8 min read

The burden of expectation in a brand new world

The burden of expectation in a brand new world
Andrew D. Berstein/NBAE/Getty Images


I hate going into movies with expectations. In a way, your mind can be made up about a flick before you see it based on your friend raving about it or bashing it down. How can I possibly come out of National Treasure 2 and say I liked it if three of my friends ripped it to shreds the day before? Not because I’m afraid to like something my friends don’t, but more so that I’m seeing the movie already knowing that people of similar taste as me hated it. So that movie better be really good to impress me because I’ve got some serious prejudice heading in.

I remember how high my hopes were for Indiana Jones 4. Like I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited for a movie. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited for anything. My favorite movie character back on screen after over 20 years off? Yes. Please. Harrison Ford was back and looked great in the previews. Steven Spielberg preached for months about how he directed this one with the fans in mind. George Lucas went through screenplay after screenplay looking for the perfect script. Everything was coming together for a serious excellent movie. And I couldn’t wait.

Like a huge nerd with no life, I saw it at midnight. I sat through two hours, didn’t say a word to anyone and then the credits came up. And something unexpected happened.

It sucked.

How could it be? How could a movie with the caliber of talent surrounding it be bad? I figured Indiana Jones 4 could be ancient scrapbooking and I’d love it. But it just wasn’t good. And I was devastated.

Later that summer another movie I was absolutely certain would be good was released. I had equally high hopes and actually, these may have been a little higher because this director didn’t really have any blemishes on his resume unlike George Lucas who tried to ruin my childhood a few years earlier with Jar Jar Binks. Based on a few early reviews, the hype from a key actor’s death, the cast and the awesome looking previews, I was convinced The Dark Knight would be awesome. I wasn’t even a bit gun shy with what happened with Indy 4.

This time, expectations achieved. And then some. I’ve seen that movie probably six or seven times now and there’s really not a thing I’d gripe about. It’s not a perfect movie nor is it my favorite, but it met every high hope I had for it.

And then there’s the third end of the spectrum with expectations. When you have none, that is. I remember seeing O Brother, Where Art Thou? in high school. I had no idea who the Coen’s were. I just knew George Clooney was in this movie and some friends wanted to see it. I didn’t have any preconceived notion as to whether it would be good or bad. It was really a treat to just walk in nearly blind and appreciate the two hour pictureshow for what it was. Of course the movie was stellar and I left with a great taste.

And here’s where I start bringing this home. Last season for the Thunder was O Brother Where Art Thou. In fact, it may have been something more like The Social Network, a movie that I fully expected to be bored with that turned out to be completely fantastic. But the point is, there weren’t expectations for anything and when the team did what it did, it couldn’t have been more fun. After 35 wins, it really was all gravy. [quote]

Most felt as long as 2009-10 was a step forward, they’d be happy. And instead, the team won 50 games, Kevin Durant won the scoring title, Scott Brooks won Coach of the Year, Russell Westbrook potentially started making The Leap, the team went to the playoffs and they actually won a couple games. For last season, there’s really no accurate comparison. It was a thrill run unlike any other we’ll really experience ever again. It was a blank canvas and by the end of April, we were looking at the Mona Lisa.

The question is, what is this season? The 2010-11 campaign already has got the same hype as Indy 4 or The Dark Knight. This summer has been the equivalent of being bombarded with ads constantly. Everyone isn’t just expecting a good movie at this point from the Thunder, they’re expecting something Oscar worthy. They’re expecting a masterpiece.

I think for me, it kind of comes down to defining those expectations. You’ve got to understand what you want in order to be happy. But at the same time, those type of things go flying out the door in December when you get a taste of the team and the season. Like last year, I thought 35 wins would be a banner year. But by the end of February, my expectations had evolved and I was now expecting playoff basketball in Oklahoma City. If the Thunder had crumbled and missed the postseason but wound up with 47 wins, I’d have been disappointed. Which is kind of crazy.

This year, we’ll be faced with the same thing. Coming in, I think with the hype of the summer and the attention being thrown on Durant, expecting 50-55 wins seems right. And on top of that, some are feeling a Northwest Division title, maybe the No. 2 seed in the West and if things go well, a Western Conference Finals appearance. If it happens, well, we just got our Dark Knight. But let’s say OKC wins 48 games, gets the 7-seed and loses in six games in the playoffs. Is that an Indy 4 performance? Or were we expecting too much to start with for the STILL youngest group in the league? Hard to really say.

