The NBA Playoffs have begun and Game of Thrones hath returned. Snarky white dudes are in the thralls of a two month long tweetgasm. I'm not complaining. I am as entertained as ever, though the first slate of games has been so-so and Thrones is still setting the stage rather than giving us the boobs and violence we crave. But what about these two entities seems to join them in fandom? Aside from our various romantic failings, basketball and GoT are the only two things my bros and I consistently discuss. There must be some connection, surely some reason to write this other than blatant, time-sensitive clickbait? Yes! Both are works of fiction, one written by a dope, old, fat guy, the other essentially written by 16 rosters of world-class athletes. Is it that far-fetched that the two could inform each other? Yes, we're striking into fantastical territory here, but the playoffs and Game of Thrones criss-cross in the mind more than you might think.
Sports are a medium of impermanent rule. Each year gives us a chance to crown a new champion. And title phrase "game of thrones" refers to the ceaseless, rotating cast of would-be kings. The momentum of both worlds is dependent on an ever uncertain hierarchy. Who deserves? Who achieves? And who recedes? These questions keep us coming back.
Geography draws the most obvious parallel. We've begun to spend more time in Essos, a vast region mostly ignored by the West (except for in matters of commerce.) There are people there, in Yunkai and Astapor, but they are of little consequence to the primary politics of the show. The Eastern Conference too is a vast wasteland. There are people there, in Orlando and Charlotte...you get the idea. There is really only one power in the East we care about. Young and skilled and sexy, but untested: Kyrie Irving, the NBA's Daenerys Targaryen. But let's come back to that.
It is almost a cliche to say the West beats up on itself. Each year, after a long season of intraconference battles, overtime games and back-to-backs, the best teams in the league face each other in the Western Conference Finals, while the Eastern Conference champion is usually one of two good teams, cake-walking through two lesser opponents and one worthy conference finals foe before meeting the best from the West. Like the folks of Westeros in the wake of the War of the Five Kings, Western Conference rosters are battered and hobbling. The realm is decimated. Nearly every team has lost a key player to injury throughout the grueling season, an incessant war. Proud old families have lost lord fathers, knights and nuncles*. In the NBA, as in Westeros, battle is the only constant.
On a macro scale, both the NBA and GoT have had power struggles at the top of the pyramid. Adam Silver replaced the tyrant David Stern in a wave of goodwill. A reformer, he has approached the league's problems with a progressive open mind. His willingness to tinker has been praised by younger fans, while NBA oldheads have been more concerned with his lenience. David Stern would have never let the Sixers tank like this, they say.
On the Thrones front, what once was a happy collaboration between author/gawd George R.R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss has begun to fracture. The sudden fame and babes accompanying global literary fame have slowed Martin's writing roll a bit, allowing the show to catch up with, and now begin to pass, the pacing of his books. The showrunners don't have time to wait for Martin to finish his story. They've got TV to make. So they've begun to write their own ending, bringing together previously disparate parts of the show, East and West, more quickly and scintillatingly than Martin's books.
Daenerys Irving has long been isolated, wandering the East without much guidance. Sure, she's dropped a few 50-point games, but she's never seen real playoff intensity.
Yes, they've always streamlined the stories, folding side characters into others and cutting out large swathes of backstory in favor of more effective television. But Martin has been a constant advisor in these changes, until now. For the first time in the show's run, Martin is not writing an episode this season. He's cancelled much of his schedule to focus on finishing book six, rushed out a previously unseen chapter and announced a new character twist that, stunningly, won't be revealed in time for the show to incorporate it. Martin's stress in understandable. The extremely popular television show has helped make him rich and famous, but in return that show is going to write the ending to his story in the minds of millions of non book-readers. They are fucking with his legacy, much as Adam Silver's actions may shape the way we write the saga of David Stern**.
So, about those divergent threads of story coalescing more quickly: Daenerys Irving has long been isolated, wandering the East without much guidance. Sure, she's dropped a few 50-point games, but she's never seen real playoff intensity.
Luckily, here comes a squad of saviors from across the Narrow Sea. Let's frame Tyrion as LeBron in this scenario (think in terms of magnitude, not stature.) That makes Varys into Kevin Love (both timid weasels. but undeniably skilled). Daenarys has conquered a few Eastern cities. The Cavs have beat up on the weaklings of their conference. The Targaryens sat the Iron Throne for 300 years before losing it in Robert's Rebellion. The city of Cleveland hasn't won a championship in 50+ years. Both are looking to return to their past glory.
Can the tutelage of LeBron and Tyrion lead their young subjects back across the Narrow Sea to victory? Spoiler free sources say no. Not this year. Kyrie needs to see what the playoffs are about. The Bulls will give him challenge enough (but they don't really fit into the GoT narrative, so just slide past that). Unfortunately for David Blatt, it looks like he's the Jorah Mormont of this scenario, a sad, failed knight exiled to who knows where.
Similarly, it's too soon for Dany to make her attack. Sailing West now would yield the same result as the Cavs inevitable Finals loss. The West is still too strong. Both Kyrie and Daenerys need this first foray into battle to toughen them up so they can return battle hardened in the future.
The stage has been long primed for Daenerys to make her claim, and too, for LeBron to shed his past mistakes and lead his hometown team to glory. But the story so far tells us the timing isn't right. We'll have to wait a season or two to see the golden fruits of their respective labors. Is it a stretch to equate the saga of a dragon queen and a generational superstar? Maybe. But both the season and the series are structured as narratives. Whether battles or basketball, they both require a storyline.
*Not a typo, just dope ass Thrones language.
**This political info comes from the fabulous first episode of Grantland's "Watch the Thrones" podcast.
Angelo Spagnolo is a writer living in New York. You can follow him on Twitter here.