— Adam Silver said about 6,200 words in his annual
state-of-the-league news conference before Game 1 of the NBA
that stood out: Parity.
commissioner was a more-than-keen observer on Tuesday night,
watching the Phoenix Suns win their first Finals game in 28 years
and the Milwaukee Bucks lose their first Finals game in 47 years.
The teams combined to use 19 players in the game; 18 were making
their Finals debuts. It was something new and different, for
that’s a great thing.
“I see this
as, hopefully, the end of a transition for the league,” Silver
said. “Not just post-COVID, but just by virtue of the teams that we
saw in the Conference Finals, a real transition in terms of the
league of the up-and-coming new stars, up-and-coming franchises,
more parity throughout the league.”
Milwaukee. This isn’t New York vs. Los Angeles, a marketing dream.
It’s not Golden State, a team with an enormous global following.
It’s not LeBron James, who has made going to the NBA Finals
basically an annual event for the last decade.
But it looked
like two teams that certainly belong in the NBA Finals. Phoenix was
the second-best team in the NBA during the regular season.
Milwaukee had to win a Game 7 in the second round to keep its
season alive and no NBA team has had a better regular-season record
over the last two, three or four seasons combined than the
slouches. They’re legit and are built to be legit for a few more
years to come.
It might be
time to start expecting new teams to start going deep in the NBA
the Eastern Conference Finals with a roster relying heavily on guys
still in their rookie contracts. Utah had the NBA’s best record
this season and has its core locked up for years to come. James and
the Los Angeles Lakers could very easily be great again next season
and the Warriors expect to contend when Klay Thompson finally
reunites with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, but it’s hardly a
lock that the same old faces keep coming back to the Finals.
wouldn’t be true to the data to make too large a point around one
season, particularly one that may have been — that was -- so
aberrational,” Silver said. “But I at least say that it looks like
a very positive sign in terms of the competition we’re seeing
around the league.”
There will be
naysayers about this matchup, and they’ll have sound arguments to
make once the television numbers come in. Neither city involved in
these Finals is a top-10 media market according to Nielsen; Phoenix
is No. 11, Milwaukee No. 35, and that — combined with an NBA title
series happening in July for the first time — means that ratings
won’t be setting any records.
time. Sure, Phoenix’s Chris Paul and Milwaukee’s Giannis
Antetokounmpo have been big names for a while. Suns guard Devin
Booker is now a full-fledged star. Phoenix center Deandre Ayton is
on his way there, if he hasn’t arrived already. Bucks guards Khris
Middleton and Jrue Holiday are part of the U.S. Olympic team that’s
going to Japan later this month, along with Booker.
no-names, longshots, guys who pulled off a series of miracles to
These are the
best teams in the NBA right now. They earned those crowns. Injuries
absolutely played a role in derailing some other teams with
legitimate chances of getting to the Finals — Utah, the Lakers,
Philadelphia, Brooklyn among them — but it’s not like the Suns and
Bucks had an easy time or a free pass.
forget that Paul hurt his shoulder, tested positive for COVID-19
and has an injured wrist, all of that happening during the
playoffs. Antetokounmpo is playing through a hyperextended left
knee that would almost certainly have him sidelined if this wasn’t
the NBA Finals.
their mettle all year. Proved it again in Game 1, too. The Suns won
118-105, but the lights weren’t too bright for either side.
Silver might be right. It seems like it has come to the NBA.