For many sports fans, the "Golden Age" of the NBA started with Bird versus Magic and culminated with Jordan hitting a game winning shot over Byron Russell in the '98 NBA Finals. Without question, it's hard to argue that claim. Sure, the NBA's "Golden Age" was built by the likes of the above mentioned Bird, Magic and Jordan, but the Association was littered with exciting stars throughout the league. From Clyde "The Glyde" Drexler in the Great Northwest to Sir Patrick at MSG or "The Human Highlight Film" in A-Town and Shaq and "Penny" in the wonderful world of Disney, the NBA was working on all cylinders throughout the mid 80's and 90's. Even perennial cellar dwellers like the Dallas Mavericks had "The Triple J's" or the Golden State Worriers with "RUN T.M.C.". There's no denying the state of basketball and the Association during that time, but today's NBA is certainly on the cusp of rivalling that time. Just think about it. Even the L.A. Clippers are actually palatable now.
One issue that has plagued the NBA over the past decade has been the lack of true superstars throughout the NBA. This could be for a number of reasons, but I attribute much of this problem to the influx of high school players into the league. Simply put, the vast majority of prep stars are not ready both physically and mentally for the NBA. Sure, I'm not going to argue one bit that players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett haven't achieved their full potential, but there have been far more that haven't. Say what you want about the one year removed from high school rule, but it's apparent that the vast majority of NBA prospects need a few semesters of higher learning to develop leadership, basketball IQ, fundamentals and physically. Not all, but many players need to go through a progression to develop both basketball and mental skills. It seems the influx of potential talent during the end of the 90's and the beginning of the last decade has hurt the development of that potential and thus, the NBA.
Fortunately for us fans, the state of the NBA game has been improved somewhat by young players who are forced to develop at a slightly slower rate than just being thrown into the fire that is professional basketball. I would argue that prep players should have to wait two full years before they can enter the NBA. I believe that would improve the NBA product even further. It's a matter of requirements/experience for a job posting, but this is really an issue for another post, the NBA CBA or at the very least, maybe Facebook.
The one to two years that prep stars are serving in the collegiate ranks seems to be paying off, but it's not the only change that is ushering in a new "Golden Age" in the NBA. Quite simply, LeBron has a huge affect on the state of the Association. Just like Jordan, Magic and Bird did in their day (Ok, not quiet like those greats, but close). Look, I'm not saying LeBron is better or even as good as either one of those three all-time greats. Although he should be, he simply doesn't have the same fire and competitiveness as many of the greats, but he does have mass appeal. We all tuned in to "The Decision" several months ago to not only see what the fate of the Cavaliers franchise was, but also the NBA. Lebron has brought emotion back to the NBA fan and casual sports fan. For example, I despise Team South Bitch and Prince James. However, the fact of the matter is whether you like him or not, LeBron matters.
Although many of the stars and superstars may not have the same mass appeal as Lebron, the placement of those stars is important. It's always a good thing when a league's biggest markets have stars and successful teams, and that's no different for the NBA. My Knickerbockers have a little swagger back at MSG with Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton in the "Big Apple". Although I'm not much of a fan of his intensity or a lack of winning attitude, D-Rose is putting up MVP like numbers in Chi-Town. Kobe is Kobe in the city of glitz and glamour. Dirk is holding court in "Big D", and "Durantuala" is bringing big time hoops to the Mid-west. The big cities are hoppin' with hoops.
My final point on the second coming of the NBA's "Golden Age" has to do with attendance. Since 2005, the NBA's average league wide attendance has steadily climbed to or hovered right around 17,500. Attendance during the '08-'09 season did fall by 2.0%, but remember, we are in a recession (You can see this years attendance numbers thus far by clicking here). I'm guessing the numbers are going to level off for a bit until we fully recover from the recession. Important to note, the fact that attendance numbers have not tanked since the recession hit back in late '08 is a testament to the resurgence of the product on NBA courts today.
Yes, the NBA is poised for a "Golden Age" out on those hardwood courts. New rivalries are being forged, there are plenty of current and future stars around the league and sports fans are getting excited (at least this fan is) about the product. So enjoy the NBA's new "Golden Age" and of course… "Every Bounce of the Ball".