NBA Still Not What It Once Was
Pat Strathman - April 14, 2016 8:00 am
20 or so years ago, I wanted nothing more than to play in the NBA someday.
Obviously, that did not come to pass. Basketball was my favorite sport. My uncle, the only person I knew who could weld, built a home made basket for my brother and me. I remember the day my dad and him set it up in our backyard. It was adjustable, and could come down as low as seven feet (which my friends and I took advantage of for dunk contests) and go as high as 12 feet (I have no idea why). We were pretty good at handling the basketball. We had to be. Our court was our lawn, which was far from smooth. All that dribbling and foot traffic eventually eliminated most of the grass.
What fueled my love of basketball was watching the NBA almost every night. As my interest in sports picked up around 1995, I was drawn to expansion teams. There was something I liked about the idea of following a team from its start. So along with my well documented love of the Carolina Panthers in the NFL, I also picked up the Toronto Raptors. Damon Stoudamire and Marcus Camby were among my favorites. It was obviously also the era of Michael Jordan. So many of my friends were huge fans, so I didn’t want to get wrapped up in that. But it was kind of fun cheering against the Bulls in those situations. It was fun watching MJ and Pippen battle Shaq and Penny and the Magic. It was fun pulling for Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson and the Pacers to knock off the Bulls. I pulled for Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in the Finals against the Bulls, and became big fans of John Stockton and Karl Marlone and the Jazz as they fell short to the Bulls in the Finals.
The lockout started the downfall of the NBA, and what finally soured me on it was my favorite player trying desperately and very overtly to leave my favorite team. The way Vince Carter treated the Raptors in his final couple of seasons sent me away. The game had changed. The rivalries weren’t the same. The age of the Internet and then social media has allowed the game’s top players to become friends more so than foes. We’ve entered an era where LeBron James teamed up with his friends to win in Miami, and then talks again about doing it again somewhere. You might beat one of the game’s best players one night, but after the game, it’s all hugs and smiles and jokes. Can you imagine going back 20 years and hearing Michael Jordan say he wants to work in free agency to team up with Gary Payton and Shaq in LA or New York and win a title with them? That MJ wants Reggie to be on his team? Times have certainly changed.
The game needs rivalries. The game needs superstars who want to win a title with their own supporting cast, not teaming up with several other stars to get it done. I want superstars who despise the other superstars. I want it to be ugly and nasty.
I’ve started to pay attention a bit more over the last few years. Steph Curry has pulled me back in. I love watching the way Golden State plays. I’ve always been a fan of shooting a bunch of three pointers and fast paced play. And it seems like there are some rivalries with the Warriors. LeBron and Steph don’t seem to see eye-to-eye, which I love. The Clippers and Warriors are today’s version of the Lakers and Kings in the early 2000s. You can tell the Warriors and Spurs don’t like each other, either, but there is a respect between the two which the game needs.
And while I tuned out on the NBA for the middle portion of his career, Kobe Bryant’s final night was electric. Watching the atmosphere in the Staples Center as one of the game’s best of all time hit shot after shot was incredible. Kobe was a guy that inspired some rivalries, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome all of the friendships in the business.
Maybe Steph and the Warriors can keep winning and start to get more to dislike them around the league. Maybe NBA players will start to realize they are competing against the other stars for those big shoe contracts. Whatever it is, if more teams can play like Golden State, and more superstars can develop a healthy rivalry, maybe I’ll come back. But it still just doesn’t feel like the NBA of my childhood.