Published on May 24th, 2013 | by Jof Cubol0
NBA Timeline: From Bird, Magic and MJ, to the 90s Kids and Their Last Stand
A revisiting of some of the highlights from the early 90s through the 2000′s, and where the League stands today.
When Larry and Magic passed the torch to Michael in Barcelona, it was a blessed time for basketball.
It was reminiscent of the scene in The Godfather II, when Hyman Roth celebrated his 67th birthday with Michael Corleone and all the American gangsters, and he symbolically had his birthday cake in the shape of Cuba. In essence, Jordan was Corleone, and was the next King.
The NBA had roared back into resurgence, this after drug problems and racism hindered the growth of the League in the 1970′s, and both Bird and Johnson emerged from their respective mid-western high schools as basketball prodigies.
Magic and Larry were mirror-images of one another basketball-wise. (Their personalities were a little different, with Magic the outgoing, friendly and always smiling guy, and Larry with the dry and serious tone, and incredible sense of humor.) Both dominated the game not with volume shooting, but with jaw-dropping passing, awe-inspiring court vision and uncanny efficiency which was evident from their first meeting on the USA Team as college freshmen. They shared an intense obsession to win, and win big. Of course, that isn’t to say that either lacked scoring skills (Magic had a career high 46 in 1986, and Bird with 60 the year before), but the way they dominated the game also brought back people in the seats.
But going back to the earlier point, Michael would argue that it wasn’t so much of a torch-passing; he took the damn thing from them, proclaiming that there was ‘a new sheriff in town.’
With MJ as the sheriff in the 90′s, Scottie Pippen would undoubtedly be his deputy. Pip was the other half of arguably the greatest duo in pro basketball, and he more than shared the load in winning two three-peats with MJ and the Bulls. Six championships coming in a span of eight years (1991-1998), and who knows what could have happened if Mr. James Jordan wasn’t murdered, and if Mike didn’t become a Baron. Maybe they win eight straight. Maybe nine or ten if the team didn’t demonize Jerry Krause, and if everyone stayed.
But it wasn’t just that the 90′s had Michael. The Jordan Era wouldn’t be the same without the competition. While Magic tried to make the 80′s last stand against the new generation in ’91, Michael and the Bulls had plans of what we now know as a dynasty that dominated that decade.
Magic and the Lakers just happened to be the first casualties. He would walk away in 1992 after being diagnosed with HIV, and attempt a comeback in 1996 midway in the season, but it would be a short-lived return from January to May.
Larry Bird, meanwhile, was running on fumes, and with a bad back, eventually hung it up after winning gold with The Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. It was actually interesting when he later admitted to Bill Simmons that, had Len Bias not died, he would have retired sooner.
But the 1990′s would not have been the same without the vast talent and competition. What separated Jordan was that despite all that great talent in the League, he was just too good. To quickly break down who Chicago had to fend off, in 1992, Jordan had to prove the first wasn’t a fluke.
Clyde Drexler was being heralded as “just as good” (by the way, he never was), and had been waiting in the wings after the Lakers made their last bid. He led his Portland team as the supposed “Jordan in the West,” with a strong group in Terry Porter, Danny Ainge (who seemingly pops up on winning teams from the late 80s to the early 90s), Clifford Robinson and Buck Williams.
Jordan immediately put a stop to that comparison, of course.
(And, in my humble opinion, Shaq or Reggie Miller should have been on the team, not Christian Laettner. I get that they reserved the last spot for the best college player. But, no.)
Later on, Clyde would team up with Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets, and they would win in Micahel’s “baseball years.” Let’s face it – Kenny Smith wouldn’t be the two-time champion that he is if Mike hung around. But then again, we might not have him with the TNT guys, so it’s worth it.
The New York Knicks were probably Jordan’s biggest threats in the East. Patrick Ewing led the 90′s version of the bad boys, but the Knicks lacked in basketball IQ and discipline in the way the Bulls did not. They barked at each other and at the referees, and choked in some games. (See: Reggie Miller.)
But against Chicago, those games were extra special. As Mike said, it didn’t matter if it was Pat Riley or Jeff Van Gundy coaching, if he had to beat his best friend Charles Oakley, or how hard Patrick Ewing fought back. He was going to win.
