The United States in the early 1990’s was truly a time of pioneers. Mainstream music was starting to venture into new genres like punk rock and hip-hop, the Disney Renaissance of animated movies are still loved to this day, and fashion was so peculiar that it would stick around for the next thirty years in a semi-ironic way. Perhaps the most fascinating cultural cornerstone of the 20th century’s final decade was the cross-section of popularity between video games and the National Basketball Association.
NBA Jam was a video game that can still be found in barcades and millennial residences, exaggerating the most fun aspects of the beautiful game: flashy gameplay, two-on-two battles between the best players from each franchise, slam dunks, and more cynical announcers than Muppets Statler and Waldorf. As the liberal arts teaches us, art often imitates life. The NBA of the 90’s was indeed flashy and somewhat of a transitional period with the retirement of players like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as the newfound prominence of players like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Of course, one can talk about the glory days of basketball for hours and hours—there is an entire industry surrounding this idea, like television’s best show “Inside the NBA”—but just as we reminisce on what used to be, it would be entirely foolish to ignore the goings on of professional basketball in the contemporary era. The freshly started 2019-2020 season is now underway, with a lot of cunning moves made by players and owners in the offseason resulting in many new power duos throughout the league. The level of excitement for NBA fans is comparable to a group of kids playing the original 1993 arcade game “NBA Jam.”
One could consider power forward Anthony Davis’s (AD) decision to play with LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers the Marvel Cinematic Universe after-credit scene of the last NBA Season. Having two of the most dynamic individual players in the league should be fun to watch, and since “dynamic” is probably the most common way to describe any athlete, the point is that LeBron and AD have both been the best players on their teams for years now. Thus, the pairing should entertain.
Other entertaining dues include Rudy Gobert and Donavan Mitchell for the Utah Jazz, Kristaps Porziņģis and Luka Dončić for the Dallas Mavericks (a.k.a. the “Vanilla Thunder” duo), Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond for the Detroit Pistons, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet for the Toronto Raptors and, of course, Russel Westbrook and James Harden of the Houston Rockets.
That brings us back to good ol’ Tinseltown: Paul George left the OKC Thunder to play with Kawhi Leonard for the LA Clippers, in a somewhat shocking decision on Kawhi’s part. Much respect to Vince Carter, but Kawhi Leonard played one year for the Raptors, got a ring, and peaced out back home to Los Angeles. Board man gets paid, and Kawhi’s last season sent shockwaves through the league and sets the stage for even more this coming year.
In essence, this season of the NBA will be a lot of two-on-two showmanship play set on the backdrop of a new age in modern basketball. The West is not as intensely dominated by the Warriors, and unfortunately the East no longer runs through the Cleveland Cavaliers. Set in a new world of the 24-hour news cycle for both sports and politics, the NBA still retains its public reputation, even when it does business with totalitarian governments. The only real explanation for this is that it is just so damn fun to watch. As an aside, throw some love to the WNBA when it starts back up again—Elena Della Donne is absolutely just as fun to watch as any player on the court this coming winter. Basketball is, in the immortal words of Steve Ballmer, “Pretty cool, right? Pretty damn cool.”