This isn’t a direct reaction to Kevin Durant’s decision to play for the Warriors; instead, look at it as the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the past decade, we have seen a plethora of players leave the teams they were drafted by in an attempt to join forces with other stars around the league and form a “super-team.” Some examples, to name a few, are LeBron James to Miami, Chris Bosh to Miami, Kevin Love to Cleveland, Dwight Howard to LA, and now Kevin Durant to Golden State.
Whatever happened to loyalty? And don’t combat me with LeBron’s “loyalty.” If he was that loyal to Cleveland, he wouldn’t have left in the first place. The loyalty I’m talking about is sticking with a team through the good and the bad, ultimately with the goal of helping them reach basketball immortality. Now, when things get bad, everyone wants to push the “eject” button and land safely on a team where they are bestowed a star studded supporting cast. To piggy-back off what Charles Barkley said in a recent interview, could you imagine if Isaiah Thomas decided to join the Celtics because he couldn’t beat them? Could you imagine if Michael Jordan left the Bulls for the Pistons because year in and year out they kicked his ass? That’s what made these guys so special and that’s what made their championships so special. They pushed through adversity, refused to give up, and thus were gifted with success. A certain kind of success that you cannot find in LeBron James’ championships or any championship Kevin Durant wins in Golden State.
Obviously championships are wanted by every player who puts on an NBA uniform, but we’ve created a culture that views championships as everything. So much so that guys are willing to take the easy road to win them. I give so much credit to guys like Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller who, despite never winning a championship, fought their whole career to bring a title to their respective cities. Could these guys have taken the easy road and teamed up with other greats around the league to reach their goal? Sure, but they knew that victory would be that much sweeter to win it for the team they had given everything for. I have the upmost respect for these two and others in the NBA who were like them.
This pattern of behavior amongst NBA stars has hurt the game. American sports fans love underdogs and upsets. That is why March Madness is one of the most popular sporting events in our country. However, the NBA has been devoid of these upsets and underdog stories. An upset for today’s standards was when the Warriors (a 73-win team) came back from being down 3-1 agains the Thunder to win the series. The NBA has had just two teams win the NBA Finals being lower than a three seed ( ’95 Houston Rockets and ’69 Boston Celtics). Number 1 seeds go on the win the NBA Finals about 73% of the time and number 2 seeds win it about 15% of the time. That pretty much says if your team isn’t a one or two seed, they most likely aren’t winning the title. I understand this problem has persisted before this decade, but forming these super-teams isn’t helping the cause. The NBA is starting to morph into a league where there are only three or four legitimate championship contenders every year.
What is success without overcoming adversity? It’s unfortunate that when looking at today’s NBA, you can only point out a handful of players that have stuck with their teams through thick and thin. Instead of the league’s superstars battling against each other to see who can reach the top, they are teaming up together and bullying the rest of the league. Current and future NBA players need to place a higher value on loyalty; otherwise we’re headed for a league that will have an even bigger gap between the top squads and the middle of the pack teams.