Charles Barkley said it best – his best shot at the bulls was in his MVP season in 1993. But as Phoenix lost to Chicago, Chuck lost hold of his team, too. (Somehow, Danny Ainge is, again, on this team).
It was too bad, too. Chuck had a loaded Phoenix Suns team. “Danger” Dan Majerle was as deadly as shooters get. Oliver Miller was a tough match-up. Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers and Richard Dumas were solid role players, and Kevin Johnson (now of course the Honorable Mayor of Sacramento) is as iconic as point guards get in the NBA.
It is just a testament to how great Michael and the Bulls were, together.Michael needed Phil Jackson the same way that he needed reliable teammates, and teammates who could respond to the strict demands that Jordan placed on himself.
It was also a testament to how great of a manager Phil Jackson was, and how brilliant Tex Winter’s triple post offense is. The first three peat had already defined Michael as a generational talent, and the second cemented that he was the greatest.
Gary Payton’s Sonics in 1996 just ran into a brick wall. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had a great team around him – Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf, Nate McMillan, Hershey Hawkins, Sam Perkins were excellent players, and George Karl is a brilliant coach.
But the problem was, they were facing THE. GREATEST. NBA. TEAM. EVER.
Chicago went on to post the greatest regular season record in history, 72-10, and were not to be denied after Jordan’s failed comeback the year before.
I believe they were called the “Unstoppa-Bulls.”
*Speaking of the year before… The world caught a glimpse of what could have been in Orlando, led by an old friend in Horace Grant. There was this kid named Shaquille O’Neal and this 6″7′ point guard they called Penny. The Bulls actually almost won, except Nick Anderson stole the ball from Mike, and the rest is history.
Reggie Miller and the Pacers should have won the East in 1998. They were one win away from the Finals, and maybe Reg gets his first ring versus Utah. And the Bulls were hurting, running on fumes. Pippen had the bad back, injuries throughout the roster, and yet, they win the second game seven of MJ’s career.
They would have a more successful season in 2000, but it would be an even more painful season for Miller and company. He would lead a group that Larry Bird himself was coaching, with Jalen Rose, Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Rik Smits, Sam Perkins, Travis Best, Austin Croshere, and the Davis boys, Dale and Antonio.
But undoubtedly, the Utah Jazz had to have felt the most frustration. In back to back years, they lost to the Bulls. John Stockton and Karl Malone are probably the greatest duo to never win a championship, and in 1998, they were really close. It took a Stockton buzzer beater in 1997 to beat the aging Houston Rockets, who had a declining Charles Barkley join them.
It was a pretty good team, too. Jeff Hornacek was an underrated shooter. Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley were young defensive guards who could shoot. Antoine Carr, Adam Keefe and Greg Foster were bigs that slowed the game down. Greg Ostertag versus Luc Longley was as epic as it got. (Kidding.)
And Bryon Russell was a decent perimeter defender who scored late in games. He really did make that last shot special, though.
In 1998, there was a reason why Phil Jackson called it ‘The Last Dance.’
As mentioned, the Bulls were running on “E” – Scottie Pippen and his sore back, Michael and Ron Harper had ailments of their own, Toni Kukoc was the only other consistent offensive contributor, and this would have been the most vulnerable that the Bulls were.
But somehow, MJ stole the ball from Karl Malone, and Bob Costas made the call…
Indeed, this was the perfect ending.
But of course, the 90′s kids got to work pretty quickly after that. We are seeing the last of their days. And there’s not a lot of them left.
But before we mention the great NBA teams of the 90′s, let me quickly acknowledge the importance of the Michigan Wolverine Fab Five. Simply because without these dudes, the 90′s kids as we knew them would not have been the same.
Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were the first heroes of the 90′s kids. They were also the first to embrace the influence of Michael Jordan, particularly with the bravado that he played with.
And, the shorts. If it weren’t for MJ, and then the Fab Five, maybe we’re still wearing those “hip-huggers” that John Stockton used to rock. So, thank you, Jalen!
The immediate chapter after the demise of the Bulls came as a very turbulent one. The 1998-99 Lockout threatened to affect the popularity of the league, just months after its history’s greatest player retires. This meant 50 games in the regular season, but, as it turns out, the League’s future would be in good hands. More on that season in a bit.
