Why the NBA was great in the 1980s

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile. Not really sure why. But I’m back now.

In my time away, I’ve had a chance to think more about what LeBron James said about the NBA needing to contract teams – mentioning the Minnesota Timberwolves – in an effort to create more super-teams like the league had in the 1980s. That was a decade most would call the “Golden Age” of the NBA.

I don’t disagree with James’ statement, though I think it’s in his best interest to keep opinions like that to himself. Certainly, that’s not something the Players’ Association wants to hear him say.

The NBA more than any other league struggles with parity. Dating back to 1984, the NBA has had only seven different franchises win a championship. If the ultimate goal of every team is to win it all, there’s some problems there that haven’t been resolved for a lot of the league’s teams.

But what also made the NBA great in the 1980s was the star players. Think about it. Magic’s Lakers. Jordan’s Bulls. Bird’s Celtics. Those players were synonymous with their teams.

So I think it’s easy for LeBron to point to the Timberwolves or New Jersey Nets and say that such-and-such team would be better if it had Kevin Love, so let’s get rid of the Wolves. But back in the 1980s, the star players didn’t opt to not be the man.

I don’t have any problem at all with LeBron choosing to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a super team. He’s entitled to do what he wants. But the NBA wasn’t like that in the 1980s.

Sure, Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. There was plenty of talent on those Bulls teams. But he won titles with Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley as starters. Craig Hodges and John Paxson logged significant minutes. Good players, of course. But not stars. Jordan made those players around him better. He made them a great team, a 72-win team.

That desire just doesn’t seem to be there anymore with many of today’s stars.

7 thoughts on “Why the NBA was great in the 1980s

  1. if you’re a sports video game dork like me, you’d love NBA2K11. 86 Celtics, the 86 Bulls, the 89 Cavs, the 89 Bulls, 91 Lakers, the 91 Bulls, 92 Blazers, the 92 Bulls, the 95 Knicks, the 95 Bulls, 96 Sonics, 96 Bulls and the the 97 & 98 Jazz and Bulls.

    Legit rosters, same uniforms from that era. Same courts from that era. It is just awesome. Im more of a fan of the 90s NBA, a little too young for the 80s. I’ve hardly played with the current teams.

    I love it when ESPN Classic plays NBA games from the 80s and 90s. They need to do that more often!

  2. I’m with you. A little too young to be a big 1980s NBA fan, but I was a big fan of the 1990s NBA. Grew up cheering for Shaq, Penny and the Orlando Magic. After that team broke up, I turned into a KG/Wolves fan.

  3. Statements and opinions of ‘why’ the NBA was great in the 80′s are too often just cloudy memories of years past. Yes they were the years of Bird and Magic but any peroid of history has much more going on than what ‘sticks out ‘! and such analysis of the whys and whats of an era always should be done by looking at the whole picture , which is seldom done. Yeah whenever the Celtics and Lakers did something then , it got the most attention . But the health of a sport does not rest primarily on the “cream ‘ ! The cream has to churn from a much larger situation. If the country does not have ‘interesting’ teams all well represented in every major metropolis , sports fans would hardly have the same fascination with the game. When Bird and the Celtics came to other cities , the fans would be thrilled by the great games , not by the great stars just draining in the baskets. If Bird didn’t have beat the great efforts of a George Gervin , for instance , in San Antonio , why would any one in Texas give a crap about what the Celtics did elsewhere. But who remembers a Gervin today! And if a team does not have a ” sucess’ every once in the while , any sport as a whole won’t be healthy nationally. How healthy would baseball be today in Kansas City if they never had that World Series , Or Milwaukee , or the TWINS ! 1987 and 1991 . Fan bases are built on those memories! Yeah the Yankees get the buzz , but they can’t buzz on a empty stage. Larry Holmes was one the greatest boxers of all time , but why does no one care. One reason is that he didn’t have the Fraziers and the Nortons and the Listons etc. to engage him. Bird and Magic did have very good (great) teams and athletes to compete against ( Erving ) .
    And the sporting public was not as fractured then as it is today . A fan or entertainmet seeker , had about 10 good options to amuse themselves then , today there are at least 100! Lebron should bite his tongue . Without the Minneapolis ‘s or San Antonio’s, Lebron’s place on the national stage would even be more challenged for the country’s attention , or he could always go the scandal route , that sure worked for Kobe.

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