LeBron James, in my view, is the poster child for the 21st Century spoiled professional athlete. His egotistical and pretentious "The Decision" TV show, along with similar TV commercials, have turned most NBA fans outside of Miami against him. After a slow start, the team he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put together a 12-game winning streak that was stopped by the Mavericks earlier this week. They now stand 22-9, fifth-best in the league.
But James thinks this isn't enough; the other day he said that teams need more superstars:
"Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the '80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team," James said. "The league was great. It wasn't as watered down as it is [now]."
The '80s. Right, LeBron. When you were what, five years old? However, looking at the current NBA standings, you might think LeBron has a point. With about one-third of the regular season gone, seven teams (the Nets, Bobcats, Wizards, Timberwolves, Clippers, Kings and... James' old team, the Cavaliers) have a .300 or lower winning percentage -- that translates to about a 24-58 season and zero chance of making the playoffs. Eight other teams (the Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Bulls, Spurs, Jazz and Thunder) have a .667 winning percentage or better -- that's at least a 55-27 season and almost a guaranteed playoff spot.
That's half the league. 15 out of 30 teams are, for all intents and purposes, locked into their season-ending slots right now. What's the point of playing the remaining two-thirds of the year?
Was it different 20 years ago? For comparison, I chose the 1990-91 season, an even 20 years ago, when the Pistons and Bulls were both powerful, the Lakers still had Magic Johnson, and the Celtics Larry Bird. In that 27-team league, six teams (Lakers, Bulls, Suns, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Celtics) had a .667 percentage or better (and the Jazz missed by only one game). Five teams (Nets, Heat, Hornets, Nuggets and Kings) finished at .317 or worse, and the Mavericks missed by only one game.
Essentially, it was the same. Only a few of the team names have changed, but the NBA has been a league of haves and have-nots for at least two decades. No other team sport is like this; major league baseball has a couple of teams that have been bad for a long time, but also has success stories like the Rays, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Phillies coming out of nowhere to win titles. The NHL has had only one repeat champion in the last 13 years. The NFL trumpets parity and, in general, has it; eight different teams have played in the Super Bowl the last four years and there's a fairly good chance that could become ten different teams in five years come next February.
The NBA? Forget it. Over the last 30 years the same names repeat over and over and over in the Finals: Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Spurs. Since 1984, those five teams account for all the NBA titles except two -- and had Michael Jordan not retired, the Houston Rockets probably wouldn't have won those two. This is nothing new, LeBron -- the NBA has been a league where "three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team" has been the norm going back decades, not just the last few years.
And now, you yourself, LeBron, have been responsible for making that divide worse. You said you "wouldn't rest" until you brought an NBA title to Cleveland, one of 17 current NBA cities that have never won an NBA championship. That turned out to be a lie. And now you're hinting contraction would be the answer to this? Making more All-Star teams?
No, LeBron. The NBA has a salary cap, but unlike the NHL, where teams have used the cap to provide more competitive balance, the NBA has become a "rich get richer" league. LeBron is suggesting, essentially, that more players do what he, Wade and Bosh did, or teams should cease to exist.
This isn't the only reason the NBA is headed for a lockout, but it's one of them -- selfish players who don't understand what's really necessary for the league to get back, as LeBron said, to its popularity of 20+ years ago. I'm not blaming the players exclusively for the lockout possibility -- clearly, there's blame enough to go around on both sides -- but there's a real disconnect between superstars like LeBron James and the rest of the world. They'd better wake up soon, or they may find the entire system broken.