The End of an Era

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers

-Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

 

The NBA is going to look very different next season, as two of its superstars are retiring–Kobe Bryant and as of Monday, Tim Duncan.

Bryant and Duncan have been around for what feels like forever. Their playoff clashes on the court during the early to mid-2000s seemed just like yesterday. The comparisons between the two can easily fuel a ‘who-is-better?’ conversation for hours.

Out of the last 18 championships, they amount for 10 of them–five for Kobe and another five for Duncan.

San Antonio was fortunate to have Duncan for 19 seasons. Los Angeles was blessed to have 20 years of Bryant–the only player to have spent more seasons with one team than Duncan.

Next season will have a different feel to it, with the Lakers losing its iconic face of the franchise for two decades and the Spurs saying farewell to the one player that has been a part of all five of their NBA championship teams.

Not only will the league and its fans miss seeing the two long-time stars suit up for their respective teams, but they also represent the end of an era.

We’re not talking about the Lakers-Spurs rivalry, their accomplishments, or their legacy in regards to their respective franchises–but rather how they represent a dying breed.

Bryant spent his whole NBA career in the purple and gold, while Duncan did the same for the black and silver. They will be Hall of Famers who built their names and legacies with only one team.

It is a custom that we won’t be seeing anymore.

This has become more apparent with this summer’s free agency. The new collective bargaining agreement results in an increased salary cap next season, so you can expect an even bigger earthquake to shake up the NBA landscape.

NBA players are quick to dash for cash and join other teams in hopes of chasing highly coveted championship rings.

It’s hurting the brilliance of the game.

Kevin Durant was handed the keys to the kingdom in Oklahoma City, helping the Thunder become a legitimate championship contender, as it transitioned into its new identity after leaving Seattle.

Most never saw him leaving, but he couldn’t resist the temptation to jump ship for the Golden State Warriors, who have made it the finals in each of the last two seasons. He will have a new home for the first time in his career, after spending the first nine seasons with Seattle-Oklahoma City.

Cleveland’s prodigal son, LeBron James, did the same in 2010. The hometown hero abandoned the Cavaliers after multiple playoff disappointments, bolting for Miami to chase rings and to team up with two other superstars.

He reeled in two championships in four NBA Finals appearances with the Heat. While he was successful in his quest, pundits argued that he took the easy route to a title by teaming up with stars. Durant is facing similar criticism, jumping ship for a team that just set a season-record 73 wins this year and boasts three other All-NBA players.

Dwyane Wade seemed like he was the man at Miami but a two-year deal worth $47.5 million to bring him to Chicago was too good for him to pass.

Sometimes, it’s not about long-time players wishing to leave on their own accord. Paul Pierce was dealt away to Brooklyn after 15 years with Boston. Since then, he has also made it to Washington and Los Angeles. It still feels strange to not see him don the green and white.

As heartbreaking as it may be for those cities to say goodbye to the stars they watched grow and root for, can you be totally angry at these players?

After all, it happens all the time, and you don’t need to be a NBA star to know it. Haven’t we all left a job at some point for a more enticing and lucrative one?

Unfortunately, it is this instant gratification amongst NBA players that’s killing the quality of the league. Why battle through long regular seasons just to continuously fail in the playoffs?

Durant proved the old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” to be true.

We’re currently witnessing the arms race between Golden State and Cleveland, the top team in the west and the east, respectively. Being a championship contender is enough to woo anyone to come join the cause.

Superstars are teaming up to run the show and there will be an even greater disparity between teams as the years go by. The NBA will soon be ruled by only a select handful of teams.

If you were tired of seeing the same teams go deep into the playoffs, be prepared to see even more of it.

Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who spent all 13 years of his career at Boston, couldn’t see himself teaming up with his rivals when he played.

“I know back in the day, I couldn’t imagine going to the Lakers and playing with Magic Johnson. I’d rather try to beat him,” said Bird, in a Sirius XM NBA Radio interview. “I could never imagine myself going and joining another team with great players, because I had great players and I was in a great situation.”

It’s sending the wrong message to young basketball players at courts in parks across the country, that it’s okay to take the easy way out and to give up when something becomes too difficult. It is acceptable to be a cog in a synthetic machine of other great players, as opposed to trying to shine individually as a star that’s trying to make a name for himself in a quest for basketball immortality.

Obviously, winning is a lot more fun than losing. However, doesn’t it feel even greater to accomplish a task after grinding it out for years?

Dirk Nowitzki didn’t see his first and only NBA Championship to date until he was just about to turn 33. He was in his 13th season when the Dallas Mavericks won it all in 2011, beating the artificially assembled ‘Big Three’ of the Miami Heat.

Nowitzki, now 38, has played 18 seasons for the Mavericks and currently has a contract to keep him in place for the next couple of years.

After Nowitzki, only four other active NBA players have played at least 10 years with just one team–San Antonio’s Tony Parker (15) and Manu Ginobili (14), Miami’s Udonis Haslem (13), and Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison (12).

Parker and Ginobili have been important assets to the Spurs, earning spots on the All-Star team at various points in their careers. Meanwhile, Haslem and Collison have played secondary roles.

However, given this day and age, at some point they may follow the trend of older players on the brink of retirement who join a championship contending team in hopes of one last shot at another ring.

The concept of loyalty has been blurred by NBA stars as of late.

Fans should cherish what they have now and not put too much hope on the future. Time is fleeting and the desire to win or make money is trumping the value of loyalty.

Until Nowitzki hangs up his Mavericks jersey and calls it a career, Duncan and Bryant retire as some of the best to ever set foot onto a basketball court. Not only because of their statistics and accolades that they accumulated over the years, but also for becoming legendary with just one team–a sad reality that we may never see again from future NBA stars to come.

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