Regardless of what happens Sunday, the Charlotte Hornets have made a case for themselves as one of the good guys in the sports movie of this NBA postseason. The unofficial and unassuming playoff protagonists of 2016.
This is for two reasons:
1. They play extremely hard
2. The roster resembles a band of misfits that would make John Hughes proud
Flawed perseverance is what matters most for a sympathetic character. It’s why the culture collectively loves television shows about fictional anti-heroes, and why some people actually seem to like the real-life version of Kobe Bryant. Nobody doesn’t like watching someone try their damnedest for something, even if it is just a particularly purposeful defensive possession with multiple efforts and sound rotations. The All Star-less roster of the Hornets has been an embodiment of this core trait, to wit:
Kemba Walker was too small and too unrefined.
Frank Kaminsky was too unathletic, too potential-less.
Marvin Williams was too average for a draft pick too high.
Jeremy Lin was too intelligent and frankly looked too different.
Courtney Lee was too limited and came from a school too small.
Al Jefferson was too slow, too heavy, too much a thing from NBA past.
And yet here they are. Game 7, squaring off against a more storied franchise with a more talented team in a more desirable city. Two extraordinarily rare Dwyane Wade 3-pointers away from perhaps closing out the Heat in 6.
At the helm is Coach Cliff, a man who when you hear him say he averaged four points a game at some place called the University of Maine at Farmington you tell your imagination it can sit this one out — because of course he did.
A teacher at a tiny high school in Maine, an assistant at St. Anselm's college, head coach at Adelphi University, his career iterations sound as though they were lifted directly from a soon-to-be-published memoir entitled "A Coach’s Coach", by Coach McCoacherson. He is all of the tropes — tough but honest, caring yet no-nonsense — like Carolina’s own version of an admittedly (much) less good looking Coach Eric Taylor.
Likeability is difficult to quantify, and in a sport that has married itself to the notion that quantification is the future of their game, it feels nice to tap into something less tangible, more ethereal. To be a fan of a team that has accessed a bit of positive chi from the basketball universe. A group attempting to overcome their alleged shortcomings, trying to enforce all of the childhood clichés of "do your best" and "anything is possible."
This why the Hornets should win on Sunday. Because they should win. The goodwill of competition is in their corner, for whatever that’s worth.
Let’s hope they are rewarded.