October is a sneaky good sports month this year.
Cricket fans have the good fortune of a prime-time test series. Monday mornings have been made great with the return of the NFL to free-to-air TV in Australia. Rugby League has an international tournament. Kurtley Beale is making us all wonder how the hell he got picked for 47 tests (and whether he’s going to enjoy living in Japan). The AFL has just finished a surprisingly interesting trade period, made even more amusing when the administration made the decision to ban the Swans from trading because, well, Eddie said “fuck em”.
Add to that the return of the world’s premier basketball competition. The National Basketball Association is back in our daily lives as of Wednesday Australian time. And it promises to be a fascinating year.
At this point in time the league finds itself with a financial security and cultural relevance unheard of in its sixty eight year history. Adam Silver, the league’s relatively new commissioner just inked a $24 billion media-rights deal with EPSN and Turner Sports (over nine years), meaning it’s income from media-rights alone exceeds the total annual GDP of your favourite developing nation (it’s Burundi isn’t it?). The next few years will see the likely expansion of the salary cap from around $65 million a year to somewhere around $90 million by most estimates, meaning players at the top end of the payrange will likely be earning over $25 million a year which is just an astounding amount of money (for perspective, the AFL’s salary cap will be $10 million in 2015, the NRL’s around $5.5 million in 2014). Last year’s league Most Valuable Player signed a more than $300 million shoe endorsement deal with Nike. It’s enough to make Buddy wonder if he made the right choice of sport.
Culturally, the NBA has never been more relevant in America and the world. 15 million people watched Game 4 of the NBA finals in June of 2014 (crib notes – the Spurs did things in that game that made basketball fans reach make happy in their pants). According to the NBA the league has more than 278 million likes and followers through various social media platforms.
Basketball: so hot right now.
And we haven’t even started with the on-the-court product.
Questions abound about this season.
A seismic shift of power and narrative occurred when Lebron James undid ‘the decision’, returning to his home town Cleveland Cavaliers, inspiring actual pop stars to rewrite songs in his honour and an entire city collectively lose its shit. Some shifting of players means that the Cavs now have the best player of his generation in the last years of his prime, playing with another top ten baller in Kevin Love and an up-and-coming star in Kyrie “I almost said I’d play for Australia” Irving. The Cavs will go from missing out the playoffs last year to in all likelihood playing for a championship this season on account that they will be a) amazing and b) playing in the very weak Eastern Conference. It will interesting to see how their lack of a rim-protector effects their competitiveness with the bigger Western teams, but as they say, sometimes the best form of defence is having potentially one of the greatest offensive teams in history. The Cavs are likely to run a form of the Princeton offence, which emphasises ball movement and backdoor cuts. The offence uses 4 out 1 in, making use of Kevin Love and LeBron James unique inside/out skill sets.
Meanwhile, last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs, return a team that actually was one of the greatest offensive teams in history. This team made passing popular again, launching a thousand tortured cross-sport comparisons – they’re Gretsky’s Oilers, they’re the ‘total football’ Dutch, they’re the 1994 Canberra Raiders (it counts if I said it to my dog right?). Never has a team played such a dominating brand of basketball and been forgotten by the beginning of the next season – such is the popularity of Lebron. The Spurs also run a version of the Princeton offence, arguably perfecting it in the finals last year.
Last year’s league Most Valuable Player – the equivalent of the Brownlow except one of the best players actually wins it – Kevin Durant, has unfortunately hurt his foot and will be out for the first six weeks of the season. His Oklahoma City Thunder will again be the team most likely to compete with the Spurs for dominance in the West. Durant will also provide plenty of off-court drama as speculation heats up of his desire to leave the Thunder because they’re owners are cheapskates. Also in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers will again find themselves in the unusual spot of being the best team in L.A. Blessed with the competition’s best point guard in Chris Paul, and the rapidly improving and secretly hilarious power-forward Blake Griffin. They will likely challenge the Thunder and the Spurs in the West. The Golden State Warriors, the home of Australia’s own Andrew Bogut will also be a force in the West as Steve Kerr (yes, the one from the Bulls – fuck you people who haven’t watched since Jordan played) seeks to mould their amazing talents into a cohesive offence.
And that doesn’t even mention the gloriousness of Stephen Curry’s shooting, the hilarious of watching James Harden play defence, or the New York Knicks experimenting with installing basketball’s version of Communism in the Triangle Offence. What will Stan Van Gundy make room for three power forwards when there should only be one? Will former MVP Derrick Rose return to his previous powers and give the Bulls the capacity to actually challenge the Cavaliers for dominance in the East? How fat will my dog get as I routinely forgo walking him for watching Milwaukee play Indiana on a Tuesday night?
The answer to those questions will be answered starting this week. You should watch.