This ‘Thunder Heat Finals’ is already delivering on its promise to be outrageously entertaining, but will deliver something even bigger as we progress: The dawn of the Next NBA.
After last night’s victory (OMG 14-25% of the Series is over! Everyone change your predictions!), the Thunder are one win closer. A lot’s already been mentioned about the Thunder’s youth. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden are all still not old enough to rent a car.
Both teams, as currently constructed, are looking for their first NBA Championship. Yes, you’ll point to the 2006 Miami Heat and mention Dwyane Wade destroyed the Dallas Mavericks (via free throw, but, I mean, that’s a technicality, really) six years ago. But that team was largely Wade leading a decorated veteran contingent: Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker. This was an old-guard team dressed in flashy young clothes.
Paradigm shifts in the NBA happen just twice a generation. The last one, coincidentally also in another strike-shortened season, occurred back in 1999, when the San Antonio Spurs won the first of their four titles with Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. That’s when we entered what’s pejoratively called the “Post-Jordan Era.”
The Spurs’ title even came with a neat twist: The torch passed from teammate to teammate, with Dream Team-er David Robinson ceding the limelight to Duncan, ushering in the NBA’s most recent epoch – the one that just rode off into the sunset as the Boston Celtics and Duncan’s same Spurs fell in the Conference Finals.
You know the names of the last NBA eon by heart by now: Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Iverson (remember him?), Kidd, Nash, Dirk, Pierce, Garnett, Allen. They combined to participate in every NBA Finals of the last 13 years, often against each other. Only the 2004 Detroit Pistons – and do they feel like an anomaly or what? – prevent that group from accounting for all 13 titles. That group also tallies an impressive 9 MVP trophies and over 100 All-Star Game appearances.
But with many of the stars above fading or already gone, and Boston and San Antonio ousted from contention, we are finally assured, after years of waiting for that ‘next group’ to take the reigns, of a tectonic movement atop the NBA mountain. We’ve finally entered the “Post-Post-Jordan Era,” I guess.
Miami and Oklahoma City look to be the super-teams of the 2010s. The game’s great stars also include Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and so many others who’ve yet to win their share of championships. The Philadelphia Sixers core is in its infancy. Perhaps the next great dynasty to rival what’s on display this week hasn’t even been put together yet.
But one thing is for sure: what’s happening now isn’t a break from the NBA ordinary. It’s the new NBA. An NBA where point guards slash and shoot, an NBA where wing scorers can handle the rock and block shots, an NBA where we watch in awe as athletes who’ve begun to rock our world are now ready to scale the rock of the NBA’s Mount Olympus.
Welcome to the age of coming of age.