In five months’ time, LeBron James should be staring at his second NBA Championship ring.
If you ask the odds makers in Vegas, there’s a 2/1 chance of it.
But as of today, LeBron has one.
Not one* or one in a shortened season, but one NBA Championship.
James won the title in June 2012, on the heels of a 66-game-season characterized by a condensed schedule, increased travel and a multitude of injuries.
With the victory, James was vindicated. He was named the NBA Finals’ Most Valuable Player. His tenure in Miami would no longer be marred by The Decision.
Six months later, Sports Illustrated named James as their Sportsman of the Year. In many ways, it was an easy decision.
But nowhere in the accompanying article (or any article addressing James’ playoff success) was there any mention of the five-month lockout that shortened (and threatened to dismantle) the 2011-2012 NBA season.
Because the number of games played (or lost) in a season is largely irrelevant to the prestige of a title.
With the announcement of a new NHL collective bargaining agreement, a number of fans took to social media to pre-emptively brand an asterisk on the legacy of the 2013 Stanley Cup champions. While many of these users previously claimed to be “done with hockey”, they expressed their opinions with conviction and vigor.
Apparently (based upon the irrefutable logic of anonymous Twitter posts), an NHL season comprising anything less than 82 games is immediately stripped of merit. As a result, the Stanley Cup winners are undeserving of praise or respect.
While this logic is tough to argue, I’ll do my best.
In the 1917-1918 season, 22 games were played. A year later, 18 games were played. In the 1919-1920 season, 24 games were played. Based upon internet logic, we should brand an asterisk on the legacies of the Toronto Arenas and Seattle Metropolitans.
Of course, it’s possible you’ve never heard of the Toronto Arenas or Seattle Metropolitans, so let’s dig deeper.
From 1931 to 1942, the NHL embraced a 48-game-format. Based upon the aforementioned wisdom, we should brand an asterisk on the Stanley Cup titles of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.
In fact, we should brand an asterisk on every team that won a Stanley Cup before 1992. After all, those teams played less than 82 games.
But why stop there?
Forget the original six, let’s place an asterisk on every Stanley Cup winner before 2001. Naturally, any accomplishment involving less than 30 teams warrants qualification.
As you can see, internet logic doesn’t always reign supreme. In fact, it overlooks the defining element of the 2013 regular season.
If regular season success is to be believed, the NHL’s best team rarely captures the Stanley Cup. In the 26-year-history of the Presidents’ Trophy, the winner has hoisted the Stanley Cup on seven occasions (or just under 27% of the time).
As a result, analysts and experts consistently preach the importance of health, momentum and luck in realizing postseason success. Ironically, in a lockout-shortened-season, these elements mean more than ever.
On January 19th, 30 franchises are going all-in. In a 48-game-season, every point matters. Conventionally slow starters can’t ease into the season. General Managers won’t have four months to evaluate their rosters before the trade deadline. Resting players as a precautionary measure could be the difference between the postseason and a top-five pick.
In short, the 2013 NHL season could be as close to parity as Gary Bettman will ever realize. Because of that, the Stanley Cup may actually mean more.
So to all the fans who don’t want a Stanley Cup in a lockout-shortened season – no problem.
We’ll gladly take it in Vancouver.