The Whiteboard: Dispatches from the multiverse, where the Rockets win it all

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The concept of the multiverse posits that there are infinite parallel universes, each an echo of every other, and that, collectively, they represent every possible variation of the universe we live in. That is to say, there is a universe where humans never evolved and that some form of carnivorous ferns are the dominant lifeform on earth. There is another where every single thing is exactly as you know it to be today, except you also have a small mole above your left eyebrow. There is also one in which the NBA triumphantly resumes play as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, and the Houston Rockets win the NBA championship.

If we’re really leaning into the theory here, there are actually infinite universes where the Rockets win the title, each slightly different than the last, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on one in particular.

In this universe, the Rockets’ title is marked with an asterisk (literal or figurative, it doesn’t really matter for our purposes here), in recognition that the circumstances under which it was won are utterly unique in the history of the NBA. It feels fitting though because a great many fans and media members treat the entire Rockets organization as something … other … as though everything they do could be marked with an asterisk.

What would change if the Houston Rockets won a title?

Yes, James Harden is an exceptional offensive force and what he does is accommodated by the letter of the basketball rule book. But for many, his modus operandi stands in direct opposition to the spirit of said rules. He gets an asterisk for his step-back 3-pointers and for the way he has woven foul-seeking into the fiber of being and for taking the long view, understanding that the value of maximizing outcomes across thousands of possessions is more important than maximizing any single individual possession.

Daryl Morey gets an asterisk for being basketball’s Elon Musk, albeit without the self-righteous pomp and slimy condescension. His asterisk is for prioritizing ideas first, second and third, with practicality a distant fourth, and existing in a universe where he has both the freedom and resources to chase inspiration.

Mike D’Antoni gets an asterisk for his presumed disinterest in defense, for his (mostly illusory) willingness to just hand-wave away certain unwritten rules of basketball and focus only on the bright and shiny things that put points on the scoreboard. Westbrook gets an asterisk for being Westbrook. Austin Rivers gets an asterisk because of his dad. Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker get asterisks for the presumption of masquerading as centers when everyone knows what they really are. Danuel House gets an asterisk for putting a u in his first name where there should be an i.

The Rockets accumulate some additional asterisks along the way to this multiverse title as well. Some opponent suffers a key injury at an inopportune time. Another opponent has a bad game. Another appears to be victimized by a bad call at a key moment and another is surprisingly knocked out in an earlier round, saving the Rockets the trouble.

Somewhere, there is a universe where the Rockets can escape their asterisks. Where they can blot them out with achievements so compelling, or where the fundamental laws of the basketball universe have evolved in a warped direction, where they represent the norm. But it’s not the universe we’re imagining and it’s not the universe that you and I exist in. In these two echoes, the Rockets are still thoroughly othered. In one, they reach their ultimate goal. They are redeemed in a handful of minds, solidified as righteous evidence for those who already worship at their altars and hand-waved away by the same people who have been waving hands at them for years.

In the other, well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

#OtherContent:

The NBA’s title race is wide-open for now, but many of the league’s top stars are set to become free agents over the next few years. How will the free agencies of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and others change the league?

The WNBA is trying to figure out how to play their season, keep everyone safe and capitalize on a surge in popularity. What scenarios are on the table?

We’ve heard a billion different plans for resuming the season and conducting the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Ben Ladner and Alec Liebsch debate the pros and cons of the different structures.

Based on betting odds, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a better than 50 percent chance of winning at least one title in the last decade. But they weren’t the only team that was this close to immortality.

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