fought, and people die. Campaigns end. Tears fall. New contenders for the throne emerge. It’s a vicious cycle. Even when you win, you don’t really win because you have to keep an eye out for the next guy trying to take your spot.

The NBA is similar to GoT this way; it’s a perpetual struggle for power, one that relies heavily on individual talents and personalities and how those talents and personalities interact with each other.

Take the Lakers, for instance.

For two seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10), Kobe Bryant and Co. sat on the throne. They had the perfect mix of talent and personality. They ruled derisively, throwing rocks at anyone who dared challenge them. They didn’t think anyone could knock them from the top.

At that point, team chemistry was fine. Everyone was hungry, confident and, most importantly, satisfied with their place in the royal court — Kobe as king, Derek Fisher as “the hand” (the king’s top adviser), Pau Gasol as first knight, Ron Artest as king’s protector (the top bodyguard), Andrew Bynum as crown prince, and Lamar Odom as … well, let’s face it, nobody really knows what Lamar Odom’s role is.

Like GoT episodes 1-6, everything was fine in Lakerland. Not perfect, but fine. There was order. Everything moved smoothly, albeit with an undercurrent of jealousy.

Then the equivalent of Robert Baratheon’s death happened (losing Games 1 and 2 to Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals) and, like episode 7 of GoT (“You Win or You Die”), everything devolved into chaos.

Success made the Lakers patient as individuals, but their locker room has always been a miniature version of King’s Landing — there’s always been discontent behind closed doors (particularly when it comes to the role Bynum’s been asked to play and the dismissive way Kobe treats his teammates, the ones not named Fisher anyway).

The two losses to the Mavericks at home brought out lingering animosities. Bynum’s comment about the Lakers having “trust issues” is evidence of that.

Talent-wise, L.A. had the means to come back, just as King’s Landing had the means, personnel-wise, to patch the kingdom back together in the wake of King Robert’s death. But pettiness and jealousy got in the way. There were too many grand illusions. Too many aspirations. Too many private squabbles. The king (Kobe) and the hand (Fisher) couldn’t hold the team together and the Lakers got swept.

This opened the door for a new challenger to the throne, the Mavericks.

If the Lakers were the royal household before King Robert’s death, the Mavs are House Stark, only with a more determined, more power hungry leader at the helm.

Dirk Nowitzki is similar in so many ways to Eddard “Ned” Stark: talented yet humble and unassuming, with a dry sense of humor and a propensity to hold the microphone too close to his face during postgame interviews. Sorry. I couldn’t resist. It’s so damn funny the way Dirk does that.

Like Ned, Dirk is a willing leader who hates being the center of attention. Both deflect attention to the point of compulsiveness. Unlike Ned, however, Dirk wants a shot at the throne. He’s not ready to relinquish it to the Petyr Baelish’s (Pat Riley) or Joffrey Baratheon’s (LeBron James, just kidding, there’s no comparison for Joffrey) of the world. He’s been denied too many times. He wants the crown for himself.

So do his teammates, a diverse mix of supporting players that rivals House Stark, which is the strongest house we’ve seen on the show in terms of depth. The parallels aren’t there at every level. Nobody on the Mavs can rival the youth and leadership potential of Robb Stark, for instance. But the Mavs are strong, top to bottom, in the same way House Stark is strong.

Also, you have to admit it was pretty funny the way the Mavs kidnapped Tyrion Lannister. I mean, J.J. Barea.

Dallas is House Stark: steady; reliable; unassuming, yet still a legitimate threat for the throne. It’s a near perfect match.

With the Heat, it’s not so obvious. They’re more a mixture of the Dothraki and House Lannister.

LeBron James is obviously Khal Drogo. That’s the easiest pairing since red wine and steak. Physically, they’re both imposing to the point of peeing your pants, and both can take their game to the next level in the blink of an eye if necessary — LeBron with a ferocious dunk, Drogo with a killing so savage you wonder if he’s even human.

The actor who plays Drogo, Jason Momoa, is a Buddhist, but his character murders people in the most monstrous ways imaginable — by pouring molten gold on their heads and ripping out their larynx.

Enemies are afraid of Khal Drogo just as opponents are afraid of LeBron James, especially now that he’s found his stride in crunch time (whether you measure that by defense and offense or just offense is up to you). And thanks to the addition of a key person into their lives (Daeneyrs Targaryen for Drogo, Dwyane Wade for LeBron), both are now on the war path. They have their sights set on the crown.

This makes for a perfect match, leadership-wise, for the Dothraki and the Heat. After that, the comparison breaks down, though. Outside of Jorah (the adviser who looks after Daeneyrs), the Dothraki are more or less faceless. That works for the Heat’s supporting cast — Joel Anthony, etc. — but not for the other members of the Big 3.

Yeah, Wade could be Daeneyrs. He’s similarly influential. But Daeneyrs is a hot chick who puppets her husband with sex, and he’s, well, Dwyane Wade — a warrior in his own right. That doesn’t add up.

Wade is more like Tywin Lannister, the father of Jaime (the pretty boy), Tyrion (the imp) and Cersei (the conniving queen). He’s firm and ruthless, a great soldier who is the guiding hand behind his family’s push for power, even if he’s not the face of it.

Through three Finals games, Wade is the clear MVP choice if the Heat win, which doesn’t exactly tie in with Tywin’s future path — there’s no way he’s going to be king — but it’s a fitting comparison otherwise.

I already mentioned J.J. Barea as Tyrion (because of his sense of humor… c’mon, people), which leaves Chris Bosh as Jaime Lannister. If you’re not familiar with Jaime, he’s a real piece of work, a talented, front-running swordsman who refuses to fight in a battle unless he knows he has the upper hand. Remind you of anyone?

Of course, Bosh isn’t having an incestuous relationship with his sister like Jaime is, but that’s beside the point. Plot-wise, the two serve the same purpose. They’re necessary, valuable because of what they bring to the table, but they’re not well liked.

In GoT, if the Lannisters ever formed an alliance with the Dothraki, it would be game over for everyone else. Together, they’d have enough wealth and muscle to rule for hundreds of years — or at least until the in-fighting started. The other houses wouldn’t stand a chance.

This is what Pat Riley had in mind when he assembled the Big 3 this summer.

That doesn’t bode well for House Stark. Or, in this case, the Dallas Mavericks. They’re simply overmatched. With Miami winning Game 3, it doesn’t look good for Ned/Dirk and the boys.

Crazier things have happened (Tyrion beating a soldier to death with his shield, for instance), but all indications point to the Heat sitting in the iron chair when all is said and done.

Whether or not they can protect the title is a different story. Here, again, GoT’s logic persists. You can have all the talent in the world, but nothing is guaranteed when everyone has his eyes on what you’ve got.

The Lakers taught us that this season.


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  • Chikwado Kanu

    Wouldn’t Pat Riley be Tywin Lannister?