Who is the basketball equivalent of Mark Lemke?
Find me an NBA player who was totally obscure, a bench guy who had done little of note in his career, who inexplicably carried a team in the postseason.
Find me the NBA equivalent of Carlos Ruiz from the 2008 World Series. Or Scott Podsednik from 2005. Or Scott Brosius from 1998.
Good luck searching.
The fact is, no such players exist in the NBA. The NBA is not a league that allows for rags-to-riches, where-the-heck-did-this-come-from performances.
Occasionally, you may have a guy play well above his level for a few games. You may have an obscure player hit a key shot, or provide helpful energy for a quarter or a half. But NBA playoff games are ultimately decided by stars. How did Kobe do? What did LeBron put up? Did Ray Allen really hit all those threes?
If the Lakers come back to win Game 7 tonight, it will not be because Adam Morrison came out of nowhere to put up 40 points. It will not be because Luke Walton had the game of his life and carried the team to glory. It will not be because of Sasha Vujacic going nuts.
No, the Lakers will win because of Kobe. Or, if Kobe has a bad game, they will lose. It's pretty much that simple. Perhaps Pau Gasol will bail them out. Perhaps Derek Fisher or Ron Artest will put up big numbers. But don't expect greatness from anyone who hasn't been great up to this point.
And that's why the NBA has a parity problem.
Since 1984, only seven franchises have won an NBA title. Compare that to 17 for baseball, a league that does not have a salary cap.
It's the nature of the playoffs and the nature of the sports that make the difference. In baseball, anyone can come through at any time. And a light-hitting catcher placed in the 8-hole will have roughly the same number of opportunities to blast a game-winning hit as a leadoff guy or cleanup hitter.
When Mark Lemke nearly carried the Atlanta Braves to the 1991 World Series title, he had 26 plate appearances. Terry Pendleton, the MVP of that season, had 31. So Mark Lemke, a guy who batted .234 during the regular season, had about 84 percent as many opportunities to hit as the guy considered the best in the league.
Roughly translated, that would be like Morrison getting more than 30 minutes a game. Which would be absurd. If the Lakers were to give Adam Morrison 30 minutes a game, they'd be awful.
But if Adam Morrison were to get 30 minutes in a game, there's a chance--a chance he'd come through with an incredible performance. He might pour in 40 points on a night when Kobe and the other stars are off their game. He very well might shoot the lights out and put up one of the more memorable performances in history.
But there are only so many minutes in a basketball game to go around. And only five guys are on the floor at any given time.
So as fans, we're stuck watching the expected. We're stuck knowing that games will come down to the performances of a handful of players. We're stuck knowing that we probably won't be surprised by anything.
And that's no fun. Really it isn't. Kobe's great and all, but give me an out-of-the-blue Lemke performance any day.