2016 Warriors against 1996 Bulls…

ESPN has a set of videos where they’re comparing the 1996 Chicago Bulls against the 2016 Golden State Warriors. They’re talking about this while the championship series is still ongoing (with the Warriors up 2-0 against the Cavaliers), so it’s a little premature – but having watched the Warriors eviscerate the Cavaliers twice, I can understand it.

The consensus is, from what I’ve seen, that the ’96 Bulls – generally heralded as the buzzsaw against which all other buzzsaws will be compared – would be at a disadvantage against the current Warriors team.

I’m struggling with that one.

I can see this Warriors team being a tough game for the Bulls. I can see them pushing the Bulls to the limit; maybe a seven-game series, even, especially with modern rules and the Warriors’ emphasis on the three-point shot, which the Bulls didn’t contend with as often.

I checked the numbers. In 1996, threes went up somewhere between 16 and 17 a game. In 2016 – now – they shoot 21 a game. GSW’s numbers, though, are unreal: in game 2 against the Cavaliers, they made 18 three pointers – more than the Bulls would have seen shot – and shot 43 three pointers. In game 1, it was more pedestrian: twelve of 33 from deep.

Yikes. The Bulls killed from midrange; the Warriors snipe you without you even knowing they’re there.

The Bulls had a lot going for them, though: Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman; Kukoç, Ron Harper, Bison Dele and Robert Parish.

Compare against the Warriors: Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Iguodala, Livingston (sort of).

On paper, the significant contributors for each team… the Warriors have more. The “significant” names on those rosters go three deep for the Bulls, and five deep for the Warriors, and let’s be honest: Jordan and Pippen would score on you at will, but Rodman’s usage would center on world-class defense and rebounding. He wasn’t likely to pour twenty points on you, ever, and the Warriors’ “big five” could all drop 20 – or 30 – on you, especially sharing the floor with the other options.

That’s what makes the Warriors so deadly. Through two games against the Cavaliers, I’ve seen a number of plays (where “number” means “more than five”) where the Cavs defender simply left the scorer alone simply by trying to defend the wrong guy; every play, you force the defender to wonder whether it’s going to be a pass to another scorer, or whether his guy’s actually going to shoot – and making the absolutely worst choice possible.

Would the Bulls make the same mistakes?

On paper, it’s hard to argue; looking at what the Warriors are doing to a great Cavaliers team, it’s easy to say “Oh, yeah… those geezers from 1996 are toast.”

But I don’t know; if it were a series between the eras, and we adjusted the rules to average between then and now… I’d be afraid to bet. I don’t think the Bulls are going to make the choices the Cavs are making; I think they can defend straight up, and Rodman’s going serve as the secret sauce, with Jordan’s homicidally-competitive nature being the fire.

I remember watching the Bulls. Sure, I know a lot more about basketball now than I did then, but I remember. I think the Warriors would make a series of it; I think they could even win the series. But … better than the 1996 Bulls?

The jury’s still out. I’d need to see the Warriors win this year, first – last year they had a 3-1 advantage and lost, thanks to Curry’s injury, Green’s ill-timed suspension, and some heroics on the part of the Cavaliers. Let them win, and I’ll think about it.

But for right now… I’d still bet on the Bulls.

Repost: Brandon Sanderson might actually understand people

I’ve been reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, trying to finish it at last after having abandoned it fourteen years ago or something like that. I abandoned it because the books were becoming repetitive, and because Robert Jordan created characters who were plastic and immature even then; his fondness for corporal punishment was vaguely offensive.

I had written a critique of the series up through book seven, as I’d given up during book 8; there were a few good books in the series (four and six) but much of the “advancement” involved abuse and misinformation among allies; I’m not a feminist, but the women in the series are portrayed as such buffoons (and powerful buffoons, at that) that I couldn’t quite swallow some of the premises about culture. Unfortunately, my review has been lost in the mists of time.

But the series is finished now, surviving past Jordan‘s fatal encounter with cardiac amyloidosis; the final three books were written by Brandon Sanderson, who had Jordan’s notes and the blessing of Jordan’s wife and editor. It’s basically fan fiction as canon for the series.