In 1995, the NBA handed out its very first co-rookie of the year awards for Jason Kidd and Grant Hill, the 2nd and 3rd overall draft picks in 1994, respectively. They’re currently the two of the three oldest active players in the league (both at 40 years old with Fab Fiver Juwan Howard).
The Lakers’ back court in Steve Nash and Kobe Bean Bryant are both on the end of the top 15 picks back in 1996 (Kobe at 13 and Nash at 15) and are among the only six remaining active players from that draft class.
The others – Marcus Camby, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal and Derek Fisher.
And, out of these six, the only remaining player still in playoff contention is Ray Allen, aka Jesus Shuttlesworth, who is teammates with the aforementioned ageless wonder Juwan Howard. Howard is the second oldest player in the league.
Kevin Garnett seems like he is on the way towards retirement, with rumors of his teammate Paul Pierce being shopped (possibly to the newly renamed New Orleans Pelicans.) Once upon a time, KG was heralded as the first successful prep-to-pro kids, and the first 20 years after Moses Malone. The 5th overall pick in the 1995 draft, he is one of
KG is undoubtedly the greatest Minnesota Timberwolf ever, and it seems like it was only yesterday when he and Stephon Marbury were among the young duos that showed such promise. Steph, of course, belongs to the class of 1996.
The 1996 draft, personally, is my favorite draft, and is arguably the greatest draft class of all time.
I mean, just look at that photo.
The depth of this draft was insane. We mentioned the current Laker backcourt and Ray Allen (who was traded for Stephon that same night), and we haven’t even mentioned half of the other big names that came out of this year.
Allen Iverson is as iconic a name as it gets (his signature Reeboks have been retroing all year.) AI brought the Sixers back from oblivion, and was the consensus first overall pick (although imagine, what if Kobe was taken by his home team? They did work him out, but ultimately, it was always going to be Iverson.). Iverson’s best year was in 2001, when he won the MVP and led his Sixers to the Finals. And their Game 1 win versus the Lakers was the single blemish on an otherwise dominating playoff run by Los Angeles, who went on to post the best record in the playoffs by any team in NBA history.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim was a talented power forward in his young NBA years, but was plagued by right knee injuries. Antoine Walker was one-half of the Boston forward pairing with Paul Pierce back in the day, and had the craziest shimmy, ever. Lorenzen Wright, who the League still mourns due to an untimely and cruel murder, was a powerful defensive big man, and a notable pro. And Kerry Kittles, who was drafted behind him, was a solid shooting guard who teamed up with those Kidd-led New Jersey Nets teams that won two straight Eastern Conference Championships.
*A quick side-note with Kittles: Then-New Jersey Coach John Calipari almost drafted Kobe instead of Kittles. As a Laker fan, I thank you, Jerry West, for not letting that happen.
I am sure a lot of you remember Predrag Stojakovic. Or, simply, Peja.
Peja was a bad, bad boy. Deadly off-ball, Peja was a lethal shooter with an unorthodox form, and was the 14th pick in 1996.
And once upon a time, he was a part of the colossal Sacramento King team that was loaded with talent. Chris Webber was the main attraction, but he was surrounded by Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Bobby Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Jason Williams (later traded for Mike Bibby), and the man who was traded for Kobe Bryant on draft day, Vlade Divac. Scott Pollard was a nuisance under the boards, and their coach, Rick Adelman, had the misfortune of running into Phil Jackson time after time in the post season ever since 1992 in Portland.
Finally, three more notables from the 1996 Draft. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20th overall) was a 2-time NBA All-Star (2003, 2005), and this after experiencing painful injuries early in his career. Malik Rose (44th overall) was an important piece in the first two championship teams in San Antonio (1999, 2003). And, of course, Derek Fisher will go down as one of the most beloved Lakers of all time.
And not just because of this:
*A 5-time NBA Champion, Fisher just ended his season with the Oklahoma City Thunder after a very strong playoff performance.
