The NBL season kicked off with a momentous occasion for Tasmanian professional sport.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the NBA, this article is for you. Does the extent of your basketball knowledge consist of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls? Maybe your only basketball exposure is Space Jam?
Perhaps you’ve got a friend or three who are obsessed with the sport and you’re always feeling left out?
If you answered ;yes’ to any of the above questions then this article is for you.
Let me begin by stating publically that I am obsessed with the NBA. I love the game and I love the league.
This is an important separation; I’m not trying to sell the ‘game’ of basketball to you.
My aim is to convince you that this is the year to start your NBA ‘league’ journey.
However, before I get started let me set the stage. After all, the NBA’s off-court drama is as exciting as the games themselves.
There are winners and losers, triumphs and defeats, heroes and villains. To follow the NBA is to know the legends and mythology that makes the NBA the most entertaining league to follow.
So this is a quick catch-up:
To get started let me take you back a few years. It’s July 2010, the past three NBA championships have been won by the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers – the two most prolific and storied franchises in the entire league.
Kobe Bryant, dubbed by some as the next Michael Jordan (I don’t have to tell you who he is), has won his fifth NBA championship – or ring as it’s sometimes referred to – and has solidified his place in NBA royalty.
It’s not Kobe that makes July important to this story though, rather it’s a young man named LeBron James.
James is a one-in-a-generation talent who played for his home state, Ohio’s, only team – the Cleveland Cavaliers (The Cavs).
As a Cav, LeBron won the league’s most prestigious individual award, the MVP (Most Valuable Player) twice and appeared as an all-star (a collection of the league’s best) in six of his seven seasons there. He was a hero.
Cleveland adored him, so much so, they christened him, King James. Then, on July 8 in a TV event titled ‘The Decision’, unrestricted free agent James, publicly humiliated Cleveland.
He stated, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”, meaning, he was to defect to the Miami Heat, home of all-star Dwyane Wade.
Treacherous. Outrageous. Scandalous.
Thus, begins the 2010-11 NBA season. A new ‘big three’, made up of James, Wade and Chris Bosh (a former perennial All-Star who played for the Toronto Raptors) together form the nucleus of the new and improved Miami Heat.
As for the Cavaliers? After having the best record in the league for two seasons past, plummet to become one of the league’s worst.
In any case, this season was full of interesting stories. For example, it was in this season that Carmelo Anthony, a long-time rival of James, became the subject of a blockbuster trade sending him to New York to play for Mike D’Antoni’s New York Knicks.
However, back to the narrative at hand, the Heat’s season was full of highs and lows – birth pangs of an artificial new super team.
The Heat were, as they say, a team of superstars but not a superstar team.
Consequently, The Chicago Bulls achieved the best record in Miami’s Eastern Conference and their young superstar talent, Derrick Rose took out the league’s MVP award (becoming the youngest to ever win the prestigious title).
It was all for nought, however, because the Miami Heat still managed to defeat the Bulls to make their way to the finals – after all, they were designed to be unbeatable.
A team manufactured to win. But who was to be their opponent, the best team in the Western Conference?
Interestingly, it was the unlikely Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks, owned by the eccentric Mark Cuban (who you might know from Entourage or The Shark Tank), were a team led by German, Dirk Nowitzki, an NBA MVP who has played with the Mavericks since his debut to the NBA; accompanied by Jason Kidd a veteran and legend of the sport.
The Mavericks surprisingly swept the reigning champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the first round of the playoffs and anti-climactically ended Phil Jackson’s celebrated coaching career (Jackson was Michael Jordan’s and Kobe Bryant’s coach during all of their titles; as a coach he has won 11 titles).
Incidentally, the Mavericks met the Heat in the finals in what was to be a series to remember.
In heroic fashion, the underdogs emerged victorious. Somehow, the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat, earning the franchise’s first ever title. The blame was squarely put on James.
LeChoke. LeBum. LeLoser.
He didn’t have the conviction or mental toughness to earn Cleveland a title and seemingly carried that same weak mentality to Miami.
LeBron had become the bad guy and as we all know, the bad guys never win. It was a season straight out of a Disney film, but there’s always more to the story.
The 2011-12 season started late due to an NBA lockout. The players wanted more money, the owners wanted more money.
