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Is the star system of the NBA dying?

May 21, 2012

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There’s a change occurring in the NBA. It’s not something ESPN will ever report on and it’s likely causing David Stern some sleepness nights yet the star system the NBA has been based on for decades appears to be crumbling. Since the 80’s the NBA title has been won by a team with a top 5 player whose greatness overshadowed his team’s deficiencies and exploited those of his opponent. Whether it’s Bird/Magic/Isaiah Thomas in the 80’s,Jordanand Olajuwon in the 90’s or Duncan/Shaq/Kobe in the 2000s it was always a superstar who raised the trophy. From 1982-2003 every single NBA Championship was won by a team with a top 5 player in the league and the formula appeared to be set in stone. In the 2004 season the Detroit Pistons upset this pattern by not only being the 1st team in decades to win a title without a clear cut top 5 player but also with a team that arguably didn’t even have a top 20 player. The fact that they played against a Lakers team with two of the five best 5 players on the planet at the time and barely scraped by a New Jersey Nets team with a top 5 player in Jason Kidd made historians dismiss them as a lucky team that was an anomaly. Yet since 2003 four of the past eight championship teams have either won without a top 5 player (’04 Piston, ’08 Celtics) or won with a player that arguably wasn’t a top 5 player (’07 Spurs with a declining Duncan and ’11 Mavs with a top 7 player in Dirk who got hot-Dirk didn’t make 1st team All-NBA that season making it difficult to claim he was a top 5 player that year). Clearly there’s a trend developing as the unthinkable is now becoming a regular occurrence and championships are no longer being decided solely among the top superstars in the league. Nowhere is this more evident than in this year’s playoffs where the Knicks’ two All-Stars and the Clippers’ two All-Stars are already home while the Celtics’ three All-Stars, Lakers’ three All-Stars, and Heat’s three All-Stars are all on life support. In their place are deep starless teams like the Pacers, Spurs, and 76ers whose best player is hard to decide upon yet who are making up for their lack of star power by playing great team basketball. It wouldn’t shock me at all if the NBA Finals was a matchup of the Spurs vs. the Pacers and, while David Stern would be crying himself to sleep over this, it could turn out to be the best thing to happen to the sport in quite awhile. This isn’t the 80’s or 90’s where there is a clear superstar that the majority of the public gravitates to and roots for. Whether it’s LeBron,Kobe, Wade, Howard, Paul, or Anthony there seems to be major pockets of dislike for each of the NBA’s top players. Only Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose seem to be protected from fans hatred and with Rose out due to an injury and Durant being more liked than loved (and playing in one of the smallest markets) it’s becoming more and more difficult for the NBA to brand itself solely by its stars. I say good riddance as the NBA’s reliance on the star system is the root cause for a lot of what is wrong with the sport. Whether your turned off by stars quitting on their team so they can be traded to a team with another star (Anthony, Paul, Howard), the lack of good team basketball as 80% of a team’s salary cap is taken up by 2 or 3 players leaving management unable to fill the rest of the roster with adequate talent, or the horrible officiating in the sport as refs clearly favor certain players, the NBA has become almost unwatchable the past few years and it’s mainly due to the star system. With the Dallas Mavericks out of the playoffs I no longer have a dog in this fight but you can be sure that I’ll be rooting for a Pacers-Spurs NBA Finals as it’d be a nice shock to the system for the NBA and prove once and for all that a team doesn’t have to have the best player in the NBA to be the best team in the NBA.

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