Let’s be honest. Does anyone seriously believe that Golden State won’t make it to the NBA finals this year? How many people out there truly think that the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t join them for a rematch of 2016? Sure, Boston managed to snag the number one seed in the East this season, but LeBron James has headlined the championship series every year since 2011. Those are pretty stiff odds to bet against.
My point is the NBA playoffs have become boring and predictable. Rare is the story of the underdog or the rise of a dark horse. The same names and the same teams plow through the field to play the same names and the same teams year after year. And why is this happening? We can sum it up in two words.
It’s become practically common place in the NBA. Superstars from around the league ditch their lackluster teams in order to ally with their fellow superstars, forming teams stacked with big names and bigger contracts in order to have a better shot of winning it all in June.
More so than other professional sports, basketball is one that necessitates serious star power to win a championship. With the game on the line in the dwindling seconds of the fourth quarter, you need someone to give the ball to. That is just a fact. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Late game heroics and unlikely buzzer beaters are what fans live and die for. However, Super Teams narrow the playoff field down to only a handful of teams that genuinely have a shot at winning. Not only does this suck the intrigue out of the Playoffs, but it also negatively affects fans and damages the idealistic notion that teams should develop homegrown talent in the draft.
Since the beginning of unrestricted free agency in 1988, NBA players not under contract have been able to sign with any franchise that had the cap space to accommodate them. Super Teams aren’t anything new. In the 90’s we saw the dominance of Michael Jorden, who was assisted by Scottie Pippen, as the Chicago Bulls won three consecutive championships on two separate occasions. Likewise, the Los Angeles Lakers won three of their own consecutive Championships from 2000 to 2002. They were headed by the superstar team up of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
However, I want to focus on the more recent examples of Super Teams and the effect they have on the modern NBA.
LeBron James shocked the country in 2010 when he left his hometown team, deciding to “take [his] talents to South Beach” in order to team up with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade on the Miami Heat. Although their Super Star team up failed in its first year when the Heat lost to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 finals, Miami bounced back to win it all in the next two seasons. Nevertheless, James returned to Cleveland just four seasons after he left to form another Super Team with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. There, he added another ring to his collection.
James’ hand might be a little heavier right now if it weren’t for the emergence of the league’s newest megastar: Steph Curry. Taking the world by storm with his soft shooting touch and adorable daughter, Curry rivals James for the title of best basketball player on the planet.
And it’s no surprise that other NBA stars would want to be a part of that.
I’m talking to you, Kevin Durant. In the most shocking development of the 2016 offseason, the OKC superstar left his team to join Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State.
Cruising to a league best 67-15 Win-Loss record, the Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA, as expected. They are the clear cut favorites to win the Championship this year. If they do, Kevin Durant will get his first ring.
That elusive ring stands as the reason Durant left the Thunder after playing for them since being drafted in 2008. He made his shocking announcement on The Player’s Tribune, a site that publishes first person narratives from professional athletes across various sports leagues. After acknowledging the difficulty of his decision, he made the reasoning behind it clear:
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”
Being offered a two-year 54.3 million dollar deal with Golden State probably helped persuade him as well. After signing the contract, Durant was making an additional 6 million per year compared to his 2015-16 salary with the Thunder.
Kevin Durant is an example of a sports athlete doing what is best for him. And that’s fine. But what about what is best for the sport? What about what’s best for the fans? After their superstar’s departure, Oklahoma City was left in a mixture of grief and outrage. Many took to twitter to express their betrayal. In extreme cases, some fans went as far as to burn their old Kevin Durant jerseys.
Do athletes have a moral responsibility to remain loyal to their fans? Although some folks were off burning jerseys and cursing Durant’s name on social media, we can only assume that there were just as many, if not more, who were devastated by the departure of their hero. Meanwhile, OKC’s second star player and Durant’s former partner in crime remained in Oklahoma City despite his option to jump ship as well. While Durant was off pursuing a NBA title with Golden State, Russel Westbrook was left as the unquestioned top player on the Thunder. Despite putting up MVP numbers throughout the season, Westbrook’s team simply did not have the supporting cast necessary to be postseason contenders. They lost in a 5 game series to James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
With another post season failure, Oklahoma City fans are left wondering what’s next. Will a title ever be brought home to their city? Unfortunately for them, that prospect seems further away than ever.
Should Durant have exercised loyalty and remained on the Thunder? Oklahoma City fans would say yes. People like me who hate the idea of Super Teams would say yes. If the Thunder still had the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook, they would have been in championship contention again this year. But Durant said no. Right or wrong, he got impatient and left the team that drafted him.
The opposite argument is that NBA players shouldn’t be beholden to things like team loyalty. They should do what is best for themselves and their career without worrying about accommodating fans.
Personally, I believe that players should have a sense of loyalty to the organizations that built them and the fans that rooted for them. And a lot of athletes do.
However, the fact remains that Super Teams exist and they royally mess up the rest of the NBA. Both the Western and Eastern conferences have become so top heavy that the 8th seed in each conference was grabbed by teams with .500 records. Both Cleveland and Golden State cruised through their first round series with four game sweeps. The second round features a couple of more interesting match ups, but there are very few guesses about which two teams will make it to the Finals.
Some aspects of the playoffs will proceed as usual. Fans will still pack out arenas wearing the same color to cheer on their teams. Big names will still draw big ratings. The team that wins the Championship in June will still be moved to tears. To the elite group of players and fans that genuinely have a shot at victory, I’m sure the Playoffs will be just as shiny and interesting as ever. However, to the casual viewer or the fan of a lower-class team, the post season is sorely lacking. All we can do now is disinterestedly watch the Super Teams dominate and pray for an unlikely upset.
That, and cross our fingers James Harden doesn’t decide he wants to play for Golden State too.
- “Land Of Basketball.com.” NBA Championships: Year by Year Champions. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.landofbasketball.com/championships/year_by_year.htm>.
- “Standings.” Nba.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2017. <http://www.nba.com/standings>.
- Durant, Kevin. “My Next Chapter | By Kevin Durant.” The Players Tribune. The Players’ Tribune, Inc., 04 July 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. .” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”><https://www.theplayerstribune.com/kevin-durant-nba-free-agency-announcement/>.
- Spotrac.com. “Kevin Durant.” Spotrac.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.spotrac.com/nba/golden-state-warriors/kevin-durant-2717/>.