Free Agency 2010: Is the NBA Crumbling Before Our Very Eyes?
We are now approaching August, which means that all of the free agent fanfare and hoopla is drawing to a close.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh went off the board by choosing to play for the Miami Heat next season. LeBron James, arguably the game's biggest star, soon followed. Amare Stoudemire had already signed with the New York Knicks, while Carlos Boozer wound up in Chicago.
David Lee and Joe Johnson will be playing for the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, respectively.
Dirk Nowitzki will be taking his talents, as a certain Mr. James put it, to Dallas once again.
So will Brendan Haywood, who will be paired up with Tyson Chandler in the paint next season for the Mavericks.
The list goes on and on as to who went were and for what reasons.
I certainly have.
However, all of the fanfare and hoopla has been not only interesting and quite mind-boggling, but also one-of-a-kind.
This NBA free agency period, one unlike any that the NBA has ever seen before in its illustrious history of experiencing so-called role players, stars, and superstars either changing teams or staying put, has undoubtedly taught us a few things about the league and the direction it is heading in.
The direction is scary. The destination?
One thing that is for sure is that the National Basketball Association is moving closer and closer to an entertainment-driven league, one in which marketing, jersey sales, star power, image, and "brand" play more prominent roles than winning, competitiveness, rivalry, and individual improvement.
Competitiveness to the point of nastiness and intimidation, dirty play, and down-right hatred is being replaced by the forces of marketability, image, and persona. Basically, "looking good" is now becoming the norm.
Winning and competitiveness are not enough anymore.
Where are the likes of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, who would stop at nothing to win, no matter who their teammates were?
After a debate arose prior to the 1992 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers as to which NBA star was better, Michael Jordan or Clyde Drexler, Jordan was so offended that he made it his mission to completely outplay his counterpart in the series.
He not only wanted to win the series, but he sought to utterly embarrass Drexler, a fellow star and close friend. He sought to outplay him so thoroughly and so decisively that it would never be asked again which player was better, all while still aiming for that NBA title.
And, as we all know, Jordan did that. He did it six times.
Now? The game's biggest stars want none of that.
LeBron James? He wants to win, but he wants to do so with his friends and fellow superstars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He wants to claim that elusive NBA title for himself, but not really, because he will be sharing it with his friends, who he could never compete against.
And, don't forget that he still has to worry about those Nike shoe deals and endorsing his global "brand" in Miami.
But, he wants to win, too.
It is just not his primary motivator.
What happened to the years of Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird, who despised each other during their careers as both were going for multiple NBA championships in the 1980's?
What happened to the "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons of that same era, a team that cared little for its global image or "brand" and most about ousting the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers in the Playoffs?
Now, a disturbing trend has emerged in the NBA, where the game's biggest stars want to join forces in place of competing against each other to win on their own.
It started with the Boston Celtics of the 2007-08 season. It continues with the Miami Heat of 2010-11. Where does it go from here?
Now, there is talk of Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul joining Amare Stoudemire in New York next summer to copy what was done this summer by Pat Riley and the Heat organization.
That is the direction that the NBA is moving in.
What happened to winning and competing on the game's biggest stage for winning and competing's sake?
Unfortunately, players like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili, who play basketball to win and then win even more, are becoming exceptions to the rule, rather than part of the rule itself. They are being lost in translation because of younger stars who want to team up to win.
Well, what this NBA free agency period has taught us is that the rules of the NBA are being rewritten and the league is moving in a completely unfamiliar and scary direction.
It is entering uncharted and dangerous territory.
For fans out there and for the league itself, let us hope that the NBA changes its course, before it is too late.
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