Sunday, 05 May 2019 13:07

'MATTer of Opinion' Sports Column: Houston, we have a complaining problem

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Move aside, Golden State Warriors.

You have been leapfrogged by the Rockets. They are now basketball's most hated team.

You, too, New England Patriots. Hand over your crown as the most hated team in sports.

Don't go complaining and crying and playing the victim, Warriors and Patriots. The Rockets earned this title ... by complaining and crying and playing the victim.

Going into the NBA Playoffs, and until the aftermath of Game 1 of the current Warriors-Rockets series, the Dubs were the NBA's most hated team. To critics, the Warriors were greedy pigs, hogging all the elite talent. They were crybabies, led by Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.

Some critics say the Warriors are too soft, too cutesy (put away that pacifier Steph Curry) and too smug.

There was genuine appreciation from many for what the Warriors have achieved in the last five seasons, but in this, the "Age of the Troll," the more the Warriors won, the more they were mocked and nitpicked.

Remember when Curry won his first MVP, and old NBA guys came out of the woodwork to brag how in their day they would've given Curry a wedgie and sent him back to the rec league?

When the Warriors picked up DeMarcus Cousins at a flea market, the troll machine went into turbo.

How the Rockets managed to snatch the "Most Hated" label from Golden State is a story worthy of a book. But here are the Cliff Notes:

  • James Harden, already widely disrespected for building much of his game around fooling the refs, whined after Game 1 that the refs were cheating him.
  • In the offseason, the Rockets' front office produced a memo and delivered it to the league office. The memo breaks down the Rockets' Game 7 loss last year to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The memo finds 81 ref mistakes and concludes, "Referees likely changed the eventual NBA champion."

To be clear, every NBA team sends crybaby videos to the league office throughout the season, pointing out unfair or incorrect reffing. The Rockets and General Manager Daryl Morey took that whining to a whole new level by questioning the Warriors' NBA title.

Analytics are already a turnoff to fans who like the games decided by players, not programmers. Morey did for analytics what Dr. Frankenstein did for bodybuilding.

But this is worse: After Game 1, the Rockets apparently leaked the secret memo to national media sources, in an apparent attempt to influence officiating in this series. That leak was astoundingly bad judgement, exposing Houston as high-tech whiners.

After that leak — and the Game 1 complaints of Harden and head coach Mike D'Antoni — created a national discussion about Harden's style of play, which many recognize as uncool, but which has been rewarded for years. That discussion will force the league to deal with the growing problem of flopping, flailing and foul-collecting.

The Rockets' offense isn't built around Harden, it IS Harden. If the league instructs its refs to look for leg kicks and arm grabs by shooters, to crack down on cheap and cheaty theatrics, Houston has a problem.

The Rockets also have an image problem. Bill Belichick spied on opponents, and Tom Brady probably requested softer footballs, but when it comes to creatively gaming the system, the Rockets one-upped the Patriots.

Harden will be named the league's MVP soon, and he can blame his GM — and himself —  for the basketball-sized asterisk that will be figuratively attached to that trophy.

Meanwhile, the Warriors quietly yield their "Most Hated Team" label.

It helped when the Cousins experiment kind of flopped and didn't make the Warriors unbeatable. They get credit for surviving and working through the Durant-Green meltdown. They get props for their unintentional role in exposing the Rockets' trickery.

Oh, the Warriors are still hateable. Curry is just too perfect for some people. He would do himself a favor by getting busted for, say, over-watering his lawn. To those who embrace the angry-face, elbow-throwing side of the NBA, the Warriors bring too much beauty and joy to the party.

But nobody accuses them of playing with loaded dice.

The Rockets might win a game of two in this series. They might even go on to win the NBA Championship. But even if they get knocked out by the Warriors, the Rockets have wrapped up one title.