Book eleven (“The Knife of Dreams“) actually showed some progress – I don’t know the timing involved, but it’s almost like Jordan realized that his cash cow wouldn’t be very useful to him once he had passed away. (I am unaware if he knew of his disease by the time he was writing book eleven.) With that, though, Sanderson seems to have decided that it was time for the series to actually wrap up as quickly as it could, while respecting the historical (and glacial) pace – he finished in three books, and I’m only halfway through the first of the three.

But it’s a marvelous change so far! People actually react in ways that you could imagine real people reacting.

For example, the women in the series are all bullies and buffoons; those women who can use magic (or “channel”) are among the worst of them, except for their social peers who are unable to channel. They are the worst. The men, bullied and chastised (and often beaten), simply take it, with the suggestion that they just don’t understand women, but that this is somehow valid behavior.

It’s not.

It’s especially not valid when you absolutely need the investment of the target of bullying.

The main protagonist (among what seems like hundreds of protagonists) is the Dragon Reborn, a reincarnated and tragic hero from the distant past, destined to combat the “Dark One,” dying in the process. He takes a number of wounds – some through ignorance, because even if people have useful information – a rare event – they still won’t share it with him. He takes a number of wounds that will not heal and cannot be healed; he is maimed and marked over and over again.

It’s not an easy role to fulfill. Everyone fears him; many see him as a target, because they’re idiots. Those he loves are targets, and he loves a lot of people.

So naturally, the bullies – remember, this is where I started this thought – spend a lot of time bullying him and those closest to him. “You may be the Dragon Reborn, boy, but I need a fresh cup of tea. Now travel five hundred leagues and get me one. Jerk.” They make promises they can’t keep, but so what? He’s a man, he’ll never be able to tell the difference just because you kept an artifact fatal to him just lying around.

… at least, that’s the way it is in the books Jordan authored.

In The Gathering Storm, the Dragon runs into an artifact that’s, um, fatal to him and his purpose. And commits himself to a path from which he may not be able to recover in order to survive. Because, well, survival. There’s no guarantee that he will win against the Dark One – but if he doesn’t survive to fight the last battle, there’s absolutely a guarantee that he’ll lose. (And for some reason, despite all the bullying, he cares.)

So after he commits himself to this irredeemable path, one of the people who keeps putting him down as a boy who needs to learn his lesson in order to die in battle … runs into him, head on with her failure to protect him from this artifact that she’s had in her possession. Sure, she put it in what she considers a safe place… in her room… in the same house in which one of the Dragon’s most powerful arch-nemeses is kept prisoner. Sure hope the arch-enemy doesn’t somehow break free, maybe through the aid of the arch-enemy’s allies and spies!

Because if the enemy did break free, well, the enemy is super-duper powerful, more powerful than anyone except for the Dragon! And the traps set for anyone trying to reach that artifact, well, the enemy might be a lot stronger!

In other words: “Whoopsie-doodle, boy! I suppose I screwed up a little, for the first time ever. Glad you survived, I guess. Now you’d better pay attention to me and what I have to tell you to do…”

And bless you, Brandon Sanderson! Because the Dragon, the Big Bad of the side of Good, has had enough.

The person who’s been whining at him, derisively calling him “boy,” using the idea that she is supposed to be somehow a trusted advisor, the one who kept that dangerous artifact around? She’s exiled. And all of a sudden, she realizes that if he actually needs her – and apparently he does – her exile would be fatal for the world. All of it. Fatal. Cataclysmic.

Whoopsie-doodle, indeed. And Sanderson doesn’t even write it as if I’m supposed to pity the poor old whiny woman. She’s been abusing the most powerful man in the world, constantly putting him down and punishing him despite his maturity and necessity. And all that abuse and insult comes home to roost, and he’s done with it. Surprise!

… and surprise for me, too, as a reader, because I can’t see Robert Jordan as having allowed the Dragon to have human responses. (Or, well, anyone, but especially the Dragon.)

Excellently done. The rest of the series might redeem the long, long, interminable stretches of dreck that the Wheel of Time had been. I’m now looking forward to seeing what happens.