The Western Conference was really the epitome of the NBA’s true strength in the 200o’s, with most of the stars from the 90′s kids playing on the same teams. The Mavericks had the two kids with the bad haircuts and turned them into MVP caliber players. It was a promising squad – Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash teamed up with Michael Finley in Don Nelson’s run-and-gun offense, and Juwan Howard who was showing some decline was still a serviceable big.
Dallas eventually wins one for Mark Cuban in 2011, and it would take a return of Jason Kidd as a Maverick, and a roster that includes little JJ Barea, Jason Terry, current Knicks Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak, Shawn Marion, Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal and, Peja Stojakovic.
(We already mentioned the Sacramento Queens.)
The Spurs are a model NBA franchise, and they have been incredible to the game.
Their organization now has stemmed in the form of General Managers and Coaches that are scattered around the League, and they are the premiere model for how a small market team should operate. They are responsible for four of the last decade’s championships (1998-99, 2002-03, 2004-05, 2006-07), and are currently looking to get number 5 as they are now up 2-0 in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
Kevin Pritchard (Indiana) Danny Ferry (formerly Cleveland, now with Atlanta), Lance Blanks (last year with Phoenix) and Sam Presti in Oklahoma (who was the brain that brought Tony Parker to San Antonio) have emerged as respected General Managers.
And guys such as Avery Johnson (stints in Dallas and NJ/Brooklyn), Mike Brown (victim of crazy firings from Cleveland and the Lakers, and now back with the Cavs for round 2), Jacque Vaughn (Orlando) and Vinny Del Negro (recently let go by the LA Clippers) were once under Pop’s coaching tutelage and have reached their own successes as head coaches.
They are another team that had relied on a great balance of talent, excellent coaching and reliable role players. In the first two title runs, the Spurs lauded their success with how their Twin Towers stood – Tim Duncan and an older but still proficient David Robinson. Avery Johnson was the “Little General” whose nickname said it all. And through the years they’ve had important pieces - Sean Elliott, Mario Elie and Jerome Kersey anchored the first two titles.
The next two saw the transition from the Twin Towers to the Big Three of Duncan, Parker, and Argentine super guard Emanuel Ginobili (see: Chuck scream).
They built around these three stars with excellent role players: the lockdown defender Bruce Bowen, point guard Speedy Claxton, scorers Stephen Jackson and Hedo Turkoglu (after his stint with Sacramento), the clutch former Bull Steve Kerr (who technically was there for the middle two championships), Steve Smith (post-Portland), former Laker Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry, and Danny Ferry.
By the way. Do you guys remember this?
(*I just can’t call them a dynasty. You have to win at least two in a row, and the Spurs have never done that.)
But, undoubtedly, the one team who should have been a dynasty was the Portland Trailblazers. From 1999-2002, their squad was one to admire, with the depth and talent that it had.
The 90′s kids on this squad? Rasheed Wallace, Greg Anthony (who had a part in those Knicks-Pacers wars, and was a very good point guard) Damon Stoudamire (who won the 1995-96 Rookie of the Year), Steve Smith a.k.a. ”Smitty” (who was also one of the biggest trash-talkers in the game), rebounding juggernaut Brian Grant, Bonzi Wells, a very dynamic scorer at the time, guard Derek Anderson (a smaller version of Smitty, but just as deadly), and Dale Davis, who was with Reggie and the Indiana Pacers in his early years. Oh yeah, and this dude Jermaine O’Neal rode the pine here in Portland (and, speaking of Indiana, he would later be the star on that team.)
They also drafted this kid Zach Randolph in 2001. (ZBo is presently going up against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 Western Conference Finals, and losing very, very badly at the moment with an 0-2 deficit).
Insanely talented, Portland looked like an All-Star team. And compared to the rest of the West on paper, really scary. Scottie Pippen was on this team. Arvydas Sabonis, who was one of the legendary Euro big men who first came to the game was such an excellent passer. Rod Strickland and Stacey Augmon were stars in various backcourts, and were now role players here.
And did I mention that “Reignman” was on this team, too? He wasn’t the same Shawn Kemp from years past, but he was still Shawn Kemp.
Like I said. Deep.
And thanks to how hard they pushed the LA Lakers in 1999-2000 season, the legend of the greatest one-two punch in NBA history was born (as Shaq claims it).
