A waning NBA

Alan Cai

June 14, 2024

The National Basketball Association is the premier basketball league in the United States and arguably the top basketball league in the world. Historically, the NBA has always enjoyed a plethora of stars to serve as its championship backbone and face. The 50s had Bill Russell. The 60s boasted Wilt Chamberlain. In the 70s, it was Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The 80s fielded both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The 90s featured Jordan. The aughts saw Shaq and Kobe. Finally, the 10s were dominated by Lebron James. Although the aforementioned players were far from the only notable players of their respective generations, it’s safe to say that they captured a decent snapshot of what the highest playing talent of their decades represented. Additionally, they were also the players that were most influential during their eras, whether it consisted of selling the most jerseys or bringing the most audience members into the game and the league.

The 20s is a slightly different ball game. Each NBA championship team this decade has failed to reach the conference finals the next year, rendering any repeats or dynasties all but impossible. Teams that do not consistently do well do not aggregate any widespread nationwide followings and without significant fan bases outside their home regions, teams and their star players will fail to reach the levels of stardom NBA players of the past had previously seen.

For example, many youth basketball fans and players idolize individual NBA players growing up. A stereotypical kid in the 2000s would probably have a poster of O’Neal in her bedroom and have several of his jerseys in her closet. The same can not be said of the 20s. Far fewer kids see a poster of Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo when they wake up and very few people comparatively sport Jaylen Brown or Anthony Edwards gear while walking around town. This cultural decline in the fan base can be attributed to three reasons.

The first is the lack of consistently well-performing teams. When teams can form an overpowered juggernaut, people are more drawn to the arena and television screen to watch them play. On the other hand, when the league is filled with a bunch of mediocre teams that are all around the same level, competition is more fierce but the league as a whole is less exciting. Fans want to see story arches. They take pleasure in watching protagonists or antagonists get their act together and clinch championships before falling off. As much as they are looked down upon, superteams bring more livelihood to the league.

The second is how modern basketball has evolved. The high-volume shooting and positionless basketball is undoubtedly the leading trend for the NBA meta. It also produces fantastic results and wins. However, it is much less exciting to watch. Even though a dunk is worth fewer points, it is far more exciting for audiences than a three-pointer. That is why dunks are put on posters and not made three-point shots. A show of utter dominance and the act of knocking a defender down is what kids and adults alike love to see.

The third and final reason why the modern NBA is less interesting is because it appears that players care less about the game. Take a look at the All-Star game: back in the 90s and the aughts, the All-Star game was an exciting back-and-forth between the best players of the league. Truly the “highest levels of NBA basketball,” it was a dramatic showing of basketball talent and playmaking ability. The All-Star game today is a total embarrassment for the NBA. The players play almost no defense and all but stand around during the stretches when they do not have possession of the ball. The age where players played hard for the meaningless trophy was over with the retirement of Kobe Bryant and the absence of seriousness during the All-Star game not only reflects poorly on the “best” players but also on the league as a whole.

The NBA and its players have many major flaws that they must address to revamp the league to its glory days.