By Ryan Schneider
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Lets take a trip back in time…Throughout the last 40 years of the NBA we have been treated to spectacular rivalries, individual performances, and league-wide dominance. Wilt, Kareem, Magic vs. Larry, Lakers and Celtics, the Bad Boy Pistons, were a hard-to- top prelude to arguably the best decade (90’s) in professional basketball history.
In the 90’s we had Jordan and the Bulls, who won 6 out of 10 NBA finals (could have been 8 had Jordan not retired)…The Era of the Big man…Olajuwon, Mourning, Ewing, Robinson, Barkley, Malone, Shaq…And show me a Knick fan who didn’t passionately hate the Pacers, Heat and Bulls…night in and night out, guys were out for blood. Come in the paint in a Knicks-Heat series, you were just asking for an elbow from Oakley and shove from Mason…Turn on the NBA on NBC for a Bulls-Pacers game, you were destined to see Jordan and Miller nose-to-nose trash talking…Stay up late and watch a Suns vs. anybody west coast match-up and you could see a game played in the 120’s…The NBA was great to watch because there were multiple storylines in multiple cities with multiple superstars…
After Jordan…the league suffered…it longed for a superstar, for some rivalries…The Lakers were great, the Celtics were terrible, the Spurs were dominant, but uninteresting to watch…In the first five years of the new century how many NBA superstars would you turn on the TV to watch? Maybe 3 or 4…lets name them…Kobe, Shaq, Iverson, maybe Jason Kidd, maybe Vince Carter, maybe T-Mac…more importantly what were some of the great rivalries in the early part of the decade? Spurs vs. anyone? Sure, I guess, but would you say people were excited about the NBA when the Spurs were playing in the finals? Outside of San Antonio, who else cared? No offense San Antonio….
Face it, after the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, basketball became oftentimes irrelevant…especially in New York…but now, for the first time in years, let’s even be bold and say in a decade, the NBA matters…people care, cities care, teams care.
Present Day…Ready for this?
Could the NBA be filled with the most talent in the history of the game? Kobe, Durant, LeBron, Wade, Dirk, ‘Melo, Howard, D-Will, CP3, Duncan, still have KG, Shaq, Ray Allen, Kidd, Nash…That’s fifteen names off the top of my head…don’t you think all of them either have a chance, or already are, Hall of Famers? That’s not even including the younger influx of stars…Steph Curry, Brandon Roy, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Blake Griffin…
Talk about Rivalries, Storylines and Must see games…How about a couple of these?
Kobe and the Lakers vs. Durant and the Thunder…The best scorer in the league taking on the second best scorer. When push comes to shove Kobe is one of the best scorers in the NBA. But he is no longer the best…he has been surpassed. There is not a guy as dominant as Kevin Durant with the ball, on the wing, isolated in a one-on-one situation. He handles the ball like a guard, has range to 35 feet, made 128 three pointers last season, is learning how to make a last-second shot, hit 88 percent of his free throws, and is 6’11”. If I had to pick one player to hit a game winner I’d still take Kobe…but after watching Durant mature in front of my eyes during the FIBA championships, I’d love to see these two go shot-for-shot in the last 30 seconds.
The Miami Heat vs. Anyone…I was trying to sift through the last 25 or 30 years of NBA history. Do you think there will be a more hated team in the history of the league than the Miami Heat? Three superstars come together to try and form a dynasty. LeBron comes across as a spoiled little kid who needed some friends to play with at the playground. And then on top of it all, they throw a coming out party for themselves in July!
I don’t think I said…”Are you serious?” more in a ten-minute period, than when I saw LeBron and his “Superfriends” walk on stage and pose for cameras as if they were supermodels. I hated the way people were prematurely handing out championship rings to these guys…”Hey it’s July, you haven’t even played a game yet.” Do you really think the Boston Celtics are going to just lay down and let the Heat run over them? Can Joel Anthony guard Dwight Howard in the post? How about Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum? I like Chris Bosh a lot, and would have loved him as a Knick, but he hasn’t been out of the first round. And to cap it all off, there may never be a team that sees more hostility from visiting arenas than this team in the next three years…
We all know it will be dangerous for LeBron to return to Cleveland. Wouldn’t you be thrilled heading back to a place where moments after your “Decision” people were ONLY burning jerseys, crying, and screaming “DIE” into TV cameras. Remember the game he had last year against the Knicks? When people were excited? When he dropped twenty in the first quarter…there were OOH’s and AAH’s, he was all smiles, waving to the camera…the only thing he will be waving at this year is security to escort him off the Garden floor. You think New Yorkers hated Reggie and Michael? They will look like folk heroes after the “Lord of no Rings” comes to the Big Apple. Those are just two fan bases that will give it to the Heat the worst…but regardless of how thick-skinned you may be, that passionate hatred, those degrading fans making insulting, personal comments, will at some point make a difference.
Let’s not forget…Lakers-Celtics, Celtics-Magic, will the Knicks be relevant again? Are the Bulls contenders? Show me the best point guard in the league (CP3 or D-WILL)…Is Kobe aging? If Blake Griffin stays healthy is he a top-5 Power Forward in the league? Is this the last hurrah for the Celtics? Don’t sleep on the Blazers…Did Dwight Howard develop a post move? What does Durant need to do to be MVP? Can the Heat stay healthy? How good is John Wall?
And we haven’t even thrown the ball up yet…As a longtime NBA fan I am excited about what could be the most exciting and enthralling five years in the history of the league. Kobe has a chance to equal or surpass the number of rings Jordan accumulated in his career. Five or six of the top ten players in the league are 25 or younger. And you have to wonder how many of these guys will get the chance to hoist a championship. Who is the next Malone? Or Ewing?
Is it possible with all the talk, all the hype, all the pressure, the Miami Heat will be one of the greatest teams in NBA regular season history, but lack the ability to win the games that matter most? With the assembling of the Heat, it’s only natural to ask yourself…when is the next “Dream Team” going to develop?
All of the analysts seem to know anything and everything about what we can expect from the NBA this season…teams have been broken down, projections have been made, 300 players have been profiled. Here is what I am going to analyze for you…the NBA is back and better than ever.