So the rootin’ tootin’ race out west has got me thinking, why the hell is the Eastern Conference so damn terrible these days? There was a time when the best games were played in Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, Indianapolis, and Boston. Now? It’s as though good basketball has become a thing of the past in the colder parts of the world. Why the phenomenon? When did this whole thing go bad?
In 1997, a young man who, unlike most of his peers decided to go to college for four years, was drafted out of Wake Forest. Interestingly enough, Tim Duncan is the only player from what was a pretty good draft class – What? You didn’t think that God Shammgod would stick in the league back then? – that has remained with the same team since then. Funny how the man with the most success in his first ten years in the league since Magic Johnson is the one with the most longevity. That same year the Chicago Bulls were wrapping up championship number 2 of the second three-peat. The Western rep that year was Utah, as they’d be again in 1998, which was the final banner year for the East. Those 1997 playoffs were the last really great series’ for the Eastern Conference. A war between the Heat and Knicks went 7 games in a series that featured some of the greatest battles in NBA History. The Heat were left so weary they were hardly a match for a Bulls team was likely the greatest team to ever step on a court.
A year earlier the Lakers signed Shaquille O’neal in a coup that perhaps led to the current CBA which prevents the type of dominance the Lakers once enjoyed. These two moves created a decade of dominance that continues to this day. The Lakers were unable to supplant the Spurs in their lockout shortened championship of 1999, but finally won the title in 2000 and followed with two more. But I digress. The point of all of this is to reminisce back to a time when there was a different balance of power in the NBA. The best teams in the league played in the Eastern Conference and the West was just decent, if not worse (the jury’s still out on that one.) In fact, just as the East has today, three teams made the playoffs with records under .500 that year. The Clippers made it at 10 games under .500!
There is a lot of talk around the sports world right now about changing the format of the NBA playoff. My only question is why? If we can look back at the previous two decades of basketball and come to the conclusion that the door does swing in the other direction eventually, why in the hell would we want this thing to change? In the event that we should have a sublime decade like the 80’s again, in which the two best teams in the game were from different conferences and competed for essentially 10 years, we would lose the chance to watch such epic battles again.
I guess what I’m really trying to say in the end of all of this is that the Eastern Conference needs to get it’s damn act together. Lucky for all of us, it’s just about time.