• While the NBA playoffs have lived up to the hype with exciting matchups and individual performances—it is lacking villains.
By Rohan Nadkarni
May 08, 2019

For the most part, the NBA postseason has lived up to the hype. Stars are playing big minutes, the best players are putting together monster performances, new faces are emerging, and every series in the second round (as of Wednesday morning) still has the chance to go seven games. With LeBron out of the picture, the field feels as wide open as ever. The Warriors look as rickety as they ever have, while every team in the East at one point has looked Finals bound. You could almost say this postseason has everything. Almost. Because one thing we don’t have is an unequivocal, sure-as-hell villain.

All forms of entertainment are better with a bad guy. I would 100% watch a movie that was just the Avengers hanging out at a dinner party at Tony Stark’s lakeside mansion, but I’d much rather watch a movie that includes Thor summoning thunder into an axe (forged with the help of giant Peter Dinklage and a Vin Diesel-voiced tree) to shove into the heart of a large, purple alien who seeks to modest proposal the universe with a snap of his fingers. I want conflict. And all the teams left in the playoffs are either too likeable, or in the case of Golden State, not quite hateable enough.

The Raptors were playoff disappointments for so long that it’s hard to root against them. They are easy to clown after a Game 1 loss, but no one really hates Toronto. Pascal Siakam is objectively fun, and this year’s run has given us the return of Playoff Kawhi, a beautiful sight that’s been missing from our game since 2017. This team is fairly endearing, and you know what? It’s even nice to see Drake’s commitment to attending home games. Who are the other celebrities routinely hanging out in Toronto? What does Drake even do after the games? I’m pretty sure the only other rich person in town he can hang out with is Robert from Shark Tank, and that guy is too busy haggling over an extra 10% of a struggling American’s business to find Champagne Papi out at the clubs.

The Sixers may have some villainish tendencies, but they’re not quite there yet. Joel Embiid has been too sick to talk as much as smack as he normally would. Jimmy Butler actually seems to be supporting his teammates instead of embarrassing them publicly. Ben Simmons, another victim of constant internet slander, still isn’t a bad dude. Meanwhile, Brett Brown looks so exasperated on the bench that it’s hard to not sympathize for this man. At any given point during a basketball game, Brown looks like 1) a longtime fisherman trying to make it in the corporate world with an extremely limited knowledge of technology, 2) someone who just found out he’ll be having a sixth child attend private school, or 3) he just wants to throw up. Poor Brett Brown.

Elsewhere, the Nuggets and Blazers are going head-to-head in a series of fan favorites. Nikola Jokic has the body of a soccer hooligan and the touch of a Thomas Crown-level art thief, while Damian Lillard lives to provide us exciting moments. The Bucks are upstarts playing a Greek god in a Shaq role, while the Celtics are just kind of...bland. The Rockets are potential dynasty killers, who have recovered from referee memogate with a resilient performance, and the Warriors have been so good for so long it’s exhausting trying to muster up any real emotion for them.

Where are the goons, I ask? Where are the insane role players doing whatever it takes to get under someone’s skin? I want Lance Stephenson-blowing-in-LeBron’s-ear type tactics. Draymond Green doesn’t even hit people in the nuts anymore! I want Jay-Z to make a diss track in defense of a famous friend being called out by a sixth man. (I don’t remember if DeShawn Stevenson was in the Wizards’ starting lineup, and I’m not looking that up.) There are certainly rivalries developing or continuing in this postseason. The Rockets and Warriors are clearly sick of each other. Dame and Russell Westbrook’s first-round drama belonged on stage at the Old Vic. But the intense play hasn’t created any polarizing figures, or any one for me to really latch onto as a good, old-fashioned bad guy.

In general, rooting for someone to fail is a bad way to go about life. Focus on what you can control and your own happiness, etc. etc. That’s not why I became a basketball fan. Nothing about this is rational. My emotional investment in somebody’s ability to to place a ball of leather into a netted ring is not something I want to think hard about, especially when it’s almost 1 a.m. and I’m several Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies deep. I actually enjoy the neatly presented narratives sports can provide. This isn’t Game of Thrones (seriously, it isn’t, enough with the awful crossover content), I don’t need characters with shades of gray, shifting loyalties, and complicated backstories that obscure the lines between villain and hero. I want definitive boundaries. I want to revel in the defeat of a widely despised team (or individual) and celebrate that moment with all my friends, who in this case are the seven people who engage with my large volume of tweets every night.

There’s still time, everyone. Maybe Zach Collins will try to report someone to the authorities during Game 6 of Blazers-Nuggets. Maybe Draymond’s limbs will get their flexibility back. Maybe Joel Embiid will vomit onto a maple leaf. I don’t know, I just need something. As entertaining as these playoffs have been, and I’ve loved hanging out with each of these teams, eventually, I would love to focus my attention on witnessing someone’s demise. Only then would the playoffs feel perfectly in balance.

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