Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

The NBA Crowns Another Familiar Champion

In MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL on June 23, 2013 at 5:11 PM

So another NBA Championship was awarded, but I wasn’t paying much attention because I was at a baseball game where the Angels came back from 7 runs down to win 10-9. I would go into more detail about that game, but the game today–where the Angels gave up 7 runs in the final two innings alone to lose 10-9 and allow the Pirates to complete the sweep–put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm.

One reason I don’t care for the NBA is the playoffs always have an air of inevitability. Since the Lakers didn’t have a great year, the Spurs were the obvious team to beat in the West, and not surprisingly, no one from the West could do so. It was nice to see the Pacers make a run again, but not surprisingly, they could not make it past the Heat. So we were left with a choice between the Spurs winning their fifth title since 1999 or the Heat winning their third since 2006. I was happy when the Spurs won in 1999 and when the Heat won in 2006, but I’ve grown tired of both. I’m still tired of the Lakers. At this point, I would actually welcome watching the Bulls win for the 7th time because it’s been so long since the last time they won. I’d even rather watch title-rich Boston win again, since I only vaguely remember them winning before 2008.

Just to show how much this is a trend in the NBA, I have a couple of lists here.

NBA Championships 1984-2013
Lakers 8
Bulls 6
Spurs 4
Celtics 3
Heat 3
Pistons 3
Rockets 2
Mavs 1

Western Conference Championships 1977-2013
Lakers 16
Spurs 5
Sonics/Thunder 4
Rockets 3
Trail Blazers 3
Jazz 2
Mavericks 2
Suns 2

If we go all the way back to 1962, that only adds two more franchises to the West (the Warriors and the Bucks). Going back to the beginning of the NBA also adds the Pistons (who have obviously won the East a few times since then and the Royals (now Kings), who only won one conference championship in franchise history (in 1951, the same year they won the NBA).

By my count, 10 teams total have won the East, including the Warriors, whom we’ve also counted toward the West. The East was pretty dull for a while not that long ago. Between 1984 and 1998, the Bulls won 6, the Celtics won 4, the Pistons won 3, and two others won 1 apiece (Knicks and Magic in 1994 and 1995, respectively). But since then, it’s been all right. Apart from Miami winning the East 4 times, no franchise has won more than twice since 1999, and there have been 9 distinct conference champions, more than the West has had since 1976. But it’s still sort of a blur as to which franchise got to lose to the Spurs and Lakers anyway.

It makes the monotony seem worse that when the East was more predictable, If the Lakers weren’t playing (and a few times if they were), Eastern teams typically won from 1980 to 1998; and since then (at least until the last two years), Western teams typically won (9 of 12 [8 of those 9 being the Spurs or the Lakers] to be exact).

The Heat are the only team from the East to win the NBA title two years in a row since the Bulls and are also the first team to win three Eastern conference titles in a row since then.
If you look at the overall NBA list, there is a top tier of only four teams who have won 4 or more titles. There is a middle tier of 5 teams who have won either 2 or 3. Then there is everyone else.

NFL teams have had dominant stretches, but there are more franchises that have experience these. The Super Bowl has only existed since 1967, and 5 teams have won four or more. That middle category (winning either 2 or 3) is comprised of seven teams.

In the NHL, I don’t have to go back nearly that far to compare. 7 teams have won the Western conference since 2004. And there have been 9 different Stanley Cup champions since 2003. (Either way, there will still be 9 after this season.) Don’t forget that there wasn’t even a champion in 2005. There is a historical upper echelon of the NHL (Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto), but Detroit had a 42-year drought ending in 1997, and Toronto hasn’t won since 1967. Even Montreal has only won once since 1986 and not at all in the last 20 years. From 1993 to 2012, Detroit was the only team to repeat. These are the only multiple-cup winners in that 19-season period: Detroit, 4; New Jersey, 3; Colorado, 2. Colorado (formerly Quebec) and New Jersey (formerly Kansas City and Colorado) had never won before that period.

In Major League Baseball, no one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row (the last of that streak in 2000), and the Yankees and Blue Jays are the only two teams to repeat since 1978 (the previous instance the Yankees had won two Series in a row). Other than the Yankees, no team has won more than twice total in the last 30 years.

I’m not sure of all the reasons. It might partly be that one good player (like Michael Jordan) comprises 1/5 of the players on the court and close to 1/5 of the total minutes played. I also think being more dominant is hard to hide. You can look pretty bad in a hockey game and still win 1-0, for instance. You can’t get away with that in basketball: there is too high a percentage of good plays and bad plays that result in points.

I used to love high school basketball, and I love college basketball now (although I no longer have the time to fully appreciate it), but individual games during the season matter so much more, and winning one game by itself is what determines advancing in the playoffs.

The NBA is not helpless in light of the nature of the game of basketball. I think something needs to be done to level the playing field, but the impression seems to be that dynasties led by the same player season after season make the NBA money. That might work for some people, but I find it boring.