If you happened to tune in at tipoff for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, here’s what you saw from the game’s starting 10:
Ten combined NBA Championships.
Three combined NBA Finals MVPs (four if you peered over to the Warriors bench and caught a glimpse of Andre Iguodala).
Seven combined NBA MVPs.
Thirty-eight – that’s 38 (!) if you thought you read that wrong – combined NBA All-Star appearances.
And eight combined Olympic gold medals.
If you’re really into stats, and you’d like to dig more than I did, you’re sure to find a handful of All-NBA Defensive Team Players, All-NBA Rookies, scoring champions, All-Star Game MVPs, All-NBA First- and Second-Teamers, enough lifetime earnings to purchase most small countries and at least five uniquely-designed, fully-endorsed basketball shoes.
Now that is a series worth watching.
Now, if you happened to tune into Altitude TV at any point during the Denver Nuggets last season – just in time for the starting lineup presented by Groove Subaru (or whoever) – here’s probably what you saw from the Nuggets starters:
One NBA All-Star.
Period. (Bonus points if you can name him.)
Oh, sure, if you looked down the bench a ways – maybe six or seven chairs – you might have noticed two more All-Star game appearances (Roy Hibbert – yes, he was a Nugget this year – had a pair) and two NBA titles (Mike Miller – no, he’s not an assistant coach – had a pair).
Now that is a team that doesn’t have a shot at an NBA title, not any time soon anyway.
The point of this, of course, is not to beat up on the Nuggets. It is, however, to point out the discrepancy between the NBA’s “haves” and “have-nots.” And in turn, point out this fact:
At the moment, the NBA has a bad, bad product.
The difference between the Nuggets and the Warriors or the Cavs is too obvious. For a more subtle, perhaps more telling, stat, how about this one:
That’s the combined playoff record of the Warriors and Cavaliers heading into the Finals. It’s one thing making the simple observation that both of those teams are loaded with stars, while other teams – the Nuggets, Magic, Suns, Hornets or Nets – are not. But it’s quite another to consider that the two best teams have a .960 winning percentage against the teams that are presumably third- and fourth- best.
Can you imagine a Major League Baseball postseason that involved that many sweeps? Or what about an NFL playoff schedule that saw the eventual AFC and NFC champions blowing out opponents by four or five touchdowns? Even the NHL’s finalists this season – the Penguins and Predators – put up a combined record of 24-11 en route to the Stanley Cup Finals (a winning percentage against the playoff field of .686).
Whether you like parity or not, it’s probably safe to assume that some competition is better than no competition – which, up until Thursday night, is basically what the NBA had this season.
Admittedly, I was excited to tune into last the star-studded affair. Heck, basketball fans have had to wait an entire calendar year to see anything remotely close to this good.
As a fan of the Denver Nuggets though, it’s pretty irritating. To bridge the kind of chasm that separates the Nuggets from the Cavs and Warriors is a task that’s daunting at best, impossible at worst. I’ll be watching the Nuggets for the next year (or three, or four) to see the development of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. While enjoyable, it’s not the same as believing – not blindly, anyway – that a title run is in sight.
Yes, it’s doable. The Cavs and Warriors are both living evidence that it is. It’s easy to recall when both franchises were bad – very bad.
But even for each of those franchises, the wait was painstakingly long. Warriors fans had to wait 40 years between league titles – 39 between division titles. Up in Cleveland, last year was the first time Cavs fans were ever able to celebrate; those poor folks had to wait 33 years between division titles (from 1976 to 2009) and they had to endure getting their hearts ripped out when King James told them goodbye (before coming back, that is).
What’s wrong with this picture?
Some of the wide, wide gap that exists between the Nuggets and this year’s NBA Finals is on them. The franchise has not been perfect, but which ones really are from one year to the next?
But much of that gap is a fundamental flaw with the NBA, its draft process and its oversight in general.
The next six (hopefully) games will indeed be great.
But the product as a whole?
It’s bad. Bad enough that the have-nots will soon lose interest.