By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
For parents, plans can change quickly. At any moment, a fall could require a trip to the dentist, a sick call could come from school or daycare or a LEGO piece could “mysteriously” lodge in your kid’s nose.
I’ve lived them all. The latter is worth sharing.
We were about to leave Ocean City. I was hoofing it up to the condo to schlep more luggage to the car. As I crested the last flight of stairs, my normally calm wife greeted me with an exasperated, “You’re not going to believe this.”
Confronted with a parental fork in the road, I suddenly felt vulnerable, dizzy and cold. So cold. Her words came slowly. After several seconds of mental buffering, I faced reality - our son had jammed a tiny LEGO piece waaay into his nostril.
Long story short, after several hours at the emergency clinic, a magic, needle-nose plier looking device and a doctor’s steady hand, the foreign object was extracted and we were on our way.
This will relate to sports in less than 500 words. Promise.
Like most sports, the NBA’s narrative had, in descending order of importance, these four chapters: the playoffs, the regular season, the draft and the offseason. That ranking has changed. The regular season, with the contender-restricting concentration of talent, is excessively long and largely irrelevant. The draft, in this one-and-done era, is hopelessly speculative. And the once-almighty postseason – again, too few legitimate contenders - is anticlimactic until the conference finals.
That leaves what now dominates the NBA’s storyline – the offseason and, more specifically, free agency. Speculating about player movement and the next super-team now rules, not actual basketball. My supporting evidence of brazen team-hopping was to include LeBron James’ Miami/Cleveland/Los Angeles tour and Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City/Golden State/Brooklyn odyssey. But then the ultimate, drop-the-mic data point happened mid-article - Kawhi Leonard not only left Toronto for the Los Angeles Clippers, but he compelled the Clippers and Oklahoma City to work a trade to score him an All-Star running mate in Paul George.
One dude – who’s on his third team in three years - held three teams and the NBA’s balance of power in his hands.
I’m torn. I fondly remember an age when, either through loyalty or structure, the NBA’s best remained in place for the majority, if not all, of their careers (Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, etc.). The order was comfortable and consistent. Players earned championships in their cities often after years of adversity and conquering vicious rivals. Storybook stuff.
That is all gone. For players and teams, the new NBA is about glitzy locations, a foundation of compelling talent and financial flexibility. Those ingredients cater to NBA’s real rulers – star players – and yield brief championship windows; then midnight strikes, the players scatter and teams regroup and hope to repeat (Cleveland, Miami, Golden State).
Today’s NBA is…just different. Some of the change is good – more excitement (basketball articles in July!) and greater player freedom. But the league’s summer reboots have cheapened championships. James’s Miami rings and Durant’s Golden State rings just aren’t equivalent to those Isaiah Thomas and Jordan won with the Pistons and Bulls, respectively. There was no process for James or Durant, no grind, no mountain climbed. They were airlifted to the NBA’s summit.
That is unfortunate, but fault is unassignable. Today’s stars are playing by today’s rules – on and off the court. It’s similar to the increase in jobs a young worker today will have over the course of their careers. The days of working 40 uninterrupted years for Company, Inc. are over. That was another generation’s version of the workplace just as the NBA of my youth is another generation’s version of professional basketball.
If there’s any hero or villain, it’s time. Time passes and the world changes. Or, as Pearl Jam once more directly wailed, “It’s evolution, baby”. If Darwin was a fellow basketball fan, he would scold my resistance and encourage adaptation. Ah yes, adaptation - a good skill for aging basketball fans, a better skill for life and the perfect skill for parents confronted with a rogue LEGO.
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