Dave Zirin says "One year ago, using a brilliance you would have to go to the Alaska governor’s mansion to equal, I predicted a Sacramento Kings/New York Knickerbockers championship. It took effort to produce such sparkling idiocy."

Washington DC – One year ago, using a brilliance you would have to go to the Alaska governor’s mansion to equal, I predicted a Sacramento Kings/New York Knickerbockers championship. It took effort to produce such sparkling idiocy.

You may think that such an outlandish forecast would humble me. You'd think wrong. In a bizarre way, I'm proud of last year's pick. It was based on the idea that the league was in flux and – despite everyone's sleep-inducing prediction that the San Antonio Spurs would repeat as champions – surprises would reign.

After the improbable Boston Celtics-LA Lakers reunion, the ascension of the New Orleans Hornets, and the implosion of the Bulls and Heat, I feel vindicated on calling the rhythm, if not the actual music, of the 2007-8 reason. The league shocked the status quo, brought in new fans, and reminded a lot of us old-heads why we love hoops.

And actually, the Kings were surprisingly frisky with Coach Reggie Theus and company proving to be a tough out in an even tougher Western conference. As for the Knicks, well, I wrote that with Isiah Thomas at the helm, they would either jell or implode. They chose implosion.

This year, I write without fear of mockery that I like the Houston Rockets to play the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2009 title, with the Rockets winning sweet redemption for a team of players straining for hoops absolution. This team doesn't need a redemption song. It needs a symphony. There is star Tracey McGrady trying to show that he can get out of the first round of the playoffs. There's Yao Ming wanting to prove that he can remain upright for a full seaon. There is point guard Rafer Alston, ready, it seems for the fifth time in his career, to prove the haters wrong. There is Coach Rick Adelman who has been deep in the playoffs before only to end up a twitching, gelatinous goo.  And then there is the new addition: Ron Artest.

Ron- Ron, as Kenny Smith put it, is the only player in the NBA who can drop 20 while holding the other team's star under 20 in the same game. He can guard four positions and will bring a toughness Houston hasn't seen since Ralph Sampson laid the smack down on Jerry Sichting. I love this team and I love Houston to emerge from the West.
The Cavs were a tougher call. Just about every team in the Eastern conference has more flaws than Edward James Olmos's grill.

The Celts will miss James Posey, and a couple of their players seem to have enjoyed the post season a little too much with Kendrick Perkins looking like he ate Sam Cassell. My Washington Wizards have a better squad in the hospital ward than on the court. The Pistons look ready to unleash the youthful Amir Johnson, Rodney Stuckey, and Jason Maxiell, which will be fun for fans, but are a year away. The 76ers, similarly, are more green than an avocado.

The Cavs I would argue, on the other hand, over achieved last year in taking the Celts to seven games. They have also added Mo Williams from Milwaukee: a player with more clutch shots than Bob Lee Swagger. Mo is all-star caliber talent and someone who doesn't need the ball to create a shot. They also added Brent Barry, a smart pick up who along with Wally Sexyback will give the Cavs multiple 40% three point shooters to ball out Lebron, who will average 30, 8, and 8 and waltz to an MVP award.   

As for other hot stories, maybe interesting to no one but me, look for tales of Miami's revival to be over exaggerated. Look for OJ Mayo to cruise away with the Rookie of the Year award. Look for Josh Smith to continue to be a youtube phenom – and on-court headache. And look for new Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni to at some point run through Times Square naked while screaming “Attica! Attica!” Over under on that one would be January.

There is one other tale that no one is talking about and that is how the economy will affect he NBA. In October, Stern announced that the NBA offices would be laying off 9% of their work force. He cited the present crisis as the fundamental reason. But the problem will run much deeper than that. First and foremost, the NBA, with its high level of casual fans, is very susceptible to fluxuations in the economy. Second, the NBA doesn't have the revenue streams of baseball or certainly football. Not even close. The absence of personal cable television contracts or massive network agreements means that the NBA has always been very reliant – more reliant than other leagues – on ticket sales and merchandise to fill its coffers. It will be interesting throughout the year to see how this affects free agent positioning, the attractiveness of Europe, and the beginnings of serious saber rattling in advance of the next round of collective bargaining. We should all hope for the continued economic health of the league, but it might take opening up the doors to the rabble with cheap tickets and promotions to make that a reality. Wouldn't that be a change: real fans actually being able to afford to scream their heads off like it's 1989.

[Dave Zirin is the author of “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing [email protected] Contact him at [email protected]]

Folks – the piece will run in the following issue of SLAM Magazine.

ALSO I’m speaking this MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4th, in Washington DC  on A People's History of Sports in the United States at Sankofa Books; 2714 Georgia Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Please COME ON OUT!

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