The NBA finals are upon us, and the only takeaway a fan of the game can have right now is simple: the past six months really don’t matter — at all.
In the heyday of the NBA, rivalries were the bread and butter of the league. Celtics-Lakers, Bulls-Pistons, Celtics-76ers, Lakers-Rockets. I can go on. But sadly there are very few rivalries left in the league. Why? In the old days, superstars wanted to beat the hell out of each other. Now, they want to play on the same team.
We are in the age of the super-team. What happened when Kevin Durant determined his Oklahoma City Thunder team didn’t have what it takes to beat the Warriors in the West? Instead of digging in and strengthening his resolve to beat his mortal enemy, he decided to join them. A team that already had pocket aces in Seth Curry and Klay Thompson really didn’t need a third ace on the flop. So far in this year’s playoffs, Golden State is undefeated at 12-0 and while they play an entertaining brand of basketball, thirty point blowouts in the playoffs are anything but entertaining.
And then there’s the Cavaliers and this guy named Lebron James. He is either the best or second-best player in the history of the game (see Michael Jordan). He can win playoff games with Keith Carson and Todd Gutner playing on the front-line with him. But when you replace our weather team with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving bad things happen to other teams. Ask the Celtics. Rarely have we seen a team come into the Boston Garden and destroy a team in ways the Cavs did in games 1 and 2 and 5. 72-31 at halftime?!?!?!? A rout of historic proportions. Not good, and not in the least bit good television. The Cavs would also be undefeated save for one inexplicable hiccup in game three.
It’s sad that the NBA mantra now is if you can’t beat them, join them. Can you imagine after the Celtics beat the Lakers in seven grueling games in 1984 Magic Johnson saying, “You know what? Those guys are so good I’m done trying to compete with them. I’m going to become a Celtic when I’m a free agent so I can pick up a cheap ring.”
The Utah Jazz came tantalizingly close to winning an NBA championship or two but were thwarted by some dude named Michael Jordan. But would you ever expect Karl Malone or John Stockton to slide into a Bulls uniform? Of course not.
The Celtics-76ers rivalry was never as hot as when Larry Bird attempted to put a sleeper hold on Dr. J. These teams hated each other. The last thing they wanted to do was play on the same team. That hatred is what made the Celtics-Wizards series must-see-tv. The NBA could use more of that.
So why is it so acceptable in today’s NBA for former enemies to become compadres? I really don’t know. What does Kevin Durant gain by joining a team that could easily win a championship whether he is a Warrior or not? If Golden State beats the Cavs the glory will go to Curry and Thompson. If they lose, Durant will be blamed for not being able to push the Warriors past Cleveland.
So what are we left with this year? The most anti-climactic build up to the NBA Finals ever, and it’s not even close. On opening night, everyone anticipated Cavs-Warriors part 3. That is exactly where we are, and the lack of drama is startling. Is this what the NBA wants? Six months of apathy in return for two weeks of what should be a great final? If so, I’ll pass that time next year living off of the Patriots, Red Sox and House of Cards – Season 6.