Bulls vs. Heat, a Homeric Battle

Hector (Bana), Achilles (Pitt) in "Troy"

Sports Saturday

It’s too early to say for certain, but we may have an epic battle underway between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat.  The Bulls, against all predictions, blew out the Heat in the first game (a team must win four of seven to advance to the NBA finals), but the Miami Heat struck back in the second.  The teams are 1-1 as they travel to Miami.

Use the word “epic” and one poet above all others comes to mind.  Comparing the East Conference championship series to Homer’s Iliad yields some interesting perspectives.

I designate the Heat as the Greeks.  After all, they represent a kind of dream team, kings from different city states coming together to seek glory.  LeBron James (King James) left the Cleveland Cavaliers to become part of this new collective enterprise while Chris Bosh left the Toronto Raptors.

I suppose Dwayne Wade, because he was already playing for Miami and persuaded Bosh and James to join him there, would be Agamemnon, the king who assembles and leads the coalition.  Since he is the oldest of the three and has already won a championship, Wade could be seen as a kind of elder statesman.

As the youngest and most fearsome of the three, James seems a natural fit for Achilles–only he would need to have a falling out with Agamemnon to make the parallel work whereas he is on very good terms with Wade.  (Then again, Agamemnon and Achilles are fine for several years—their argument over slave girl Briseis doesn’t occur until well into the war.)  James is also less prickly than Achilles and doesn’t retreat to his tent to sulk.  If he didn’t show up in game #1, it was only in the metaphorical sense.

And Bosh?  Let’s pencil him in for Diomedes, one of the Greeks’ most fearsome fighters.

The Bulls are like the Trojans (and unlike the Greeks) in that they have only one top-tier fighter.  But Derrick Rose is one hell of a fighter, the Bulls’ Hector.  Of the other Bulls players, let’s say that Luol Deng is Aeneas, Joakim Noah is Glaukos (gaining the respect of Bosh/Diomedes), and Kyle Korver is Paris.  I make the last comparison because Korver is the Bulls’ three-point specialist while Paris is an excellent archer.

To sum up the opposing forces, Wade-James-Bosh make up the Greek coalition force with wily Pat Riley (their general manager) providing sage Odysseus-like council while Derrick Rose and his subordinates make up the Trojans.

The Greeks in Homer’s work are the upstarts, taking on a venerable civilization. Likewise, the Heat journeyed to “the House that Jordan Built,” home of the revered Chicago Bulls with its six championship banners hanging from the rafters.  When James did not (metaphorically speaking) show up, the Heats were trounced by 20 points. It was like the moment when the Hector-led Trojans break through the Greek trenches and drive the Achians back to their boats.

In The Iliad Achilles prays to his mother Thetis to intervene with Zeus, ensuring that things go badly for the Greeks so that they will realize how much they miss him. After the opening game debacle, there was no doubt how much the Heat need James. There may sometimes be an illusion that it’s a coalition of the big three, but one man above all makes it work.

James left no doubt about who was king in game #2.  At 73-73, he scored 9 of the Heat’s last 12 points (he had 29 for the game) as Miami won by ten.  It was the same kind of close-out performance he had shown against the Boston Celtics.  It’s as if Miami’s humiliating 20-point-loss was the killing of Patroclus, which brings a raging Achilles out of his tent to avenge the death of his best friend. You don’t want to make either Achilles or King James mad, as both Hector and the Chicago Bulls can testify.

If we rely on literary parallels, Miami will win the series since the Greeks win the Trojan War (although we don’t witness their victory in The Iliad).  But of course, life is not literature.  Earlier this year I compared the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry to that between Achilles and Hector and neither one of the superstar quarterbacks made it to the next round.  In this case, however, if Agamemnon-Wade and Achilles-James continue to play well together, there’s every reason to believe that they, like the Greeks, will prevail.

So here’s what the Bulls should be rooting for: some kind of plague (bad vibes?) breaks out in the Heat camp, leading to a rift between the two leaders and setting the stage for the egoless team-centered Bulls to work their way back into the series.  To be sure, there’s no hint of a Wade-James falling out—just the opposite—but Chicago can always hope

 

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