The NBA is better when teams in medium and small markets are playing great, and that has been shown in this year’s NBA Finals. Obviously, the hope is that the major players are driving sales as well, but do not overlook the importance or entertainment of “the others.”
The 2021 NBA Finals consists of one team that has never won a championship and is making its first appearance since 1993, the Phoenix Suns; and the other team that has not been to the Finals since 1974 and has not won since 1971, the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Phoenix Suns have a player nicknamed “Point God,” Chris Paul, who is basketball’s fifth-highest assist man and steals-leader. CP3 is revered as a top-five point guard of all time and is the President of the NBA Players Association, reflecting his standing amongst his peers.
Phoenix also has one of the most exciting young talents to ever enter the league in Devin Booker; the former Kentucky Wildcat once scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics in his second professional season at 20-years old. He plays with the intensity of a 1980’s enforcer, has the shooting touch of a new-age guard, and the mindset of his mentor and idol, Kobe Bryant.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks somehow inconspicuously have a back-to-back Most Valuable Player award-winner and Defensive Player of the Year in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has incredible athleticism at his size, the likes of which have not been seen before.
The Bucks also have Khris Middleton, a two-time All-Star at their disposal, who on his day looks like the second coming of Kevin Durant. Middleton is one of 17 players drafted in the second round to make an All-Star appearance and has hit 50 points in a game before, yet nobody seems to mention his name with the other elite forwards in the game.
For years, basketball fans complained that super teams were ruining the NBA; whether it was Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen on the Boston Celtics, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat, or Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green on the Golden State Warriors, the dominance of the same teams “ruined basketball.”
Now that basketball fans have been presented with their conference champions, however, they seem to have switched their tune— now, the excuse is that because the fan-favorites are gone, the playoffs either do not count or are irrelevant.
While injuries have definitely taken their toll on most teams, they are an inevitable part of the game. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their first championship against a Los Angeles Lakers team that was dealing with injuries to Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Byron Scott; in 2015, the Warriors captured their first title in 40 years largely because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were unavailable for Cleveland; somehow, those series have been forgotten in history.
The bottom line is this: television ratings soared up for Game One between the Suns and Bucks by 15.5% compared to Game One of last year’s Finals, which had taken a nosedive from the years prior. Clearly, having small-market teams in the championship round is not so bad after all, especially if they are attracting more sets of eyes than a LeBron James-Anthony Davis pairing on the Lakers managed to.
Having parity in basketball is what creates the highest level of competition and enjoyment; for those people saying that basketball has gone soft with the super teams, get out there and cheer for Devin Booker and the Suns like people used to for Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers, or go support Giannis like he is just a modern-day Alex English, historically great players that led their underdog teams against the best of their eras.
The only true way to bring basketball to its competitive peak is to encourage competition at every level, not just when your favorite team is winning.
Having small-market teams in the NBA Finals is good for basketball; get over it.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.