Over the past two years there has been a certain buzz about our beloved Association. A buzz I’ve refused to buy into. I’m man enough to say that it was primarily out of bitterness. But the truth of the matter is, the NBA just flat out sucked for a few years. And when I say sucked, I don’t mean there was a lack of talent, or even that it was less entertaining. Basically, I think it just wasn’t as marketable to the common American and left the mainstream sports fan disinterested. (In other words it was just like baseball is all the time).
Its like in 1969. The Beatles released their best complete album, Abbey Road, broke up on a high note, and let the rest of the music world fend for itself. In a lot of the ways the Beatles were like Jordan’s Bulls.
And I can prove it.
|The Beatles on Ed Sullivan|
They both had a long fought early beginning of humbling, and do-or-die pressure in which they thrived to show their talent and motivation to do what they love, and show their early potential. Then, when finally having the chance to show on the big stage what they were made of, dazzled with big numbers and performance. The Beatles, while in Germany, mastered their craft by playing live shows in harsh environments and improved on their individual skills leading to a flurry of #1 hits and international record-breaking live shows, and Jordan while in high school was deemed too short to play at 5’ 11”, but ended up becoming the junior varsity star averaging 40 points a game. It gave him the confidence to become a high school McDonalds All American. Like the Beatles, these early roadblocks helped mold him into a winner and pushed him towards his true potential. It all seemed to come together while at UNC winning a national championship by hitting a game winning shot as a freshman which put him on the national radar and prepared him for his famous early NBA success such as: 63-point playoff game against Boston, his first MVP and Defensive player of the year, and memorable Dunk Contest performances.
Next on the list was dominance. Utter and complete dominance, which cemented them both as unstoppable. The Beatles had their movies that were actually good (i.e. Hard Day’s Night, Help!), their first 3-peat of albums (Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Peppers), and their final tours. Jordan’s Bulls finally got over their fear of their rivals and proved their dominance over experienced peers and rivals: The Pistons (The Temptations), Lakers (Hendrix), and Celtics (Dylan) for their first 3-peat of ‘91, ‘92, and ‘93.
|Jordan with the Barons|
The only thing that could stop either of them was themselves. The Beatles had a major meltdown during the Let It Be sessions, in which they experimented with a sort of “behind the scenes” documentary which turned out to be a power struggle, leading to the hiatus in Rishikesh. And Jordan’s Bulls seemed to completely collapse after the death of his father in 1994. He left the NBA to pursue baseball which led to the hiatus with the Birmingham Baron ... ikesh.
Finally, they both had their great comeback where they secured legendary status, created their finest work, and cemented themselves as the undisputed greatest in their respective fields. The Beatles gave their infamous concert on the rooftop, released their best and most influential albums: the 3-peat of The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be. All of these records had hits, but more importantly, they showed The Beatles’ astounding creative developments. On the other side, Jordan and the Bulls had their record-breaking 72 wins in a regular season. And when they lost their quickness and athleticism they stayed smart and clever, which eventually led them to their 2nd 3-peat in ‘96, ‘97, and ‘98.
|Greatest band ever?|
After they both finally shut the door on their careers in music and professional basketball, a void was left that was impossible to fill. That didn’t mean the media, and fans alike didn’t keep searching for suitors to fill those spots. The Lakers (Zeppelin) and the Spurs (Stones) of the early ‘00s kept basketball purists interested and also fueled fire for debates. But it was no hope. Never again would the NBA or music thrive as it did. The mid ‘00s of the NBA were once again uneventful, as were the ‘80s of music. You had the multiple attempts of resurgence by young stars hoping to be the Beatles or Jordan like Vince Carter (Billy Joel), T-Mac (The Police), AI (Prince), and Dwyane Wade (Gloria Estefan and the Miami sound machine), but they weren’t all built physically or psychologically for the challenge. Even Jordan himself attempted a comeback with the Wizards, which was even more disappointing than what the wannabes could produce.
Then the chosen one appeared. Although Kobe was satisfying and almost as successful as Jordan, he was the same. He was a prototype. I don’t think this takes away from his accomplishments or his abilities, but he wasn’t fresh. He was like U2. Fantastic, fun, British, mega-stars! But in the end he wasn’t the type of player where people came away and said “I’ve never seen anything like him before.”
King James on the other hand was new, fresh, and made for the mainstream media. In many ways he was the new electronic pop music of the current generation. Many purists who loved the days of Jordan and even the era before him see Lebron as a troubling development. His running back-esque drives to the basket, and the new “Big 3” (which was much more dominant than any team in the history of the NBA) still failing to produce, made his overall attitude seem crass and embarrassing in a sport full of hardworking, over-competitive athletes. But, it’s making this NBA season one of the most memorable.
The overall looming question is, can you ever really love something as much when you only love it to see someone fail? I am as competitive as they come, I can’t imagine watching any sports game and not instantly choosing a side. But in the NBA there are different rules (or at least I think there should be), almost a pecking order for viewers and fans. Your loyalties lie to The Heroes, The Villains, and then The Team, in that order. If you ask 100 people on the street who the starting point guard for the ’91 Bulls was, I’m sure the percentages would break down as: 60% Scottie Pippen, 30% Dennis Rodman, 5% B.J. Armstrong, 4% Peter Cetera, and 1% Phil Jackson. That’s how important the individual star is in this league. It’s why Michael Jordan is praised and loved to the extent that everything he touched turned to gold. It’s why any Hollywood producer thought Space Jam was a good idea. I mean they had Taz starting at power forward! And yet, a whole generation is turned on to that movie and loves it, because of Michael Jordan and the idea that he can win a game against giant aliens with the powers of 4 great NBA players and Shawn Bradley at their disposal. (My one flaw with this movie is that the MonStars really were under prepared. Couldn’t they think to bring some subs with them, no wonder they were getting destroyed in the second half).
All that ranting aside, it’s very clear how important a star is to the Association. Just as much as every team needs a guiding force and face, so does the league. So why doesn’t Lebron fit into the mold? Well, maybe it’s the same reason that modern day pop stars aren’t revered like they were. Most people argue this has been a milestone year for the NBA because the large majority of fans were honed in not to see any particular star rise to the peak of their athleticism, but to watch the most athletic star fail. It’s the same with stars like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. They can sell out stadiums, have numerous Billboard hits in the top 10 at a time, and musicians and critics will continue to bash them (while secretly singing along to their songs). We want to see them fail, and until they fail and a new star comes along, or they prove the haters wrong, the rebirth of the NBA, will be a very real death.