One of the most tired narratives in the NBA this year has been the lack of parity, so let me help the uninitiated get their facts straight – the NBA has never had parity.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have combined to win 33 out of the 70 possible championships. Five of those Lakers titles came during the “Showtime” era in the 1980s; the Celtics also won three with Larry Bird in that decade. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls three-peated twice in the ‘90s.
Since 1999, eight teams have been responsible for those 18 championships. Detroit, Boston, Dallas, Golden State and Cleveland only won once in that span. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich brought five to San Antonio, as did Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson for the Lakers. The Miami Heat won three, winning in 2006 with Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, and the back-to-back titles in ’12 and ’13 with the “Big Three” of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Dynasties come and go in the NBA. That’s how this thing works when superstar players and legendary coaches emerge in a sport that runs five against five. They hit their primes, they dominate, and we enjoy all the details on the journey. We are supposed to be in awe of their greatness, not turn our nose up because the championship might be a foregone conclusion.
If you want to make the argument that the lack of parity in 2017 is due to superteams, you can. But if you do that, be ready to accept some of the burden that we – both fans and sports media – should bear. After all, we were the ones that decided the measure of greatness was winning multiple championships.
With only one Finals appearance in seven years with the Cavs, James felt the walls of his legacy and the Jordan pursuit slowly creeping in as his basketball prime approached. Rather than play the loyalty card and be a hopeless optimist with his hometown team, he wanted a safer bet. He convinced Bosh to ditch Toronto and squad up with him and Wade in Miami, and then began this absurd run of seven straight appearances in the Finals.
If you were a superstar that had never gotten to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, well, James just gave you the blueprint. Now teams go for broke to land big name free agents, hoping they might be able to form a Big Three of their own.
Former commissioner David Stern tried to stop the rising tide the following year by blocking a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to a Lakers team that was 13 months removed from its fifth championship and seventh Finals trip in 11 seasons.
But efforts to monopolize championships didn’t stop there. James did it again when he came back to Cleveland in 2014, knowing Kevin Love could be targeted with Andrew Wiggins just drafted as a shiny, new trade piece.
Last summer the Bulls tried to assemble an aging superteam that could win right away (but didn’t), adding Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez to a roster that already had All-Star Jimmy Butler.
Of course the true blockbuster move in the offseason was when Kevin Durant joined the Warriors, shifting the landscape like James did in 2010 and 2014. The only difference was Durant was joining a team that had been in the Finals the past two years, making it the most blatant jump of the superteam era.
Now Durant and the Warriors are up 2-0 (when this column is being written) in a series that feels even further than last year’s 2-0 start, and everyone keeps circling back to the lack of parity like that’s the problem.
How about the drop-off in defense from Game 1 to Game 2 for the Cavaliers, or the fact that they had the second-worst defensive rating in the league after the All-Star break? That’s not going to cut it against the Warriors but, sure, let’s keep peddling the parity thing.
We’re watching history be written in real time, but the “right now” measure that coddles modern sports fans has everyone up in arms like they’re not getting their money’s worth because the playoffs weren’t saturated with tension every single day.
Did we really forget the back and forth between Atlanta and Washington?
Was Joe Johnson turning back the clock with his ISO Joe game-winners to help upset the Clippers not entertaining enough?
Remember how Chicago, who accidentally clinched the No. 8 seed, went up two games on top-seeded Boston before Rondo got hurt? Then the Celtics rallied and won the series and, Isaiah Thomas, powering through the tragic death of his younger sister, gifted us with the 53-point masterpiece in Game 2 against the Wizards.
How about the lack of respect for Memphis and the way they earned it in the first round against the Spurs? Yeah, I’m talking about that electrifying overtime win that evened the series 2-2.
And don’t even get me started about Kawhi Leonard and how unreal he was before Zaza Pachulia took him out in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs were up 25 points in the first half IN OAKLAND before Leonard went down and the Warriors came back.
So you can miss me with that lack of parity talk. The regular season was fantastic and, if anything, the shortage of playoff matchups that went six or seven games simply reinforced just how important it is to watch the NBA from start to finish.
This league is incredible. It has the biggest stars, the best drama and is more fun to watch on a nightly basis than any other professional sports league in this country.
If all you’ve got is shade to throw or stones to cast, maybe you should take Durant’s advice when someone asked him about parity.
“If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”