No league capitalizes on its relevance as quick and concisely as the NBA. The NBA Finals end every June, then the draft is here just weeks after, and the off-season comes full of vigor in July with free agency. There are plenty of things to complain about with the NBA product, but the off-season is not one of them. Even fans of the league’s bottom feeders stay interested with the lottery in mid-May, and the draft that follows just a month later.
With that interest in the league 365 days a year, the NBA is in constant evaluation periods. No other league is debated like the NBA – I can say that as a devoted NFL. It isn’t even close. It’s constant subjective banter from one end of the echo chamber to the next.
Free agency begins in a few weeks and we’re all embracing what is to come in ‘The Decision Part III’1 the debate within many channels of discussion in Cleveland hinges on whether LeBron leaves again, and just where he ends up taking his talents. The Cavalier fan base seems, for the most part, at peace with the idea LeBron ends up playing elsewhere next year. When 2016 happened, Cavs fans knew this fate could be an endgame, but when a city has its long championship drought lifted, making peace is easier.
But LeBron’s impending decision isn’t the crux of what I want to discuss here. The legacy debate currently happening between LeBron is the point worth discussing. The part that fascinates is the argument over changing teams within a career. LeBron started a clear trend in 2010, and it reached its climax in 2016 when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City to join Golden State. The path to a championship has changed, and the reaction from fans is what fascinates me.
There is a clear divide between fans about what we want from our superstars. There is a heavy contingent of people who believe you should bring your drafted team a title, and battle through a career until it works out for you. Then there in the contingency who believes in player rights and the ability to chase a title with whatever path a player wants to choose. The lines seem to be drawn between the old school and the new school on this debate. Fans want players to win championships, but they only want them to win how they think is best.
The NBA has changed. It has always been a player’s league, but it’s become a league run by the players now. The player’s are dictating their course, and we need to become comfortable with the idea legacies won’t look the same in 2020 as they did in 2000. We need to become comfortable with the idea LeBron might have a third team in his career. Become comfortable with the league’s best players joining the league’s best team as a route to winning the easiest way possible. The shift within the NBA is moving quickly and it is changing the course of many legacies we already want to write.
I truly don’t think any one opinion is wrong on the topic. But the question of where you stand when ranking your top players is this: what career path do you appreciate the most? Do you prefer a player sticking with his original team to bring them to a championship? Or do you just want to see a player win – whatever that route is? I’m not sure there is a perfect way to analyze this, but as LeBron’s free agency approaches, and Kevin Durant will be favored to win multiple championships with the super team he joined, legacy evaluation is changing.
The league is different now than it was just twenty years ago. Attitudes have shifted, player interaction has changed and the relationships are different. I find it challenging to hold grudges about a player’s legacy based on what era he played. This era is no different. Let me know what you think.