We all know about the beefing. The drama. Shaq versus Kobe. Kobe versus Phil. Shaq is overweight, Kobe should pass more. Hollywood. Blah, blah blah.
Tell me the last time anyone repeated, let alone three-peated since the Lakers.
Oh, that’s right, it was still the Lakers. (Post Shaq.)
These guys shouldn’t have won against the Blazers in 2000. But they did. In that triangle offense, they were perfect. It was a system predicated on interior penetration by dumping the basketball to Shaq time and time again, and they had shooters to space the floor.
And when all else failed, there was also the guy we now know as the Black Mamba.
It seems like it was eons ago – the kid wore #8, rocked the bicep band, had an afro and was signed with adidas. He was the young buck that everyone was trying to reign in. And his big brother was criticized for not being a great leader, after early playoff exit sweeps from San Antonio and Utah since coming to Los Angeles in 1996.
These were the early growing pains for the O’Neal-Bryant era. They fired Del Harris as the head coach and replaced him with former Laker Kurt Rambis. Cedric Ceballos was a Laker for a while, but eventually was traded for Robert Horry in 1996. And the following year, they sign former Celtic team captain Rick Fox. The Laker core was starting to take shape, with the two joining Derek Fisher as the three most important role players of this dynasty.
Sorry, Mike Penberthy.
It would be in 1999-2000 when they turn it around. The first full season after the lockout year, the Lakers acquire some heavy pieces. They bring in the Zen Master from a quick hiatus, along with his trusted sidekick Tex Winter, and his point guard from the last Chicago three-peat, Ron Harper. Three important roster personnel were also added in Brian Shaw, John Salley and A.C. Green. They had already received sharp shooter Glen Rice, point guard B.J. Armstrong (another former Chicago Bull) and big man J.R. Reid from the year before via trade for their versatile swingman Eddie Jones and center Elden Campbell. (B.J. was waived by the Lakers on the same day.) The following season, after Green and Rice leave the team, Phil reunites with his old power forward, Horace Grant.
The result? Three straight championships. Shaquille O’Neal becomes only the third player to win the All-Star, Finals and Regular Season MVP honors in 2000 (Willis Reed and Michael Jordan are the others). They post the greatest postseason run in NBA history during their first title defense, going 15-1 (the only loss from Allen Iverson and the Sixers). And they become the first franchise to win at least two straight since Phil Jackson’s Bulls. But you already knew that.
One of the most gratifying moments as a Laker fan was delivered by Big Shot Bob. Sac-town fans, this is for your viewing pleasure.
I still wonder what happened in 2003. LA lost to the Spurs in the second round (who would become the eventual champions after defeating the New Jersey Nets in the Finals). A sad blip on the radar, because they could have won four straight.
In 2004, Kobe in Denver happened. The ugliness of the sexual assault trial mired the latest coup that the Lakers and Mitch Kupchak completed. They sign, for measly veteran minimums, two then-Future Hall of Famers in Gary Payton and Karl Malone. They also draft second generation NBA player Luke Walton and “stretch-four” Brian Cook.
Imagine that. Four future Hall of Famers on the same team.
But there was this one game that I still remember well. They were playing Denver, Kobe was late to the game due to his trial in Colorado, and it was all the more vivid because of this, and because of how it ended - see 5:10 below.
There’s a few moving parts in this game. This was the season that the draft class was comparable to 1996. And in the said draft, a certain Carmelo Anthony was taken by Denver, but was a mere third overall pick. He would be playing in this game – his first in LA versus the Lakers.
Names like LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were among the new freshmen with Anthony. James alone was hyped up like no other rookie phenom – (a 7-year, $90 Million contract with Nike days after they ink Kobe for a mere $40 Million for five).
*I mention Darko because, well, Joe Dumars messed that up for Detroit.
Oh, and the other notable name who was in this game? (In my best Stephen A. Smith impersonation): Sla-va Med-vuh-den-ko.
They should have won this year. It would have been redemption all around. Redemption for Kobe, whose career and marketability seemingly flushed down the toilet. Redemption for the Glove and the Mailman, who were chasing rings at the end of their career. Redemption for Shaq, who unfortunately rushed too quickly from a toe injury, and was never the same dominant player after.
