OFF THE BALL

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NBA: The Changing of the Guard

The year 2022 has seen a return to basketball viewership the likes of the Michael Jordan era. Some contend it is due to the absence of the activism which characterized the notorious bubble playoffs as well as the following year when polarization around the vaccine lingered.

For starters, the first-round match ups were some of the most exciting we had seen in years as we saw teams with established superstars pitted against younger superstars who had proven during the course of the season that were done waiting their turn.The most captivating was the Boston Celtics versus the Brooklyn Nets. We saw the longest-standing duo in waiting; Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum take on the supposed best player in the world in Kevin Durant and the most entertaining guard in Kyrie Irving. This was a sweep. No one saw that coming especially given how close the first game was in which Boston pulled off a last minute win by the skin of their teeth. Then we had the Memphis vs Minnesota series. Two teams full of young and surprisingly disciplined teams that had proven they could run over their opponents like a hazing ritual and unlike the budding superstars ahead of them like Giannis, Tatum and Embiid they were ready for the throne.

For eight plus years, every championship seemed to go through either a Lebron-led superteam or the well-oiled juggernaut that was Golden State Warriors. Four of those saw both teams face off. It was becoming a foregone conclusion what the finals were going to look like. The games were great but the story was the same: How great is Lebron James? How great is the team that beat Lebron James? How great is Lebron James for taking another “talentless” team to the NBA finals.

2019 & 2021 seemed like flukes that went to those who survived the war of attrition in Kawhi Leonard for the Toronto Raptors and Giannis Antetokoumpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. However, in 2022 we saw the emergence of an NBA where the top four teams in either conference seemed viable competitors for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Finally competition seemed to have returned where we needed it the most; in the sports arena.

Lebron James and the Lakers did not make the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers did not make it out of the play-in tournament after falling to the nascent Minnesota Timberwolves and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving fell prey to the newly crowned juggernaut of the Eastern conference in the Boston Celtics. Luka and the Mavericks took down the reigning Western Conference champs in the Phoenix Suns. Could this be another fluke? America sure hopes not. If the ratings are any indication, unpredictability in a pool of top tier talent is good business for the NBA. Thus not only is a changing of the guard imminent, apparently it is good business.

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