Death of Competition in the NBA

 Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I have been a fan of the NBA for all my life. There is a trend that has been happening over the last five to seven years that is starting to make me sick. That trend is the death of true competition.

Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain. Celtics versus Lakers. Magic versus Bird. Bulls versus Pistons. Jordan versus the Bad Boys.

The NBA was built on great competition and rivalries. The game we now know and love grew from feuds and exciting rivalries between both players and teams. Fans became enamored by these clashes of legendary players and great teams. Rivalries are slowly dying in today’s NBA and I think there is a reason for it.

When one of the most popular players in NBA history decides to join his friends rather than beat them, he sets an example for the kids who grow up wanting to be like him. LeBron James and his friends are destroying the idea of rivalries and true competition with the way he first joined the Heat and is talking about it again with Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony.

I know what he wants. He wants to win. We all want to win. There is a fire that burns in us that causes us to hate losing.

I once heard a quote that said, “You have to hate losing, more than you love to win.”

I do hate losing. I hate not being better than someone at something. I know LeBron hates losing as well. He has to.

I grew up playing sports anytime I could. Football, baseball or basketball, you name it and I was outside in the neighborhood playing these sports. I loved playing with my friends. There was something even better than playing with my friends. Beating my friends was more satisfying. I felt like the games were more fun and more competitive. There was more at stake in my mind and heart: If I win I have the right to say I was better. I have the right to brag until the next time we played. If I lost I had to hear that I wasn’t better and my friend had the bragging rights. It makes you work harder because you don’t want to hear the smack talk. Nobody likes feeling like a loser.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were great friends and even better rivals. They loved competing against one another and never tried to play together in the NBA. They knew they could play together in the Olympics or in the offseason, but during the NBA season they went at each other with a hatred. It wasn’t hatred for each other, it was hatred for losing to your friend. Magic has been on the record saying that the competition with Larry Bird made him better and made him work harder. They each won some and lost some but had tremendous respect for one another and the fans were blessed with a great rivalry up until they retired.

Another example is Jordan trying to get past the Bad Boy Pistons.

He didn’t call up Magic or Bird and say, “Hey, we all keep losing to them let’s get together and beat them.”

No Michael Jordan decided to hit the gym and work extra hard because he was sick and tired of losing to the same team every year in the playoffs. He worked hard and finally was able to get over that hump and it led to six NBA championships and a legendary career.

Let’s fast forward to the past 10 years of the NBA where Kobe has begun to age and LeBron has become the face and draw of the NBA. The Celtics had Paul Pierce and signed Ray Allen. Along with those two stars they made a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire Kevin Garnett and form a championship caliber team. There are a lot of people who blame these three players for starting the “super team” trend, but it would have never happened without the trade that required the management to pull it off.

LeBron was then in the same situation as Jordan essentially. He spent years trying to get past the Celtics but couldn’t. Instead of doing what most competitors did he decided to quit on the Cavaliers and join a couple of his friends in Miami. Three free agents purposely decided that in order to win they had to all come together. Dwayne Wade was an All-Star and NBA champion, Chris Bosh was an All-Star and the franchise star of the Toronto Raptors, and we all know LeBron was an All-Star and the superstar of Cleveland and the NBA. You had three really good teams in the East who all battled together along with the Celtics. In just one offseason two of those teams became obsolete because of these friends deciding to play together rather than compete against each other.

Based on championships the move was successful for the stars. They went to four straight Finals and won two of them. The Eastern Conference has been a cake walk for them because they all teamed up. They couldn’t man up and beat one another like the stars of the past. There are no true rivalries in the Eastern Conference. LeBron has no rivals because he joined them.

Fast forward to this year. The Warriors and Spurs are becoming true rivals because their cores are the same and have been built for a few years, with the Spurs core being around much longer. We then get a comment from LeBron in which he says he would love to play with his former teammate and friend Dwayne Wade, and long time friends Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. Chris Paul has been unsuccessful in ever reaching a Conference Finals. Carmelo Anthony has never been to a Finals and finds himself at a crossroads in his career. He is showing signs of concern in becoming one of the best players ever to never win a ring.

Now we have to hear talks of all four of them joining up to play together. Why is that? Is it because LeBron is 2-4 in the Finals? Because Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have never been to a Finals? All together they may get to a Finals or win one because that amount of talent on the floor on one team has only been seen on an Olympic team.

There is a reason professional leagues implemented free agency. It was for a level playing field. It was for the teams who were bad every year to have a chance at competing the next year. Previous generations weren’t afraid to fail to get better. They didn’t join forces just to make success easier. I want the best players in the league fighting for championships not finding the easiest route to one. Hopefully a player comes into the NBA or is currently in the NBA to change the culture back to fighting and growing through failure rather than just quitting and finding some friends to play with.

If players continue to team up and try to form super teams that look like an Olympic roster, it will be the death of competition.

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