Ultimately, it was the fans who lost out, with a shortened season.
But basketball never sleeps. LeBron’s heartbreaking loss unleashed a new level of dominance that the NBA has not seen for some time.
Statistically, no other player in the league could compare. He was clearly the best player in the league – he would go on to win the MVP. Yet there was a close second, Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder had their own ‘big three’ with Russell Westbrook and James Harden – this duo was led by Durant who had been the league’s highest individual scorer for three seasons in a row and if anyone had a chance to beat LeBron it was the Thunder.
This was especially so, given that the top seed, Chicago Bulls, formerly led by reigning MVP Derrick Rose (who suffered an ACL tear that would see him miss the whole of the next season) lost to the bottom seed Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.
As expected the Heat met the Thunder in the finals and finally LeBron James earned his first championship ring.
He was no longer ‘the king without a ring’. Other notable events this season include young New York Knick Jeremy Lin’s bizarre rise to fame in a short winning streak aptly titled ‘Linsanity’.
Furthermore, in a curious irony, the Cavs earned the number one draft pick and listed (Melbourne-born) Kyrie Irving, giving Cleveland the justice they hoped for after LeBron’s desertion.
And of course the unveiling of the Brooklyn Nets, the newest and by far the coolest team in the NBA.
The free agency that followed saw (sixth man of the year) James Harden (part of the Thunder’s ‘big three’) and Jeremy Lin accept offers to join the Houston Rockets.
More interestingly, however, was the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard and two time MVP, Steve Nash.
They traded their young talented center, Andrew Bynum, to the Philadelphia 76ers, however, plagued by a knee injury he sat the whole season out (along with Derrick Rose).
As for Dwight Howard, he had been Orlando’s all-star center and had led them to the NBA finals in 2009.
Curiously, the trade echoed Shaquille O’Neil’s blockbuster trade in 1996, which saw him also leave the Magic to join the Lakers, ushering a dynasty that led to three consecutive championship titles.
This meant that the Lakers now bolstered the talents of Kobe Bryant, Howard, Nash and their talented Spanish Power Forward, Pau Gasol – a ‘big four’ to rival the ‘unbeatable’ Miami Heat.
So, the stage was set for the 2012-13 NBA season. The Lakers’ manufactured super-team crumbled and barely made the playoffs with a heartbreaking injury to Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon.
They fired their new coach Mike Brown (formally with LeBron James and the Cavs) and hired New York’s Mike D’Antoni.
The excitement and zeal of Lakers fans during the American Summer amply contrasted the disappointment and frustration during the season.
In the meantime, however, the Miami Heat have gone to claim a 22-game win streak (the second highest in NBA history).
LeBron would also go on to win the MVP award once again, making this his fourth MVP title.
Without their third piece, James Harden, Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder never posed a real threat.
So ultimately the only real contenders in the Western Conference became the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs are a veteran, professional squad, having won four titles starting with the 1998-99 season.
In what must now seem like a formula for NBA success, they too have a ‘big three’ in Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
The Spurs met the Heat in what would be a classic seven-game series. Ultimately, fate awarded the Heat with their second championship during the LeBron James era.
That was the end of last season. In the mean time, Dwight Howard has now moved to the Houston Rockets, joining Jeremy Lin and James Harden.
The Brooklyn Nets have acquired an illustrious all-star cast by acquiring most of the Boston Celtics’ best players, forming what appears to be the best starting five in the NBA (on paper at least).
Talented center Andrew Bynum joined rising star Kyrie Irving in Cleveland and will be coached by Mike Brown, who coached LeBron in Miami before ‘The Decision’ and failed with the Lakers, creating what would seem like a formidable one-two punch.
Finally, there’s another new team coming into the league, the New Orleans Pelicans – yes, the Pelicans.
This season the Heat will have to prove if they can ‘three-peat’.
Will LeBron and the Heat be able to win it all again, cementing his legacy? Will the Brooklyn Nets’ new super team prove too much?
Will the Houston Rockets acquisition of Howard give them the edge in this league?
Will the return of injured Derrick Rose usher in a new age for the Bulls?
Or perhaps it’s finally Cleveland’s turn to win it all? And what of the Thunder and Spurs – young and old, respectively – do they have a chance?
Only time will tell.
Now that you’re up to date, welcome to the NBA.