It’s NBA Finals time. Which I personally find less exciting than I used to. It’s the third straight season in which Cleveland and Golden State have won their conferences. It is very, very rare for this to happen. To give you an idea of have incredible this is, the 1990’s Bulls (AKA Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen) dynasty never made it through the playoffs without losing at least one game. The Warriors have done just that.
Part of this lack of suspense until the Finals can be attributed to the fact that the NBA is superstar-driven and thus lacks parity by its very nature. There are no underdog champions. The closest there’s been in decades were last year’s Cavs. And they actually had a better regular season record than this year’s incarnation. It’s just that the competing Warriors team was so good that it looked unbeatable.
But the same Finals matchup three years in a row? That’s another level! The reason may be the NBA trying to increase parity by changing the rules to make it easier for teams to keep their cores. This backfired by letting the Cavs and Warriors keep their cores more easily so they can focus on depth. Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors was but the tip of the iceberg! And we’re surprised that we had awful NBA playoffs?
This has gotten to the point where even perennial playoff teams like my Hawks are entering the rebuild phase. In any other league, it would be a bad idea to mess with your good team. But in the NBA, “good” is not enough. Nothing less than drafting the next LeBron or Curry will do. And of course, no league generates more rumors of bad teams tanking than the NBA.
Contrast this to other leagues. Some gloating hockey fans and wistful basketball fans (most notably Charles Barkley, who has implied that the NHL playoffs are better) note the NHL’s unpredictability. Personally, I think this is overreaction Monday. For all the shocking, sometimes puzzling outcomes that the NHL has, it’s really just as dynasty-friendly as the NBA. You might know that the Islanders and Oilers dominated the 1980’s NHL. but did you know that three teams — the Penguins, Red Wings, and Devils — each have a pair of ’90’s Stanley Cups? Or that the Kings and Blackhawks have a combined five current decade Cups already? That such a league still has lots more true suspense than the NBA says it all!
You want a league with parity? Try the NFL. As dominant as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers can be, they don’t play defense or do their own blocking. Eight Super Bowls so far this decade and seven different champions. And yes, I think this has something to do with the popularity of football.
Here’s hoping the NBA realizes what it’s done and reverts to the old rules so that the Association can again have few upsets in the playoffs but not none at all!
In the meantime, will these Finals be worth watching? As shitty and pointless as the playoffs were, some good basketball may be coming back precisely because these are superteams playing. I loved the Finals the last two years, and as old as this show is, it should be entertaining to see again.
My prediction? The Cavs aren’t awful without LeBron, despite what the gushy pundits on ESPN want to say. I remember when Boston marched out to a big early in a critical game in their series against Cleveland. The Cavs were starting to get momentum when LeBron got tired and had to rest. But the Cavs kept right on roaring back without him. So I think this will be a good series because Cleveland’s got enough depth to take the Warriors to six games.
But if I’m wrong, if the LeBron haters’ dream of a sweep comes to fruition, it’s the final proof that Adam Silver has created a Godzilla!