And redemption for Coach Phil Jackson, who had never lost in the Finals until this season. He instead was asked to leave the team right after 2004, and the dynasty seemed like it was over.
I don’t want to take anything from that 2004 Detroit team. They earned that championship. They were a collection of misfits, and sometimes, David does win a couple.
Joe Dumars’ one and only championship kept his job maybe a couple of years longer than he should have had it. Passing on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade is a real head-scratcher. But he did have a young Tayshaun Prince, the best catch-and-shoot guard since Reggie Miller in Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups was a point guard who came into is own after being a journeyman early in his career, and Ben Wallace was an undrafted undersized center who hustled his way on the All-Star team.
Oh, and the final piece: Rasheed comes as the main post option, and they roll through the playoffs to their first championship since Isaiah and the Bad Boys in the late 80′s.
Shaq, as his contract expires in 2004, demands for an extension that was too steep. Kobe would get a lot of flak that he drove Shaq off the team, but he had his own contract negotiations going on, and it didn’t help that Phil left the team and ripped Kobe in an upcoming memoir.
O’Neal gets traded to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant. Karl goes back to Utah to announce his retirement, after mulling one more stint with either the Knicks or the Spurs. And Gary and Rick Fox get traded to Boston.
A year after a Finals loss with Stan Van Gundy as the Heat coach (in 2005), GP follows Shaq to MIA, and they win a championship with Heat President-turned-coach-again Pat Riley, Alonzo Mourning (the franchise’s first star center – Rony Seikaly doesn’t count!), Antoine Walker, Udonis Haslem, James Posey (who would later win with the 2008 Celtics, too), Jason “Whit Eboy” Williams and the kid Shaq called Flash/his Michael Corleone. They would beat Dallas in six.
Meanwhile, the Lakers go into free fall after ’04. It was a rebuilding year in 2005, when they hire former Houston Rocket coach and 2-time champion Rudy Tomjanovic. Only, he becomes too sick to coach this horrendous Laker team and they miss the playoffs for the fifth time in franchise history (the last time was in 1993-1994).
They bring back Phil, after he wrote the book that pissed off Mamba. Kobe had the game of his life that year (see below video), despite being saddled with Kwame Brown (whom they traded Caron Butler to Washington for), and Smush Parker (a former Fordham Ram).
They had some young kids on the team, but they were a year or two from being ready. Jordan Farmar was a local college standout, and a young Sasha Vujacic was a far cry from “The Machine” that would seal a 2010 Game 7 championship with two freethrows (and the iconic eyebrow touch-up).
Thankfully, Kwame Brown turns into Pau Gasol, another gem of a theft by Mitch Kupchak. (Even Phil Jackson was in disbelief with how that happened.)
I’m just not sure the Lakers knew what they were losing when they added the rights to Marc Gasol (Pau’s younger brother) in the deal. Marc, at the moment, is enjoying #1 status as the best center in the game today.
Pau comes to Los Angeles after many losing years in Memphis, a renaissance man such as himself growing frustrated and homesick. And the former first overall pick and Rookie of the Year instantly puts the Lakers back into playoff contention.
They also acquire athletic swingman Trevor Ariza from Orlando, who instantly endears himself to the fans. A former UCLA Bruin like Farmar, getting Ariza was a brilliant move by Kupchak, dumping the $3 Million salary of Brian Cook and getting another reliable wing defender who can score.
(*To this day, I still believe that while Ron Artest/Metta World Peace did win Game 7 for LA in 2010, Mitch still should have kept Trevor Ariza, even if it meant overpaying a bit. The guy is wasting away in Washington, and he’s too good of a role player. And, the last time they saw him, he kicked their butts in Staples.)
They get back the old running mate of Bryant, Derek Fisher, who had requested a release from Utah due to his daughter’s illness.
Fish had just played his heart out in the last playoff run. And with Los Angeles as a city that specialized in his daughter’s condition, it was a no-brainer for Fish to come back home.
Kobe was re-defining his marketability. He came into the season demanding a trade, but calmed down and was soon optimistic when he saw signs that the young Lakers were finally ready to compete.
It started with the number change.
