Cohen: NBA Is More Fascinating Than Ever

By Josh Cohen
March 8, 2011

ORLANDO -- There is probably an abundant of NBA historians out there that will always sanction the “old days” as the premier time to watch hoops.

Though I refuse to argue with anyone who defends Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain’s glory days or the infamous Lakers-Celtics battles of the 1980’s as the paramount of NBA history, I honestly believe the action we witness today is the best it has ever been.

Before I explain my reasoning for this judgment, let me exemplify my remembrance of other illustrious times in league history.

I started watching the NBA when I was just a little kid – my earliest days go back to the mid to late 80’s when Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas ruled the court.

Aside from the physical nature of the sport and intense passion that circulated around the league, rivalries during that era were flourishing. The L.A.-Boston enmity was riveting and the contention that was forming between NBA superstars was electrifying.

It’s hard to compete, for instance, with the epic showdown that Bird and Dominique Wilkins had in Game 7 of their 1988 playoff series.

Several years later when television really began to underline the exhilaration of the sport and endorsements allowed for the NBA’s best to become household names, a dynasty formed and an iconic figure was born.

While I will never suggest that Michael Jordan was indisputably and inarguably the greatest NBA player ever, most NBA spectators and followers believe this to be true.

MJ was larger than life to many and he made the game so attractive that people from all over the world began to take a defining interest in the sport.

Though I will always conclude that the talent pool of the 1990’s was significantly weaker than it is today, Jordan made himself appear invincible compared to those he played against.

Not to raise hairs and cause an outrage, but it’s possible that the 1991 Lakers, 1992 Blazers, 1993 Suns, 1996 Sonics and 1997 and 1998 Jazz were six of the least intimidating representatives from the Western Conference in NBA Finals history.

As the game continued to grow to other parts of the world and in spite of MJ’s retirement following his sixth NBA title, more and more talent entered into the league.

Superstars from other countries such as Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker joined American greats including Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard.

Though it took a while for the U.S. audience that beloved Jordan to embrace the league’s active stars, gradually hoops enthusiasts began to recognize how incredible the players of today are.

One of the main problems that the league faced for a while prior to the last few years was that teams in bigger markets like New York, Boston and Chicago were amongst the worst in the NBA.

The Knicks had advanced to the playoffs just once since 2001, the Celtics had the second worst record in 2006-07 prior to acquiring Garnett and Ray Allen during that memorable summer and although they had gotten back to postseason form, the Bulls were nothing like they were when Jordan and Scottie Pippen ruled the floor.

Josh Cohen
Even the Lakers after they dealt O’Neal to the Heat were a sinking club before adding Gasol in 2008.

Today, however, with L.A. and Boston sustaining its championship structure and New York and Chicago amongst the top teams in the East, the larger markets are reestablishing supreme interest in the NBA.

Smaller cities, meanwhile, are still flourishing with NBA intrigue as teams like the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers are amongst the most enjoyable teams to watch in the league.

Also, while it may have caused extreme controversy, James’ decision last summer to nationally publicize his choice to leave Cleveland and unite with Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami created an unprecedented stir.

Outside of the fans in South Beach, the Heat have transformed into the villainous culture that people love to root against.

It’s model entertainment. Just like it is when we watch our favorite movies, there always needs to be protagonists and antagonists.

While their will always be a debate as to whether it’s better for superstars to join together or remain competitors, what we are witnessing today is that every day there is a new storyline and new hullabaloo that keeps us entertained.

Whether it’s Miami players crying in the locker room or its shocking inability to close games out, it’s news that people want to read about.

Just like it was in the 1980’s, rivalries are blossoming. After all making their pitches for LeBron last summer, teams like the Knicks and Bulls are developing heated enmities with the Heat.

Especially after New York acquired Carmelo Anthony, it’s fair to say that the New York-Miami rivalry is as good as it has ever been. Similarly, the Sunshine State rivalry continues to boom, particularly after the Magic overcame a monumental 24-point deficit recently to stun the Heat.

You could even hold an argument about which Eastern Conference rivalry is best right now: Boston-Orlando, Boston-Miami, Miami-Orlando, New York-Boston, New-York-Miami, Chicago-New York, Chicago-Miami, etc. etc.

Although their teams are not championship contenders, some players are recording unparalleled statistics. Minnesota’s Kevin Love, for example, just tied Moses Malone for most consecutive double-doubles (51) and the L.A. Clippers’ Blake Griffin is on pace to set extraordinary marks for a rookie.

Howard, as we all know, is evolving into one of the best, most dominant centers of all time, Bryant has the opportunity to match Jordan’s championship win total this season and as we witnessed at the trade deadline, player movement continues to boggle our minds.

Every day there is a new reason why the NBA is better than it ever has been and remarkably, the 2011 playoffs are not even here yet.

I can’t imagine how many new storylines and unforgettable moments that will transpire from April to June.

All in all, in my eyes, we are actively experiencing the glory days of the NBA and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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