Here are four possible scenarios I’m looking at for this season:

Hype: validated. The Thunder starts off running, winning games at a high clip all the way through the season. Kevin Durant is better than last year, putting up 32.5 points per game, Russell Westbrook makes the All-Star team and the team’s role players start coming into their own. By the end of the year, Oklahoma City finishes with  a 34-7 home record en route to 56 wins. The Thunder finishes second in the West and in wins their opening round playoff series in five games.

The Thunder wins a gritty 7-game series in the quarters, then in the Western Finals, comes up just short against the Lakers in six. It’s another huge step in the direction of winning an NBA title and though the team didn’t get there, everything we hoped for this season happened. And going into 2011-12, we have serious playoff experience under our belts and are ready to legitimately challenge for the crown.

With fans expecting an easy 50-win season, some even start mentioning 60. The Thunder starts off a bit slow, going .500 in November and December. By the All-Star break, Oklahoma City is just five games over. There have been a few injuries and everyone is playing reasonably well, but players like Durant and Westbrook seem to be forcing it. They’re trying to be too great every night.

By the end of the year, Durant’s averages dip, Westbrook had a seemingly mediocre year and OKC finishes up at a fairly average 42-40. The Thunder miss the playoffs by a few games and most dub the season a disaster.

I fully realize that by comparing some of these scenarios to movies, I’m opening the door for my personal tastes to be ripped to shreds. But I was excited for Funny People. Adam Sandler was playing a pretty self-deprecating role, I think Seth Rogan is pretty funny and Judd Apatow has been pretty good at hitting home runs with 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It was a fairly hyped movie that good quality reviews from a lot of respected critics. Apatow was extremely high on it calling it by far his best movie.

So when I settled in, I expected a tremendous comedy that made me laugh while also having a quality story that provided a connection to the characters. It wasn’t bad. Actually, it was almost good. But it was far from great. To sum it up in a word, it was “meh.”

It was too long, too serious at parts and while Sandler was really good, it just never felt like the movie hit any kind of stride. There weren’t enough laughs and overall, I left with a meh feeling.

A meh season for the Thunder would probably be something like 45 wins, an eight-seed and another first round loss. I think we’d all leave feeling like we kind of got our money’s worth, but we’re definitely not buying this one on DVD. It wouldn’t be a bad season, but I don’t think we’d necessarily feel like it was a good one.

If you’re one of those people absolutely obsessed with Avatar and you dress up and paint your body blue and speak in Na’avi, stop reading now. Avatar wasn’t great. It was solid. It was good. But definitely not the fantastic, revolutionary movie everyone thought it was. (An aside: Why does everyone act like James Cameron invented 3D movies? I remember watching a cartoon in 3D when I was like eight.)

Avatar had its moments. Obviously it was gorgeous. It was like the best episode of Planet Earth on steroids. But it just didn’t have what it needed to truly be a tremendous movie. Maybe it was the story. Maybe it was the acting. Maybe it was the writing. Whatever it was, it was just missing something.

This is actually the season I see as most likely for the Thunder. Probably 50 wins, something like the six-seed in the West and maybe even a playoff series victory. In terms of expectations and hype, I think both labels would be satisfied. Nobody would feel like the season wasn’t a success and nobody should be disappointed. For a team that’s transitioning into legit contendership like the Thunder, a season like this would be another big step in the right direction.

But it wouldn’t be great. It wouldn’t be award worthy. Nobody would be calling Oklahoma City’s name for a season like that. And deep down, I think that’s what something are hoping for. I even fear that’s what some are expecting.

Setting the bar high isn’t a bad thing. What we all really want is a trophy. Being satisfied with 50 wins and a playoff series win doesn’t actually mean anything. Forget building, forget the process, winning – now or later – is what counts. Windows don’t stay open long in the NBA and right now OKC’s just started cracking it.

But at the same time, things don’t happen overnight. While there’s reason to be excited about this season and toss around things like 60 wins, an MVP trophy for KD and maybe even a Western Conference Finals berth, it’s a bit ambitious. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen though. Maybe they can top last year and just pull a remake of O Brother. I’d be cool seeing that movie again.