What if peak Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls battle peak Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors? What if prime Shaquille O’Neal is playing basketball in the era of the small ball? What if they still allow the kind of fouls made in the era of the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys? What if there is a team comprised of players all 7 feet tall and with adequate, NBA-level athleticism, speed, muscle mass, shooting accuracy, basketball IQ, and ball-handling finesse?
Every great fiction starts with a “what if”. And people dabbling with the imagined should be mindful not to stray. It is fiction. It is imagined. And if it involves the past, there is a 100% certainty it will never happen, ever.
That’s why a “what if” is a great take-off point for an interesting conversation—over beers, over boredom, over a quiet off-season. More than the fact that the possibilities are limited only by what you know and how wild you can imagine, there is no right or wrong answer.
It is fun, until it is not, because there is always someone, who can ruin even something as low-stakes (zero-stakes even) as talking about what-ifs and ruin what should have been an exciting journey throughout the imagined multiverse. There is someone hell-bent on force-feeding a truth in a world, where it does not exist, only imagined.
It is one thing to excitedly banter about what-ifs, but it becomes truly annoying when someone takes it too seriously. No one wants a chest thumping Alpha Male of Hypotheticals and said person’s unyielding opinion reeking with conceit. Things that will never happen are immaterial and useless in our reality. The persistence in asserting a claim that will never be validated does not elevate your status as a “student of the game”—it just makes you an insufferable person involved in a conversation that is not meant to distill a fact or truth.
These imagined realities that exist in collective discussions are meant to excite the imagination so that it is pleasant when we retreat there. I say it is harmless because it is a balm that heals our wounded hearts when we see our favorite teams or players fail.I always imagine how things could’ve turned out for the Chicago Bulls in the 2021-22 season if they’ve been healthy and injury-free; if Patrick Williams became less of a gentle forward and more of an aggressive young player with a chip on his shoulder with something to prove; if they’ve become more consistent in shooting from behind the arc; if Billy Donovan got a little more creative and made the offense more difficult for the defenders to predict. I always imagine the Chicago Bulls going deep into the Playoffs, upsetting every East favorite using their vaunted defense and open-court offense capitalizing on forced turnovers. I imagine all of these what-ifs and it makes me smile, despite how the season ended for the Windy City squad. I am not removed from reality. This is a coping mechanism that helps me remain hopeful.
And it could be easily ruined by someone, who rejects what you can imagine. It can be easily ruined by someone, who does not know how the game of “what if” is played. It can be ruined by someone, who only accepts his or her own perspective on things; I can stand people open to arguing, what I can’t stand are those, who won’t even listen to others, convinced that he or she is the infallible authority on the matter who has the final say.
So blessed is the sports fan, who can share a healthy what-if banter with friends, who are like Frodo when asked by Galadriel to look into the mirror: just plain curious.
And if you ask me where my mind wanders every time I traverse this world of NBA what-ifs, I’d shamelessly quote the Lady of Lórien:
“Even the wisest cannot tell, for the mirror shows many things…things that were… things that are… and some things that have not yet come to pass.”
With a lot of moving parts set to affect how my Chicago Bulls will turn out this season, it is exciting to run all these what-if scenarios in my head and discover the different exciting possibilities if all the good things align perfectly. Somewhere, the Chicago Bulls will become 2022-23 champions. I just hope it happens in this universe where I, stuck in this long wait for the Bulls to finally make that long-awaited return to the summit, live. Some people will easily dismiss me as foolish, so most of the time, I keep my multiverse scenarios to myself.
It’s a longshot, sure. But to hope is not madness.
The world is a very noisy place right now. Don’t let toxic people infringe on your God-given right to imagine.