Saved By the Bell Lessons That Are Still Relevant — 2011 NBA Finals

Well it’s over now. I don’t know if there’s a more SpreeGoogs way to wrap up the Finals than visiting the never-ending fount of understanding that aired Saturday mornings on NBC during the early ‘90s.

As I’ve already stated on this blog, it is my understanding that everything happening today already happened in the ‘90’s (most of it happened within the walls of Bayside High) and is only now happening again. With that in mind, let’s examine a lesson we should have taken from Saved By the Bell that applies to the NBA Finals.

As usual, I’ll start with an episode summary, then get into the parallels.

Which episode are we diving into today? The Season 3 Malibu Sands beach volleyball classic “The Game.”

Episode Summary

The episode opens by showing the gang working at the Malibu Sands resort. We find out soon that the resort’s boss Mr. Carosi is thinking about canceling the annual beach volleyball game against rival resort North Beach because this year’s Malibu Sands team is so bad.

A poster of the 1991 Malibu Sands Beach volleyball team hangs in the Mavs locker room. And it

A brief moment of panic happens as it sets in that we might miss this annual tradition. But don’t worry, Zack has a plan. He convinces Mr. Carosi not only to play the game but exaggerates the team’s abilities so grossly that Carosi triples the monetary stakes of the game. Here’s the problem: North Beach is sooo good that they have won the game 10 years running and look set up to cruise to an 11th with brothers Ted and Tad Polk leading the way.

Luckily, Kelly’s outstanding swimsuit looks attract hope in the form of 6’10” Gary, a volleyball stud. He looks like a star in their first practice, but Screech sets the team back when he accidentally drops a water jug on Gary’s foot, breaking it and leaving him unable to play. At the last minute, the gang scrambles to find a sixth player (oddly, Lisa isn’t an option) and finally settles on “Big Pete,” one of Screech’s nerdy friends.

I wonder where they learned to stand in a semi-circle like that? I bet it was the Malibu Sands influence.

Game day brings another turn for the worse as Big Pete leaves the game due to injuries sustained in pre-game stretching. Last-minute replacement Stacy is hardly a volleyball player, but has some tricks up her blazer sleeves.

The Malibu Sands team starts out poorly and falls behind early. But then something happens: they rally together and get some surprise contributions from Screech, Stacy and Kelly and manage to come back and tie the game late. One wily trick from Stacy and one big spike from Zack in clutch time and our Bayside friends have completed the improbably upset. Everyone wins. Except North Beach.

What We Learned

There are several lessons from this episode that are directly related to this year’s NBA Finals. Here they come in bullets:

The underdog can win if they play as a team — Sure, Ted and Tad were imposing. They were probably even the best two players in the game. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t beatable. When the game was on the line, the plucky bunch that banded together was able to use that teamwork to out-play the two stars on the rival team. In short, we learned that teamwork (Malibu Sands) beats individual stardom (North Beach). Also, the North Beach/ South Beach comparison goes without saying.

• It doesn’t matter how good the best player on the team is, what matters is how much the bad players contribute — Sure, the Polk brothers can pile up the spikes, but who else on that team contributed? No one. Malibu Sands got unorthodox points from Screech (just like JJ Barea), non-athletic but savvy and ultimately effective points from Stacy (Terry, Chandler), a solid playing/coaching performance from Kelly (Kidd), and when it came down to crunch time a clutch play from Zack (Dirk).

• Injuries to star players don’t always mean a team is doomed — We all knew Zack was going to be good. When super-tall Gary was added to the roster, this team looked untouchable. But then Gary got hurt. And it all looked so bleak. Sound familiar? It should. Last year, the Mavs were looking for a solid Robin to Dirk’s Batman. They brought in Caron Butler from the Wiz. Great move, right? Butler is a great player on offense, and would certainly stretch out opposing defenses from Dirk and the other shooters already with the Mavs. Except Butler, the Mavs second-best player, only played in 29 games this year because of injury. Did Gary’s injury spell failure for Malibu Sands? Certainly not. And Caron Butler’s injury? You know how that went.

• Role players can carry you through the game, but your star player has to close — The Mavs clearly learned this lesson. I assume it’s because they watched SBTB and took notes. While the middle points came from unexpected players like Screech, when it game down to game point, Zack was the one who put it away. Sound like Game 6 to you? When Dirk was struggling, Terry and Barea took over and made plays in the first three quarters. Still, at the end of the game, Malibu Sands looked to its star player Zack and the Mavs gave the ball to Dirk. And both teams were rewarded with Ws.

• An excitable owner who takes chances isn’t always a bad thing — Mr. Carosi didn’t just triple the bet with the North Beach owner for this game, he also agreed to give Zack a pretty big discount on a car if Malibu Sands won. That’s a lot riding on just a 15-point game, but it worked out for him. Mark Cuban has a history of being pretty loud and obnoxious, and his enthusiasm for his team is pretty unrivaled. He has invested a lot of his personal property in this team, and had they lost, he may have been pretty disgraced. But no worries, it all worked out for him too.

I’m not saying that the Mavs didn’t write history or anything. All I’m saying is that we’ve seen this before and maybe we should have been expecting it. Dallas won, and they should be celebrated. But we’ve seen this before. And that should be celebrated too.