I’ve come to believe that I don’t have to worry about football not happening this year, but I’m afraid I’m a long ways from feeling that about basketball. I’ve only got my ear semi-firmly pressed to the ground when it comes to sports chatter, but the majority of news you hear about the NFL is that a deal will ultimately get done. The debate seems to be more about how much training camp time will get cut and at most, will we lose any preseason games? On the NBA front, it’s more about whether they’ll lose a half or a whole season. I am confident that it’s now time for us to prepare for a significantly shortened 2011-2012 season. A great way to do that is to revisit the last season in which a work stoppage wiped out half the season. 1998 saw no basketball games played until February of 99, and when play finally resumed, it was a pretty dreadful season. The Kings were the top scoring team, and the only one to average triple digits, with an enormous 100.2 ppg. Nine or ten teams averaged less than 90 ppg. It’s safe to say that the rust showed. But a few things happened that turned out to set major changes of the tides in motion in the NBA that season. Can we expect similar changing of the guards this season? Let’s revisit some of the top storylines from the 1999 season…
The Spurs won their first NBA Championship, and of course, they’d go on to win three more after that. It was their second year with the short-lived twin towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. The Spurs were contenders in the years before, with the exception of the lost season of 96-97, which enabled them to land Tim Duncan in the draft. The strike-shortened 1999 season was just what they needed to get over the hump. The Spurs have been a dynasty ever since. In fact, 1999 was the last time the Spurs failed to win 50 games in a season. That’s tough to do when they only played 50 games that year.
Who could it be this year? Maybe the Cavaliers, perhaps? They spent the decade building a contender, but then their star player was lost. It only took the Spurs one year to turn it around, so why should we expect anything different from Cleveland? Like San Antonio, they were fortunate enough to land the number one pick and get a sure-fire franchise player. Or, do you disagree? Add to that, they had the fourth pick too, and got a perennial all-star there. Oh, don’t like that one either? Alright, so maybe they’re a longer shot to win it all this year, but I bet there will be one similarity there. Antawn Jamison’s 11-12 season will look a lot like Sean Elliott’s 98-99 year.
Michael Jordan was no longer there. His Airness retired after notching a second three-peat from 96 to 98. The Bulls immediately fell to the bottom of the standings, losing an unprecedented 37 games in the shortened season. That’s the most losses in a season they had since 1987. Fans and media immediately started searching for the next Jordan. Would it be 5, 10, 20 years before the next Jordan came along? Where are we at now…
Jordan still isn’t here. I think Kobe came pretty close there for a while, but until he gets another title, people will probably always point to the 6-5 championship edge for Jordan. Even if it gets tied up, winning rings with Shaq / Pau arguably has a lesser degree of difficulty than having Pippen as your next best guy. In the meantime, we can pretty much write off Lebron James and Dwyane Wade until further notice. They proved in this year’s finals that they won’t be producing any Jordanesque highlights in the closing seconds of games in the quantities that he did. Dirk’s “clutch” stock skyrocketed this year, but to be the next Jordan, you gotta do dunk contests, not three point shootouts. Though he did rock the tongue out like Jordan in this year’s finals.
Jason Williams took the league by storm. I’ve always felt that J-Will doesn’t get credited enough for his part in winning back the league’s fans. He came into the league as the seventh pick by the Kings and immediately started cranking out must see highlights. He was doing things that no one had really seen on the court to that point. In a year where the pace of play was at an all-time low, J-Will sped the pace up, and he MADE people watch. Practically overnight, his jersey became the biggest selling in the country. It helped that he got to play with newcomers Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, but he definitely played a key role in getting a franchise turned around and become a contender for years to come. I remember 1998 being called a weak draft, much like this year’s installment. Can anyone in this also weak draft class make a similar impact on the league and his franchise?
For the first time since the 1998 draft that produced Jason Williams, the Kings were to select seventh this year. There was no obvious pick, much like 98, so they took a gamble. Only this time it was on someone that already had a little more accompanying fanfare than the relatively unknown Williams had. It’s not too far fetched to imagine that Jimmer Fredette, depending on how his rookie season goes, could wind up being the hottest selling jersey in the league. I envision close to 80% of those sales coming the kids sizes, but I could see him being this year’s must see TV and help soften the blow of a lockout season. He doesn’t have the flashy ball-handling skills that J-Will had, but he has something of his own that no player has had in our lifetimes: his own range. Most rookies have to worry about adjusting to the distance of the NBA three point line. Not Jimmer. The new three point line isn’t even in Jimmer Range. Hopefully the pro game won’t force him to reel it in a bit, much like it did with Williams a few years in, because the 30 foot three bomb is the short white guy’s slam dunk. If Jimmer starts dropping 3 or 4 of those each night, every short white guy in America will be watching his games. Throw in the Mormon population, and the fact that he’s one of those guys you can’t find any reason to hate – unless he just torched your team for 40 or 50 points – the NBA could very well have it’s next lockout-shortened-season-savior.