As the sports day winds down and everyone is left talking about day old stale rumors that will probably never happen because if they were going to happen we wouldn’t hear about them through media rumors, something crossed my mind.
A lot has been made of the “New NBA” with the advent of the fast-breaking Pheonix Suns and teams that are now trying to follow suit in wake of their ringless success. In most regards this is true and most thanks are due to Bryan Colangelo and the NBA’s new handchecking/”wussification” rules that dont let a defender tap someone if they even look at the basket. These facts have been used successfully in arguments for taking Mr. Durant, even though it is overlooked that Oden can run with just about anybody.
But, and here is where I stray from facts and get purist/philosophical, just like how the power balance between the conferences is cyclical (and believe me, as long as certain GM’s get sacked, the East has just as good a chance of being dominant in 15 years, just nobody has the patience or foresight to admit that), the game of basketball is constantly changing and evolving by the barometer of success in the L.
Michael Jordan is the greatest, if not most successful (Bill Russel waves hello) player in the history of the L — everybody looks for the next MJ. The 1990-era Pistons win championships ugly, the rest of the L gets bogged down in trying to win in the halfcourt. The perfect example of this would probably be Pat Riley — all you have to do is look at the playing style of the 80’s Lakers, the slower 90’s Knicks and the mishmash 00’s Heat. Riley simply adapted his style to generate the most success with his personnel according to the makeup of the L at that time.
And while there is no simple way to predict when certain shifts will occur, what teams seem to forget is that you are almost never going to be as good as the original. Nobody trying to create the “New Suns” will ever be as good as the Nash-led version. No “Next-Jordan” will ever be as good as Jordan.
What the Spurs have shown, but not enough GM’s seem to have learned to say the Spurs have taught, is that success is created from individuality and originality. San Antonio just quietly goes about their business with an established identity, copying nobody but themselves as they fill and re-fill holes.
What this also means, is that all our comparisons are for naught. Great is Great. Average is Average. About very few of the great players can you say, “yeah, he turned out to be just like so-and-so.”
But even the Spurs will someday be forced to change, and who knows what the team will become then. But I can tell you in confidence that when they are forced to rebuild, they will do whatever it takes to lockdown a franchise man in the middle. Big-time centers win, yes, but what history also tells us is that they are timeless. Elite, back-to-the-basket forces will never go out of style.
As I finish this up, imagine you are a GM and the basketball gods have granted you the chance to take one player from the 60’s or 70’s, and that player would be the exact same player in the modern era that he was in the past, who would you go after?
Almost any GM in the L, even the less-capable ones, go after an all-time big like Russell or Chamberlain. Maybe some get creative and opt for a always-healthy Bill Walton or break the rules a little and try and snag an 18-year-old Arvydas Sabonis from across the seas, but the point is, you know, in almost full certainty, that those players will translate into today’s game. What a true center offers is a commodity on par with a great bullpen or a fantastic offensive line. None are always appreciated, and not every champion has them, but more often than not, they do.
So who do you think translates best into the modern era? Would you take Jerry West or Elgin Baylor over Russell or The Dipper? We can surely argue about Oscar Robertson, but for my money, I’m going big, and probably with the man with the most jewelry.