As the NBA aims to resume its season, any asterisk talk is just nonsense

As various leagues across America’s sportscape get their heads around an impending potential restart, it feels like there’s still not a lot you can do as a fan to hurry up the process.

You’d be right in that sense — but there are some things you can do to make sure that the return isn’t as weird, awkward or unsatisfying as it might be.

To start, here’s one that involves nothing more than shearing a simple punctuation mark from your mindset: Let’s agree to ban all use of the asterisk in conjunction with the upcoming conclusion to the NBA, NHL and MLS seasons, and to what will hopefully be a meaningful Major League Baseball schedule. Let’s forbid its use from anything connected with the National Football League slate, due to get underway in September.

Let’s not just keep asterisks for this time period from entering the record books — which likely would never happen anyway, as the leagues have too much sense than to cheapen a product they worked so hard to get back underway — but let’s strip it from our chatter, too.

You already know there will be some who will deride the outcome of 2020’s athletic achievements as less than authentic. They will claim that the conclusion to the NBA, after a lengthy pause necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, produced a result manifestly different than if the season had been allowed to play out.

They will state that the new champion, whoever it is, will be somehow less worthy than all the past victors we have seen, having merely capitalized on the peculiar circumstances.

You’ll hear that the difficulties posed by the lockdown caused an uneven playing field. That different levels of restriction hampered some teams and helped others.

You’ll hear that some teams get more of an advantage from having their raucous home fans in the building than others and were affected more starkly by their absence. Certain players will benefit more greatly from having been able to rest and recuperate.

I get it. It will be different when things come back, but it’s just that — different. Not worse. Not tainted. Different.

The hunt for the title doesn’t become a lottery. If anything, it should be held up as a special kind of triumph. Sports is a reflector of life in so many ways. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that mental resilience and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances are characteristics to be celebrated.

The asterisk in grammar is an annotation. In sports, it is a slur. It implies something less worthy, or dubious. There have occasionally been times when that was called for; often, it is utterly unfair. Roger Maris deserved better. Whoever shines once we get sports back will be the same.

Likely victims of COVID-shaming in sports fall into two groups. They are: athletes or teams who are frequent targets for criticism, or teams that happen to win as underdogs.

Top of the list is LeBron James. If the Los Angeles Lakers emerge atop the current campaign, you can be certain there will be many who will wish to add a caveat to James’ fourth title, especially as it would push him to within two of Michael Jordan’s career tally. “The Last Dance” documentary has created a fresh wave of discussion about who is the finest basketball player in history, and the Jordan supporters are in feisty mood.

“I’ve noticed this, post-Jordan documentary,” FOX Sports’ Nick Wright said on First Things First. “Folks, like me, that believe LeBron’s the greatest player ever … no one ever says Jordan’s anything worse than second. But the Jordan folks (are) out here saying, ‘LeBron’s lucky if he’s top 10; Ray Allen and Kyrie (Irving) had to save him.”

Whatever camp you fall into on that debate, the worthiness of this season simply shouldn’t come into it. Whoever wins will have had to perform at a level over and above every other team, which is the simple criteria for anointing a champion.

They will have had to deal with the shutdown and keep their team chemistry together through it. They will have had to have enough players keep themselves in optimum shape. Team leaders will have had to show their mettle. The group will have had to deal with the unique circumstances of possible quarantine during games, and also playing without fans. It is extra laudable in some ways.

The others to suffer would be if an unheralded team were to win it all. If Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl again after a season that takes place with a different look, no one is going to say it’s not justified. If the Boston Bruins surge to the Stanley Cup by sweeping through an expanded playoffs after having racked up 100 points by the closure, will anyone claim they don’t deserve it?

But if the Denver Nuggets or the Miami Heat find a spectacular run of form and go all the way in the NBA playoffs, there will be plenty wanting to say it shouldn’t count as much as a “proper” triumph.

It’s nonsense. It is unfair thinking that shows a lack of understanding about what sports are really about. If ever there is time for positivity and a celebration of sports, it is now.

When the time comes for sports to hit top gear once more, put away the sudoku and the power drill and whatever else you’ve been doing to pass the time. And put away the asterisk too, be it metaphorical or real, and get ready to give credit where it will be definitively due.