All the cool guys start trends, or so I’ve heard. The kinds of guys who wear Wayfarers at night, the kind that make sure they hit up Fashion Week whenever they’re on strike, the kind that secretly date movie stars because they kind of think they’re above that sort of thing. The kind that all decide to team up in Miami on a whim. Those are the ones who have ushered in a new era of NBA basketball, at least according to their second-most famous ball-handler, Dwyane Wade. Last week, he announced that he and his two fellow cohorts in the Big Triumvirate had initiated a new movement in professional basketball: the era of the Superhero Team-Up. As Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh go, the relentless vogue-setters they are, so goes the NBA. What for months millions of fans around the world have lamented, sobbed over and cried foul on, Wade now calls the obvious next step for a league apparently shaken to its very core by a few young, almost-infinitely powerful young black men calling their own shot. Yes, everything we have ever feared was true: they wanted to play together, players sometimes make decisions based on things other than raw cash amounts and getting players to stay at any organization will require coaxing and venerable leadership. Wait, so what trend did the Heat start? And why are we so scared of it?
The moment LeBron did the thing he did and partook in the entire world’s revulsion, a paradigm shift occurred, even as the plates beneath our feet stood still. Mere weeks later, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire laughed off the concept of an AAU-like run in New York, and ever since, essentially any superstar not locked into an 12-year-deal has been floated around in trade talks in hopes of igniting another Miami Heat in some major market somewhere (and for the 85th gajillionth time, Miami is no major media market. Pretty girls and beaches just live there). In the shuffling about that took place last midseason, the seeds of the Superteams appeared planted, as Melo took his talents to the Manhattan Project in blue & orange, while surprise guest Deron Williams found himself the subject of endless “Brooklyn Net” Photoshop jobs in hopes that the very image of the league’s second-best point god in the semi-inspiring uniform will remind future free agent prospects that future Nets home games will be played outside of Newark. The leak had begun, and the new world order would soon reign over all. Cue dystopic symphony, prepare for the five-team epoch.
But that fear’s validity holds up like velour in a thunderstorm because this has been a league of super squads before this Frankensteinian patchwork of Superfriends, and the L will gladly survive this one. The 82-83 Los Angeles Lakers possessed a frightful four Hall-of-Famers. Twenty years worth of Celtics teams cornered the market on “defensive-minded”, “crafty” and “having three of the 10 best players in the league”, all in completely different decades. The beginning of this batch of hundred years featured a twosome that proved almost completely unfair when measured against its competition, only to be felled by its own arrogance and indolence, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal standing as a couple of titans whose influence over a league of their inferiors could be reasonably compared to that of Bron and Wade’s. Yes, the league generally bends to the will of these powerhouse franchises, but not once has the integrity, much less the quality, of the game been harmed by a few basketball geniuses suiting up in the same mesh shorts a few 100 or so times a year. Instead, these teams redefine their surroundings, generally encapsulating the most prominent, representative ball of the era. The ineffable fluidity of the 70′s Knicks’ halfcourt offense defined their moment(s) in the sun, while the constantly fluctuating, probing attack of Phil Jackson’s Triangle gave definition to a Bulls offense that was too often attributed to Michael first, second and 15th. These Heat, as hideous as they could be at times, seemed to mark the progression of the convert-point-guard, the man whose finds everyone only because he was deigned great enough to get his own so easily it seems almost sinful. With them, we would enter the promised land of True Shooting Percentage and Usage Rates, when the most boring, mind-numbing factors to our game would be celebrated as the game-changing factors they’ve always been.
The scarier truth, though, is that the truest reason that Wade is wrong, and that no seismic twist has rearranged the sport as we know it, is likely that there was no path to follow, as the Miami Heat didn’t win anything. Conference Finals, yes, true and true, but in the real NBA that will exist after this miserable excuse of a lockout expires, how many teams will have the capability to build one of these Hydras? Even the Knicks and Nets, whose ostensible sole purpose appeared to be adding big names to glom on to those already in place, look to be beggars in a market that will likely favor the small-market organization hoping to retain its star power. The new NBA landscape that Wade envisions simply doesn’t exist other than in some endorsement deal’s wet dreams, making his observation less of an admission of guilt and more of a stab at relevance in the face of recent defeat.
No, the NBA Wade hopes to have created doesn’t quite exist yet. Because as Dwyane Wade sees stars aligning in similar patterns to he and his pals in the Justice League of Miami, the rest of the L watched the Finals this June, as a single star and a collection of disparate yet intelligently crafted parts struck a chord of brilliance. Wade is right in his assumption that this is a league of observers, keeping keen eyes on those who might be determining the road for the champions of the future; he just may have the wrong team.