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The NBA Has Never Been Better

Jeff Smith

Many of you out there probably haven’t watched the NBA with any regularity since Michael Jordan nudged Bryon Russell straight into the annals of NBA folklore back in 1998. Perhaps you tuned in when the Lakers were in the midst of their three year stretch of domination in the early 2000’s with the original Superman in the post and a young superstar named Kobe Bryant on the perimeter. Even if you have fond memories of both of these events, and a passion for basketball, it was hard to deny that in just a few short years the NBA’s public image had taken to many hits to count. The majority of the complaints cited a league full of overpaid thugs, who could run and jump but knew little about the fundamentals of basketball, as the primary reason that overall attendance and ratings dipped. With the NBA already on the ropes, David Stern’s worst fear became a reality. On November 19th, 2004, Ron Artest entered the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills and the rest was history (not to mention a public relations nightmare).
Fast forward a little over five years to February, 2010. The NBA All-Star game just filled the new Cowboy Stadium to the brim, with over 108,000 fans pouring in. Despite the lousy weather, the atmosphere throughout the entire weekend was electric and it was capped off with an incredible display of basketball during the greatest pick-up game in the world. It’s clear that the NBA landscape has changed entirely. You can try to tell me that the talent pool peaked with the Russell/Chamberlain years or that the greatest players in history had come and gone during the Magic/Bird/Jordan era, but I will tell you that you need to open your eyes to the new NBA. At no other point in basketball history have the players been as big, as freakishly athletic, or as incredibly skilled.
Let’s start with LeBron James. LeBron does everything well and can play any of the five positions on the floor. He can run faster and jump higher than anyone who has every played, and he does it all, according to ESPN’s Ric Bucher, at an unofficial height of 6’9 ½ and an unofficial weight of 280. I would be hard-pressed to believe that there has ever been a better athlete on the face of the earth, period. Then there is Kobe Bryant, currently the second best player in the NBA. He recently topped 25,000 points, passed “The Logo” as the Lakers all-time leading scorer, and owns four championship rings. I also have a suspicion that Phil Jackson, based on comments he has made about Kobe’s superior three-point shooting ability, would tell you (behind closed doors of course) that he is a more complete player than Michael Jordan ever was.
The big men of yesteryear provide no contest for the big men of today. Dirk Nowitzki is seven feet tall and is the best shooter in the NBA. His makes in the All-Star game barely grazed net. At 6’11, Chris Bosh put the ball on the floor and finished with either hand and proved he possesses a lethal jumper out to 19 ft. Did you see his behind the back pass to Derrick Rose on the fast break? Then there is Dwight Howard. He’s making me have second thoughts about my statement that Lebron jumps higher than anyone who has ever played. He is an absolutely superb physical specimen, one little nudge from one of his massive shoulders and any center from the more romanticized eras would be watching him dunk from their backside. If he time traveled back to ancient Greece he would probably be mistaken for Zeus. Seriously, let’s pray that for next year’s dunk contest, LBJ and Superman (the new one, we don’t want to offend Sheriff O’neal) go back and forth with the rim being raised three or four inches after each one completes the dunk. I put the over/under at 13 ½ feet.
Even the guards of today are more physically gifted and skilled. Did you see Dwayne Wade and Deron Williams high wire acts on the fast break last night? And even though Derrick Rose didn’t have any memorable highlights in Dallas, if you’ve been paying attention over the last month his athleticism has been on full display. Just ask anyone from the Phoenix Suns.
The NBA is poised to have an incredible second half of the season. The Lakers and Cavs are on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals, and if LeBron is the best player in the league today, and Kobe is better than Jordan, then we could possibly be watching the two best players in NBA history squaring off in the NBA Finals. With some of the aforementioned players at the height of their careers, and others just beginning to scratch the surface of their talents, the future of the game looks incredibly bright. All of the issues that drove the fans away from the game have been addressed and the players are more skilled than they ever have been. It’s getting difficult to even define players by the outdated and extremely conventional positions of guard, forward, and center, because every year the players get a bit more skilled and become a bit more multi-faceted. Players these days can’t be categorized, they are simply basketball players. If you are a fan who had given up on the game it’s time to come back, or else today’s crop of superstars are going to make you regret it.


Unknown said...

Great article. Fresh insights. I like the notion of lifting the goal in the dunk contest. Who knows where that idea might take the sport.