It’s been weeks and the National Basketball Association is still reeling from LeBron James’ hour-long ESPN special called the Decision where he announced that he was joining Dwyane Wade and former-Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
The fans of James’ former team, his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, went crazy. Pure guano. Owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter calling the former Ohio hero a coward and compared him to reviled American traitor Benedict Arnold.
Commentators around the Association thought that Gilbert had maybe gone too far, but they understood his position. No one could understand LeBron’s thinking.
Many basketball experts bemoaned the fact that Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would have never done something like this. That era of superstars wanted to beat each other, not join forces. The competitive balance of the league had presumably been ruined with Wade, Bosh and James conspiring to move to South Beach.
I agree to an extent. James’ decision to announce on a nationally televised infomercial that he was leaving his hometown team – without first warning the Cavaliers – was a disaster. It was ham-handed and poorly considered. Although Gilbert’s rhetoric was over-the-top, I totally understand why he’s upset.
But this noise about the competitive balance of the league being ruined is ridiculous. Simply put, the NBA doesn’t nearly have the parity of other leagues.
The NBA is not like the National Football League where any team can stun the world and win the Super Bowl. It’s not like the National Hockey League where teams can fall prey to tougher, more determined clubs in the postseason.
A scenario like the 2010 Eastern Conference playoffs where the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins – arguably the two best teams in the East – were knocked off by the opportunistic Montreal Canadiens just would never happen in the NBA.
No, every year there are a maximum of four basketball teams that stand a realistic shot at winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Look at this breakdown of picks from NBA.com’s experts for the 2009-10 season.
All 12 experts believed that the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers would win their divisions. Only Vince Thomas picked the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks to win their divisions. Otherwise, it was unanimous that the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs would win the Southeast and Southwest.
The Northwest division was the only group to create any kind of controversy with three commentators picking the Denver Nuggets.
When it came to conference champions, the East was perfectly split between Boston and Cleveland, while the Lakers got 10 votes to San Antonio’s two in the West.
I’m a pretty casual basketball fan, and even I would have guessed at the Celtics or Cavaliers facing Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. The Spurs are a bit of a curveball, but they were still a pretty obvious pick.
Not surprisingly, the experts were right. The Lakers did play Boston, after the Celtics had eliminated Cleveland.
So for 2010, we have to assume that the Lakers and Boston are still going to be competitive clubs. Cleveland will be adrift without LeBron, but they will be easily replaced by the Heat as one of the new favourites in the East.
In other words, there are still three teams – and only three teams – that really have any kind of chance to win the championship.
You can say a lot about LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat. In fact, a lot of people have. But it can’t be argued that it’s ruined the parity of the league.
Ultimately, the competitive balance will stay the same in the NBA, with only a few teams having any kind of legitimate chance at winning the title. It just so happens that now one of those teams are based in Miami and not in Cleveland.