I hate change. Things are different after a change. Change tends to scare me. Which is why I love the NBA.
Nothing really changes in professional basketball. Last year’s top contenders are, if anything, improved after the offseason while last year’s cellar dwellers still stink. And it doesn’t seem like a particularly bold prediction, based on the past 10 years, to think that five years from now the Lakers will still be title contenders while the Clippers (despite the best efforts of Blake Griffin) will continue to be awful.
Arguably the top four teams in the league — the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics — all landed big-time free agents this offseason.
The defending champion Lakers signed rap producer slash NBA free agent Ron Artest. It was somewhat curious that Artest left money on the table and left a pretty good team to join the Lakers. The Houston Rockets, Artest’s old team, had a couple oft-injured but very talented superstars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, along with a developing group of young players. But Artest signed for lower-than-market value and bolted from the Rockets for their Western Conference foes, the Lakers.
The Orlando Magic, meanwhile, made a splash by bringing high-flyer Vince “Vinsanity” Carter to Florida. Last year’s Eastern Conference Champions added another scorer to their already-strong lineup that included Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard. Carter left the up-and-coming Nets, who may not be so up-and-coming without his services, to join the best team in the East.
Rasheed Wallace, who won a championship with the Pistons, took a substantial pay cut to sign for a measly, pitiful, barely-able-to-feed-Latrell-Spreewell’s-family $6 million. But he is now playing for the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, giving them arguably the best starting five in the NBA. With Rajan Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce already leading this team, the Celtics’ lineup is nearly unmatchable.
If one team in the East could challenge the Celtics, however, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. There is one reason for this: LeBron James. LeBron is the great equalizer, capable of taking down any team almost singlehandedly. He’s a mix of giant-killer and giant, kind of like The Terminator. But the Cavaliers hope that he won’t have to try to beat teams by himself, as they brought in The Big Diesel, Shaquille O’Neal, this offseason. Sure, his joints may be creakier than the plumbing in L-Dub, but Shaq’s imposing presence and veteran leadership will surely make an impact on the perennial bridesmaid Cavs.
But all of this may not matter. If we are to believe some of the sports columnists and NBA referee turncoats, the NBA is fixed anyway. The players just go out and collect paychecks, the refs make bets about who can go the longest without having to blow the whistle and crucial playoff games come down to a controversial call. (Just ask Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.)
The one factor that must be determined is whether or not the players believe the game is rigged because, if so, the game itself is no more than a show. But obviously they don’t. They’re selfish, money-grubbing professional athletes. They go to wherever the money is best or where the glory is greatest, not to the teams they believe will be chosen by the league as this year’s champions, right? It’s not as though all of the top free agents are taking pay cuts to sign with teams that have been accused of getting favorable treatment from officials, right? It surely isn’t the case that crafty veterans like Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace and Shaq know that the NBA will guarantee certain teams a shot at the title and, possibly, the title itself. Or is it?
I love the NBA. From Commissioner David Stern down to the players and the towelboys, everyone in the league knows it’s rigged. Athletes collect their paychecks just like WWE wrestlers, putting on a good show before the predetermined outcome is reached. Nothing ever changes in the NBA. The storylines are perfect. The matchups are compelling. The Cinderellas are regular. And the Champions are predictable. It’s wrestling minus the violence (except when Rasheed Wallace is playing), and that’s why we all love it. America loves basketball, and hates change.
Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.