The State of the NBA: How We Got Here

If you were offered a job for the same money but in a better city, a more fun group of coworkers, and were guaranteed more job success, would you take it? Yeah, I would too. And for that reason, I really can’t blame Kevin Durant for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, to create maybe the best team ever, in the Golden State Warriors.

While I can’t blame KD, I do think there is blame that needs to go around for the situation that’s been created in the NBA. As long as this ‘Super-Warriors’ team stays together, NBA fans will have the same experience year after year: A few fun story lines, but mostly a year-long collision course between Golden State and whatever team LeBron James is on. While it will be fun to see if GM LeBron can put together a team good enough to compete, it takes a lot of the suspense out of the rest of the season.

So how did we get here?

As with almost everything in the NBA, it all starts with LeBron. In LeBron’s third year in the league, he led a Cleveland Cavaliers team to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The second best player on that team? Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Over the next five years, he carried sub par teams to five playoff berths, two 60 win seasons, and a loss in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs all while averaging 29 points per game, 7  rebounds, and 7 assists. Pretty impressive, right?

Apparently not. During the rise of LeBron’s career, however, ESPN and other sports-focused media outlets began ramping up their 24/7 coverage of sports. Very quickly during the 2000’s, LeBron James became arguably the most covered athlete ever. He was constantly critiqued, criticized, and beaten up. Despite his early career success, he was crushed daily for not being able to win it all. The rise of social media also coincided with his career. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram created more venues to call out the Chosen One for not being able to get a title.

Because, as we have done with every great wing since he retired, we only saw LeBron James through the lens of Michael Jordan. With that comparison, comes the pressure of living up to those insanely high standards. MJ dominated the NBA throughout the entire 1990’s, finishing with 6 NBA titles. That standard has become the greatest test to how we measure greatness, which makes sense. But at the age of 25, LeBron started doing the math. He had maybe 10-12 good years left in him and if he wanted to tie Jordan’s title number, he was going to have to start racking up the titles soon.

So he made the single biggest NBA decision of the 2000’s. He joined the Miami Heat, forming the Big 3 with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Two titles and four years later, he returned home to Cleveland to join with a different Big 3 of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In his second year back in Cleveland, he won his third ring. At the age of 31, he was halfway to MJ’s status.

All the while, Kevin Durant watched. Held to the same scrutiny on a smaller scale, he was tired of the same old attack on his career – he hadn’t won the ‘Big One’ yet. And so at age 27, he mulled over the same exact decision LeBron had. Stay in your current small market team and fight your entire career for maybe one championship…or join a team with multiple all-stars and give yourself the chance to win multiple titles in a short window of time? KD figured out what LeBron figured out in 2011: Titles are all that matters.

 

Would you rather have Dirk’s one title with the same team over an 18 year career or LeBron’s 3 titles with multiple teams?

Jordan’s 6 titles, the single most by any star since Kareem won 6 spanning the 70’s and 80’s, has changed the game for everyone. If you take away Bill Russell’s incredible Celtics dynasty during the 50’s and 60’s, Jordan is the most dominant superstar that’s ever played the game. It’s his dominance that has pushed the formation of these super teams. His greatness continues to loom over the game.

 

Will we ever find a balance again in the NBA? Or will this Super Team mantra become the new norm in the League? Leave your thoughts and comments below.

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[…] in the pantheon of NBA players, specifically Point Guards, he is willing to potentially buck the trend of superstars joining super teams to preserve their legacies with […]

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[…] The main storyline of these playoffs was not about who would be in the Finals, a foregone conclusion.  The storyline became “are super teams good for the NBA?”  One popular narrative is that super teams aren’t new, that the league has always been top heavy.  While it’s true that the NBA has traditionally had less parity than football and baseball, the outcome has never seemed more inevitable than it was this year. […]

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