Player agency has moved the NBA into a bizarre arena where, due to stacked teams the offseason has been more entertaining than the regular season or playoffs.
The regular season has often been a mixture of standout performances from the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo etc. while playoffs and championship series are void of any actual surprises and sometimes even good games—especially since the format changed to a best of seven for each series matchup.
Further proof of this trend is highlighted within the champions themselves, where in over two decades (1996 – 2017) only nine different teams have been able to capture Mr. Larry O’Brien, while four of those nine teams only won once (Detroit, Boston, Cleveland and Dallas); leaving 17 years of dominance between five teams in total (Chicago, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Miami, and Golden State).
As the sport has grown internationally, it has also cornered the offseason soap opera market. This can largely be attributed to Lebron James’ decision in 2009, which more or less recalibrated the NBA free agent paradigm. Since then, players have taken note and have begun to take agency of their own careers.
As a result, we’ve had James Harden’s move into a superstar role for Houston, Kevin Durant’s departure from Oklahoma to Golden State, and, most recently, Kyrie Irving’s impressive maneuver from Cleveland to Boston with little to no bargaining power. And to the dismay of small market teams, this all seems to be the new norm.
Additionally, for fans with a more traditional perspective, player empowerment has not gone over well—after all, millionaires that play a “game” as an occupation rarely make for good martyrs.
Never mind, the billionaires that own the teams, and use public funds to build their private arenas and enhance their portfolios. They’re often tucked away in skybox seats or on yachts the size of small municipalities. This clandestine approach only makes it easier for fans to poke and prod the exposed commodities, the players themselves.
Ultimately this feeds a 24-hour sports news narrative with an insatiable appetite that does more to divide than culminate any kind consensus.
All things considered, this trend of player agency and stacked teams does not seem to be subsiding despite an NBA salary that rewards the team players already reside and outliers like Damien Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo who have professed some form of loyalty to their respective teams.
Given this, fans should learn to appreciate the players they have while they have them because it’s likely he’s got his eyes set on home or on a coastal city where beautiful women and an ostentatious night life are in abundance…and Milwaukee just isn’t going to cut it.