As the final seconds of the 2017 NBA Finals ticked away, and it became abundantly clear that the Golden State Warriors would begin their second championship reign, the sound to focus on was not that of the ringing cheers inside Oracle Arena. No, it was the sound of remote controls across North America clicking off the broadcast from sheer disappointment. Granted, there may be a sizable group of fans who love the idea of watching a modern day dynasty akin to the 90s Bulls on the precipice of a dominating reign. However, it has become clear that the majority of casual basketball fans, the most important market when judging commercial success in sports, have burst out a collective “why bother”. And, honestly, why bother? We all knew this is how the season and subsequent playoffs would end.
The greatest stories in sports center around the underdog. Name just one film depicting a powerhouse team or franchise while I can certainly provide several examples of films that focus on upstart stories where the less talented and least supported somehow, someway, reach the highest of mountaintops. This isn’t an accident; this is what sports fans live for. Sports, more so than any gripping television series like Game of Thrones or House of Cards, is the greatest real-life drama known to man. John Hamm, in an ESPY opening monologue a few years ago, spoke of how the riveting “anything can happen” nature of sports is so difficult to replicate in television despite there being an exponential increase in talented writers in the past decade across the small screen landscape. So, why is the NBA becoming so boring?
One tricky part in solving this dilemma is this: who is to blame? It is certainly not the Golden State Warriors, or Kevin Durant. The NBA is a business, and it makes business sense for an organization to do anything possible within the rules and guidelines in which they operate to do everything within their power to win. After all, winning increases interest levels, increased interest levels result in increased fan ticket and merchandise sales (among other things), ultimately leading to…increased team/league profits. Despite what the mass of sports media will tell you, there is nothing cowardly about Durant joining the Warriors. He is a prideful, dominating athlete who recognized something that we are all beginning to recognize in the NBA: it’s dull. No matter the “twists and turns” that take place in the regular season, the ending is inevitable: it’ll be Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant simply grew tired of waiting for the inevitable, instead opting to have his season grow a little longer by joining the team he thought he would fit best with. For the Warriors, this untimely situation is hardly their fault either. Excellent drafting lead them to acquire Curry, Thompson and Green, and who would not agree that it made perfect business sense to sign Durant.
The problem, clearly, isn’t the team or the player: it’s the league itself. As power turned over to commissioner Adam Silver in 2012, the Miami Heat dynasty came to fruition. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Dynasties in the NBA, due to the game being largely a five man sport, are frequent. The Lakers, Bulls and Celtics of old are just a few examples to illustrate this situation. The difference, however, is the parity. Back when these teams made their respective marks on the NBA, the talent level across the league was significantly worse than it is today, no matter what nostalgic columnists like Skip “he’ll never be Jordan” Bayless or any broadcaster on TNT will tell you. The age of the uber-athlete is upon us with young athletic dominators such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl Anthony-Towns merely at their beginning of their respective careers. The NBA is also littered with established superstar talent now more than ever, be it Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard just to name a few. These teams of old didn’t deal with the level of competition that today’s super teams deal with; it made sense that they were always in the title picture! The sad fact is that these new superstars won’t see the true limelight of the NBA for years to come. People talk about the “teams of tomorrow” in all sports, be it the Raiders in the NFL or the Leafs in the NHL. You know who the team of tomorrow is in the NBA? It’s Golden State. Steph Curry, the oldest of the “Big Four”, is only 29.
Good drafting can never be outlawed. What Golden State did to get to the point of the pre-Durant era can never be avoided and should be welcomed. However, there is something suspicious (and perhaps unfair) about the fact that Curry, arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history, makes slightly over $1 million more than Andre Iguodala, a (talented) bench player, thus allowing the Warriors to stock their roster with far more talented depth and front court additions than would otherwise be possible. It is up to the NBA to decide which direction it must take to solve the super team problem. Perhaps a system where players who reach certain statistics generate a minimum slot value in their contracts that sets a floor in what they must be paid could prevent players from taking slightly less money than they otherwise would to form anti-climactic, superstar riddled rosters. League interest this year was relatively stable, simply because fans wanted to see how the goliaths of Cleveland and Golden State would fare against one another. However, this storyline will get old fast. If nothing is done, expect the NBA to begin its demise in parallel to former greats in other areas of television like “Lost”; a once gripping dramatic masterpiece undone by shoddy storytelling and disappointment