Star Power Back in NBA Finals
Any gen-xer (1964-1982) will tell you the 80s and 90s were the golden era of the NBA. Things got so bleak in the 70s that the Finals were aired on a tape delay. Like the deus ex machina from ancient Greek tragedies, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came in from college to save the drug riddled NBA. Bird and Magic first met in the finals in 1982, and it was must see TV. Both teams were loaded with stars and hated each other.
As the 80s wore on, Jordan and Isiah took the torch from Bird and Magic. Jordan carried the 90s with his unparalleled brand of basketball. Even in Jordan's two year absence Olajuwon vs. Ewing and Olajuwon vs. a young Shaq were interesting enough to fill the void.
Jordan retired before the 1999 season, and there was a void the size of the Grand Canyon. The new millennium ushered in the NBA's 'hip hop' era. Because of the obvious racial undertones I refuse to call this the 'thug' era even though Latrell Sprewell and the entire Portland 'Jail Blazer' team make it quite tempting. By 2000 the crop of young stars had grown up with hip hop and rap music, and this was reflected in their play, dress, and attitude. This turned off a good portion of white America, and the NBA had lost its luster.
On the court, Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Lakers were dominating. If the Lakers had a worthy foe from the eastern conference, broad interest in the NBA may have increased. However, the Pacers, 76ers, and Nets were so inferior that the Finals became almost unwatchable.
When the Lakers disbanded in 2004, the boring Spurs and starless Pistons dominated the league. The 'hip hop' era may have been coming to an end, but the product on the court didn't have enough sizzle to pull the Bird, Magic, and Jordan fans back in.
Like a dormant but active volcano, the NBA started to show seismic activity in 2008. Boston was relevant again, and the Lakers became contenders with the mid-season acquisition of Pau Gasol. With a dress code, brilliant pr campaigns, and likable stars, the NBA was once again palatable to white America. In the summer of 2008 the NBA had the perfect cure for low Finals ratings; a Lakers/Celtics Finals chocked full of superstars. Suddenly what was old was new again!
As good as Lakers/Celtics were in 2008 and 2010, Mavs/Heat can hook a young generation of fans the way Bird and Magic did nearly 30 years ago. Dirk has had a 'what will he do next' playoffs, and the Heat are suddenly the most polarizing team in the NBA. LeBron's fans will want to see him vindicated for leaving Cleveland, while his haters would love nothing more than to see him fail to a guy like Dirk who stuck it out in Dallas. Either way, people are talking about it and we will be watching.
My gut tells me the Heat will win in six, but I would love nothing more than this to go the full seven with each game more entertaining than the previous.