But it was really the coup they had with Pau that was the game changer. It meant three straight Finals appearances, and two straight championships after losing to Boston in the initial Finals run. That, and the improvement of the young bucks.
Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic were finally ready. Ronny Turiaf, coming from a heart operation was ready. Andrew Bynum was showing signs of promise as a go-to post option.
And, they got this kid Shannon Brown, who had some crazy hops. Evidence from his first game as a Laker.
A lot of history there. I hope I didn’t forget too much. This was an awesome time to be a basketball fan, when the League seemed to have parity, but were also witnesses to some of the most dominant players ever.
The decade of the 2000s when the 90′s kids ruled was amazing, and they succeeded in carrying the torch after the Magic/Bird/Jordan Era.
(Even when MJ made his quick little comeback as a Wizard. But we won’t get to that.)
Remember Tracy McGrady’s 13 points in 35 seconds?
Or, the ABSOLUTE GREATEST DUNK CONTEST OF ALL TIME? Vince Carter in the And1 Tai Chi. Just epic.
Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis could have won any other year, but their performances made the contest that much spectacular.
(Thank you, Air Canada. Not just for gracing us with your aerial mastery, but for dunking on Frédéric Weis, whose Knick career you ended before it even began. There should be a damn statue outside the Raptor’s home arena for Vince Carter.)
And now, we are here. It’s 2013. Where do we stand with our old 90′s kids?
To me, it is still amazing how year after year, the Spurs are written off, and yet they are still standing. The Lakers seemingly find new ways to revamp themselves. And I mention these two right off the top because of who their stars are. Tim and Kobe have been the most consistent winners, and the two best players in their generation. Kobe will be back, and Tim looks like he can go on for a couple more years. He was such a beast this season. (Especially per 48 minutes.)
Tracy McGrady finally gets out of the first round. I remember once when he got injured in the playoffs with Houston and said, “I’ll be back, I’m still young.” I wonder if he remembers that. Yao Ming and TMac is another shoulda-woulda-coulda pair, just like how TMac was with Grant Hill. And imagine if Tim Duncan went with them to Orlando. That almost happened.
Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter most likely go for another two, three years… maybe? Dirk already said he’s open to re-structuring his deal. Although unless he gets a player like Chris Paul to come to Dallas, and with the way Miami seems to be a dynasty in the making, he most probably stays a one-time champion.
The Celtics look like they’re ready to rebuild, and perhaps we saw this coming when they alienated Ray Allen so bad that he went to the enemy. Now, he’s likely to get ring number 2.
The Knicks pretty much collected the majority of the active 90s kids. Sheed is done. Kidd might be done, as well as Camby and Kurt Thomas. Even their rookie was old, Paolo Prigioni, and seemingly he will not return next season.
It won’t be a surprise if Grant Hill shuts it down. Same thing with Jermaine O’Neal. Maybe Chauncey Billups and Rip, too. Early rumors that Chauncey could be the next Clipper coach have come up. It sounds far-fetched, but crazier things have happened.
For Laker fans, it will be a painful thing to watch how the team would bounce back. Steve Nash looks like he’s done. They made the wrong decision in hiring Mike D’Antoni, as any reasonable person in the world would probably agree with, and if they think that the run they made in the second half of the season was because of his “coaching brilliance,” they’re buying fools’ gold.
The free agent they’re trying to sign is probably the most overrated center in NBA history, and that includes Sam Bowie and Greg Oden. Dwight Howard probably won’t come back, and he shouldn’t. The Lakers won’t win titles with him as the centerpiece. And it is that much more trying that these are the last years we get to see the brilliance of Kobe Bryant, who surely will have an even more noticeable decline in performance after that Achilles injury.
This is the twilight years of the 90′s kids. It is a pretty surreal feeling, when a lot of the new kids in the league are younger than you are.
This is LeBron’s league now, and it is truly the era of hybrid players – big, fast and strong. He shares that torch with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert. These players are now the alphas, and it is exciting to see how they make history.
This is an even bigger global game now, with the world’s interest in the sport continuing to grow. And, the number of players coming in from different countries is growing as well.
The game we love is in good hands, and the future looks bright.
The 90′s kids made us all proud.