THE PLANK MARCH 12, 2008
It is perhaps bad form to have two sports-related posts in a row, but tonight the Houston Rockets accomplished something that has only happened twice before in NBA history: They won their 20th straight game. To win twenty games in today's NBA is no joke (there are a lot of very good teams, espcially in the Rockets' own Western Conference), but this streak is noteable for other reasons.
About two weeks ago, the Rockets' second best player, Yao Ming, went down with a season-ending foot injury. The streak had reached twelve games at this point, but the sports world quickly wrote off the team (and not without reason). Moreover, Yao's assurances that he would be back for the Olympics in his native China fueled discussions about his commitment to Houston (not in doubt, in my opinion). Amidst articles about another disappointing injury (something that has plagued the team for many, many years), the Rockets' last eight games have been particularly inspiring.
What's more, the team has played with a special intensity and drive rarely seen in professional sports. Bob Ryan, the famed Boston sportswriter, claimed that this run was the strangest thing he'd seen in 39 years covering the NBA. Maybe so. But in another way the team's success makes perfect sense. If you take a group of hard-working (even if not spectacularly skilled) players and throw in an unselfish superstar (Tracy McGrady, actually mentioned in Conor Clarke's Darfur piece today because of his recent trip to the region), it is--surprise, surprise--not all that difficult to win games.
Anyway, in what has been the most interesting NBA season in a decade, it's hard not to be drawn to this remarkable story--especially because the team's players are such a decent, likeable group. As March Madness (and therefore cynicism about the NBA) approaches, don't forget the guys in Houston.