Do you remember when the NBA had teams like the Bill Russell Celtics, the Michael Jordan Bulls, the Jerry West Lakers and the Willis Reed Knicks?
It was a different time, almost a different universe. The NBA of today has turned into a Bizarro World.
If you caught a Celtics game back in the day, you could expect to see Russell, Sam and K.C. Jones and John Havlicek coming off the bench as the super sixth man.
Pick a year. Red Auerbach and his famous cigar directed that group for what seemed like a decade.
During the Bulls dynasty, you could count on seeing Michael, Pippin and Rodman for the duration. With the Lakers, you knew the cast year in and year out. It was the same with the New York Knickerbockers as they trotted out Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Cazzie Russell and Phil Jackson in perpetuity.
Well, that was back when 8-track tapes ruled the music scene, one computer would fill Boston Garden, men were hitting nine irons on the moon and the label socialist was the kiss of death for a politician.
Back then, I thought tie dyed t-shirts and bell bottom jeans would rule the fashion scene forever.
Dirk and Kobe playing their entire career with one team was an aberration.
They simply were not cool. When the Mavs and the Lakers respectively were bad, neither one abandoned ship.
Neither one saw greener grass on the other side of the fence even when grass referred to what you mowed in front of your house.
All of that changed when Lebron and Chris Bosh colluded to take their talents to Miami to form, along with Dwyane Wade, the first self-chosen, player directed super team.
As they would say in N’Awlins, “The levee has broken”, and the flood of free agents changed things forever.
It was no longer about NBA free agents going to the highest bidder. With all the “Bird” rules, mid-level exceptions and expiring contracts, everyone could offer a truckload of cash.
The question was no longer about the money. The superstars had more than they could spend…check that…more money than the ordinary person without a posse could spend. It was more, “where can I win a championship and still be THE star.”
Let’s go back a few years to 2012 and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The team assembled basically organically through the draft and “normal” free agency appeared to be a top team for the next decade.
That super roster included Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Hardin, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. They could have been the Boston Celtics of the 21st Century.
But, no… James Hardin decided to leave. He didn’t like being in Durant’s shadow. He opted to let his star shine unfettered in Houston.
Soon after he left, Kevin Durant figured out the best way for him to win a championship was to go to the World Champion Warriors.
Only Westbrook remains as a remnant of that original super nucleus.
I don’t have to tell you (but I will) that Lebron jumped from the Cavs to the Heat, back to the Cavs then to the Lakers.
He’s probably shopping for his next team as I type. Kawhi Leonard has followed the King James pattern. After a championship playing for the best coach in basketball, on what may have been the best “team” (as opposed to a collection of stars) in NBA history, he decided to look elsewhere. Will a championship in champion-starved Toronto entice him to stay? Yeah, right!
Besides discovering Zion Williamson will be in N’Awlins until he gains free agency, the biggest questions in the Association are where will Durant and Kawhi take their talents next season? The money will be there.
It will be a matter of “who has the base in place to win it all while leaving me the super star?” Who will each decide to make a super team for a year, or for the length of that next contract?
Recently, Anthony Davis strong armed the Pelicans into trading him to Lebron’s Lakers (sorry, Los Angeles, you lost the right to claim them.) by threatening to leave next year in free agency leaving them with nothing.
Then he limited the teams he would go play for to New York and the Lebron Lakers.
He held the free agency gun to their head, and they sent him to Lebron for a bag of beans and Levar’s problem son. (Okay, maybe the son isn’t a problem, but the Pelicans get Levar Bell as a throw in.)
The Pelicans certainly didn’t want to lose a talent like Davis that they could have paired with Zion. Davis and James both wound up as Lakers, not because the Lakers wanted to trade for Anthony, but because Lebron and Davis wanted Davis as a Laker.
So, as I sit here sipping on a hot Dr Pepper, listening to Bob Dylan while wearing my Dingo boots and round sun shades, I dream of the old NBA. I imagine stars staying with one team, being worshiped by on local fandom and becoming a local legend.
Instead, I see a game of human three card monte where they let the sucker pick the winning card every once in a while (like Cleveland and Toronto did) just to keep the poor saps playing while they clean out his wallet and send him back to the ATM. And, I still prefer to listen to my Dylan on an 8-track tape.