With the All-Star weekend now officially one week ago, we have officially reached the halfway point of the NBA season, where things start to get amped up and serious. Trades have been made, contracts have been offered and extended so now we can truly see where teams are at, and what the season will look like going forward.
Change is A Good Thing
If there is one thing that Commissioner Adam Silver can be commended for, it’s his willingness to adapt and make changes. The NBA has progressed forward immensely in his now six years in charge, thanks to his pro-player and progressive outlook on the league. This season has been no exception in highlighting his ability to get with the times.
The most notable rule change by far this season has been the implementation of the ‘Coach’s Challenge’ rule, which allows each coach one challenge per game on a call that they may disagree with. The referees of the NBA have been under a lot of pressure over the last several years, with many being accused of being flakey, indecisive and making calls that aren’t in the spirit of the game. For Silver and the league to have approved this new rule, shows the forward thinking that the current leadership is known for. Though the rule has gone through some teething issues and will no doubt be subject to revisions and alterations, the ability for coaches to now challenge a call that they disagree with helps bridge the divide between referees and teams and allows the referees to review calls without making themselves look foolish.
Another successful change was the change to the format of the All-Star game. The first use of the draft in 2018 was a success, as it allowed an even spread of talent across each team, without having one conference be the clearer powerhouse over the other. Having it televised in 2019 was another fantastic idea by the NBA and the players, showing the league’s comfort in listening to the wishes and desires of its players. The trend continued this year, but with one huge change: the scoring. Each quarter was its own game, with the totals of the first three quarters being accumulated for the fourth quarter, adding on 24 points in honour of the late Kobe Bryant. What followed was the most competitive All-Star game in the modern era. Players were taking charges, fouling, hustling on defence and arguing with referees, in what was an unseen atmosphere for what is called the ‘greatest pick-up game in the world’. Over time, Adam Silver and the league as a whole have collectively saved the All-Star game, turning it into something competitive and worth watching, which is what fans have been crying out for a long time. More of the same, please.
Some Things Are Just Bigger than Basketball
As much as we all love basketball – and sports in general – there are some things that are just bigger than what is simply just a game. The tragic death of the legendary Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in January, shocked the entire sporting world, beyond just basketball. Tributes poured in from every corner of everywhere, as things just didn’t feel the same.
Players were balling their eyes out, changing their numbers and doing what they could to honour a man who was an idol and a mentor to many in the game. After the tragic accident, players were deliberately 24-second and 8-second violations, in memory of the numbers that Bryant wore during his playing career. Several teams announced that they would retire his numbers out of respect, among plenty of other tributes and dedications made across the league and the world entire.
In line with the changes to the All-Star game, it was spearheaded with a tribute to Kobe, headlined by Magic Johnson. The All-Star Game MVP award was renamed in honour of Kobe Bryant, to celebrate a player whom many considered to be the embodiment of that all-star spirit. The way the league and the world came together following this event, exemplified that some things are indeed bigger than basketball – bigger than sports. It is just a game, but it’s a game that we all love and can enjoy together.
This is the Closest the League Has Been In a Decade
Although the 2010s were a significant decade that pushed the NBA forward and turned the players into the real powers of the league, the decade is also remembered rather negatively for the temporary death of parity. LeBron James was by far the defining and dominant player of the decade, as shown by his eight Finals appearances in a row, as he ruled the Eastern Conference with an iron fist. Golden State also changed the way we viewed the game and ended the decade by controlling the Western Conference, and by extension, the league entire.
At the start, it was fun watching these powerhouses collide, but it got stale and old quite quickly. The NBA Finals quickly became LeBron vs. the West, before then becoming Cleveland vs Golden State for four straight seasons.
This season, it’s finally looking like we cannot predict who comes out of each conference. In the West, LeBron, Anthony Davis and the Lakers look good, but there are still the Clippers and their new tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George knocking on the door. You’ve also got the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic to worry about, on top of the erratic and unpredictable Houston Rockets.
Out in the East, Giannis and his Bucks have stormed to one of the best starts in NBA history, already clinching a playoff berth, but even their spot in the Final isn’t so secure. The Miami Heat have been a pleasant surprise in the Conference, as Jimmy Butler has proven his leadership credentials among his young teammates. Boston have bounced back strongly, with Jayson Tatum a first time all-star and Kemba Walker doing his usual bit of business. Let’s not forget the defending champions in the Toronto Raptors, who haven’t missed a step even after losing Kawhi Leonard to free agency.
Simply put, for the first time in what feels like an eternity, the NBA Finals don’t seem like a forgone conclusion. Hooray for some excitement!
The League is in Good Hands
Every generation, every era, has its standout players – the ones that we look back on with fondness and good memories. Of course, players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have been those players of this past generation, but they’re each over the age of 30 and father time is undefeated, no matter how well you keep yourself in shape. It was a question as to who would fill the void, in particular a void left by a player like LeBron James, who is one of those ‘once in a millennium’ type players. The good news is that there are plenty of players who can lead the league for the next generation.
Giannia Antetekounmpo has already put his hand up as the next dominant force in the NBA, securing last season’s MVP trophy, while on pace to do it all again this season. He’s managed to euro-step his way into the conversation of the best player in the world. Outside of Giannis, another Euro Star is making head waves in the form of Luka Doncic. The crafty Slovenian has taken his stellar form as a rookie and elevated it to superstar status, all at the age of 20.
Outside of those two, obvious candidates, Ja Morant and now Zion Williamson have headlined a so far superb rookie class, with the two of them each possessing superstar potential and sky-high ceilings. Trae Young looks to be a Steph Curry clone, while Joel Embiid can be the next, great big man if his body and mind stay right. Basically, the league is in very good hands. When stars like LeBron and KD do retire, the league won’t need to fret, for there is a line a mile long, that is waiting to take up the mantle of the face of the NBA.