I had a flashback, reading a “good-bye” article for Yao Ming as he’s retired today. Then I saw this tweet as well: Nazr and Beck were both around in 1998/1999 if I’m not mistaken, so they would know. It just occurred to me that we might be able to draw some parallels, if we wanted to.
First, you could say that the NBA is coming off of a sort of nexus in both. Think back to 1997-1998. What do you remember? It was the first year the Lakers were really good with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe. It was the second year of Shaq’s time in Los Angeles, the first had been tough because Shaq missed so much time, but year #2 they got to the conference finals and Kobe became a player. (something I didn’t realize until I looked it up was that Shaq’s first year in LA was also Kobe’s rookie year)
You might also recall the finals that year. Brief description for all you’d need to know if you don’t recall: Jordan, crossover, step-back, floats (or levitates), shoots, hits, wins. That was Michael Jordan’s final shot…unless you count that silliness in Washington.
So yeah, you could say the NBA was on a high then. I love reading old articles, especially preview ones that prognosticate things that we know the endings to but the writer didn’t. I came across a post by John Donovan from CNN/SI (they seem to be the only ones with a deep archive online, at least it makes the top of a Google search), he was telling folks what to expect in the shortened 1999 season, and the main thrust is that it’d be different. I love the part about who is there to take Jordan’s place:
Ray Allen of the Milwaukee Bucks comes to mind. The classic choices, Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers. Then there are real young guys like Tim Duncan of the Spurs, Antoine Walker of the Celtics, Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves. And even rookies like the Celtics’ Paul Pierce.
Other than Antoine Walker, he was dead on. Well, him and Grant Hill and Grant Hill’s ankles.
We find ourselves, as fans, at a similar position. The major difference between the beginning of the 1999 NBA Season and where we are now, or where we could be in January is that we don’t know if we’ll even get there. Luckily, I guess, we don’t have Jordan leaving as a big gaping hole. All the superstars today are intact, and won’t be changing teams this year. So we won’t have this dramatic break as they did in 1998-1999. When the NBA comes back, most rosters will look the same as they did at the end of the 2010-2011 season. Well, unless, of course, damn it, unless the entire season is lost. In that case, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and Gerald Wallace could all have already played their final games for their respective teams already. (no seriously, that’s how big the free agency class of 2012 is, and why the Bobcats are in such good shape). But let’s assume for a minute that we will see games in 2011 or the first half of 2012, we’re pretty stable up top in the league as a whole.
There are however two huge, literally and figuritvely, huge retirements as we sit in this unstable labor climate. Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal are two of the biggest names the league has seen, ever, but certainly over the past 10-15 years. In comparison to Jordan, they don’t measure up, so the loss isn’t as great and we can’t quite get there as parallels go but, you see what I mean about the similar nature of the NBA landscape once we get back to playing games. Shaq had deteriorated over the past 3 to 4 years, to the point that, yeah he could go off (as he did against the Bobcats last year) for more than 20 points, bring you some rebounds and some blocks (5 in that game to go with 5 rebounds and 23 points) but those nights were few and far between and despite the attention he brought, the veteran minimum salary and the sheer entertainment factor, you were really hard pressed to keep a roster spot open for him.
Yao Ming, sadly, had his career cut short with injuries. He was as transformative, for his culture, as Jordan was for the NBA as a whole. I promise you, he did as much, and likely more for the NBA in China as Jordan did. I don’t know if you can compare the two, like saying what Jordan did for the US with the NBA was equal to Yao and China, but suffice to say Yao is and was a huge deal. An All-Star starter each of his years in the league? Say what you want about a billion Chinese folks stuffing the online ballot boxes for him but he was good enough to be on those teams, why not call him a starter?
Because of the way those two ended their careers, just sort of fading out, and the incredible way Jordan ended his time in Chicago, you can’t say they’re the same. Jordan went out on top. Final shot, final game, capping a second three-peat, leading the league in points per game. Yeah, it’s a much bigger hole.
The NBA as a whole, right now, is on much, much higher of a high. The ratings, the money, the interest, the bloggers, the writers, the players. It’s just, such a high level. 1998 might have been a peak in its own right though. In those days, the internet was all still dial-up, there weren’t blogs, no twitter. People didn’t seem as addicted to the NBA back then, but it was a big, big deal.
Back then the owners were claiming they weren’t making any money. They were arguing the collective bargaining agreement was too much in the player’s favor and that players were getting far too much of the money. At the time it was 57% of all basketball related income, where the previous CBA (enacted only 3 years before) had stated that the owners were allowed to revisit the agreement if player salaries exceeded 51.8%. It was a cry for help.
Now, you could say that the same is true. The owners feel that too many teams are losing money, that the cap is too soft and that 57% of BRI is too much. Well, didn’t they negotiate to keep the 57% at that CBA and felt like they had won? The players just now got their escrow money, a situation I hadn’t heard of happening in previous years. So they’re actually making less than 57% now, and the owners are asking for an agreement to save them from themselves?
I don’t mean to depress you even more about it, or to say we could see basketball in January, because we might see it sooner, might see it later. I just thought it was interesting that such big names retired at the time of both lockouts. Both lockouts came at a time when things were better than they had been and oh yeah, they’re having the same argument that they had 12 years ago. Plus, they’re having the same sort of arguments in the same basic time-frame. It’s just ridiculous, and as in 1999, the fans lose.