Have you heard? The NBA is broken. The Wall Street Journal said so last week.
Blame the Warriors. They have won three championships in the past four seasons (and you could argue they should have won the one that got away). They have posted a record winning percentage in a single regular season and in a single postseason. They have sent four representatives to the past two All-Star games.
They signed Kevin Durant when other teams needed him more. When it looked as if they would have trouble cobbling together a supporting cast for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant for the 2018-19 season, they signed center DeMarcus Cousins.
Want a laugh? The Wall Street Journal was late to the party. The website fivethirtyeight.com, in November 2015, declared that the Warriors were “unapologetically destroying (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver’s Bolshevist basketball state.”
You know the gripe: The Warriors win too many games and too many championships. They have too many parades and sign too many really, really good players. The caterwauling has been such that Silver felt compelled to address the NBA’s imbalance of power this week.
“I’m not here to say we have a problem,” Silver told reporters in Las Vegas. “But I think we can create a better system.”
If you’re of a certain age – like many of my T-shirts – you may recall this same kind of hand-wringing almost 30 years ago inspired by a different Bay Area team. In January 1990 the San Francisco 49ers were seeking their second consecutive Super Bowl title and fourth in nine years. Joe Montana was playing crazy great. Instead of taking a step back with the retirement of coach Bill Walsh, the 49ers improved under rookie head coach George Seifert. And a cry went up across the land: “Is this dominance good for the game?”
I consulted a trusted source, Steve Sabol, then the guiding hand of NFL Films.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “Everybody needs a giant to cuddle up to. Somebody has to set the standard. Somebody has to be out there testing the limits. If you don’t have that, there’s nothing to focus on. You don’t have the kids playing in their backyard, arguing who’s going to be the 49ers. You need those idols. Without legendary champions, you don’t have idols.”
That was a radical take considering the NFL’s love affair with parity. But Sabol was right. Who wants a league with every team at .500? We gravitate to standard-bearers, which is what Sabol saw in the 49ers.
“I think the 49ers are perceived as the Romans of the NFL,” he said. “Very imperial, aloof. It’s not arrogance, I wouldn’t say that. But there’s a certain class, a confidence, an elan they have.”
If you can’t see the parallels between those 49ers and these Warriors, you just aren’t trying.
As for Silver’s dream of “a better system,” good luck with that.
Granted, the defection of LeBron James from Cleveland to the Lakers has left the Eastern Conference something of a smoking crater. But these things are cyclical, as are the rise and fall of the NBA’s celebrated and inevitable dynasties.
Even if you could create a level basketball court, there still would be dissatisfaction. Call it an unintended consequence of the league’s popularity. The NBA, like the NFL, NHL and MLB, expanded over the years, bringing its game to a hungry fan base. As we speak, there are 32 NBA teams. So let’s do the math.
If we go strictly by the law of averages, each team will win a championship once every 32 years. Meaning that at any given time half the league’s fans will be moaning about a championship drought.
I’m with Sabol. Bring on the Romans. The world needs more elan.
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