It's my belief that the biggest blemish of David Stern successful tenure as NBA commissioner is the wide spread belief in some sort of conspiracy one way or the other. It seems to be ingrained in most NBA fans, and casual observers to some degree whether they know it or not. We've had some LeBron / NBA bias or league conspiracy talk around here lately. Honestly, it's way off base, but let me indulge the LeBron Conspiracy believers for a bit, and we'll play a little game with conspiracies to explain why it's off the mark. If you you believe in NBA agendas, I'll tell you why you don't have to worry about LeBron James winning the 2009/2010 NBA Championship.
Disclamer: This is an exercise in explaining hypothetical situations. I do not believe in this conspiracy theory, nor do I think the NBA is fixed. I have put some thought into this, because it's fun. In a league that markets superstars (as opposed to the game like the NFL), it's is easy to fall into this trap, or give thought to. But I repeat, I do not believe in league wide conspiracies. Also, if you do believe in conspiracy theories, it's absolutely ridiculous as Lakers fans to worry about them. We would probably end up on top in 9 out of 10.
Let's assume that NBA conspiracies do exist. In order for them to hold true, you would have to base all assumptions that the NBA is doing what would be best for business. That's what conspiracy involves. A definite reason to make something happen in order to profit in some way. Going off of that, there's not chance that this is the year that LeBron winning the Title is in the NBA's best interests. Not financially, and not by appearance. If you don't believe that the Lakers will repeat because they happen to be the best team, but because the powers that be will determine it, let me ease your mind...
To play this game, we will have to assume three very important things:
1.) The NBA wants to set up LeBron's legacy as the future Greatest of All Time.
2.) The NBA wants LeBron to play in New York, Brooklyn, or Chicago.
3.) LeBron doesn't know what he's going to do yet.
This would all have to do with the Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James debate. For the past two years, the NBA (and Nike) have heavily marketed and promoted the Kobe vs. LeBron debate. I'm sure many of you have participated in this debate, whether it be in person or online. If so, you know how heated these debates can be. You'll hear about stats, hypothetical situations, potential, accomplishments, teammates, etc. You name it. The debate seems never ending. This is good thing for the NBA. There's a power struggle that keeps fans involved and passionate. This is fact. What we can argue over is what is better for business right now. Kobe or LeBron? New York (or Chicago. When I say New York, I mean Knicks or Nets) or Cleveland? In my opinion, right now, it's Kobe and New York, respectively. Let's start the theories.
No matter whom you feel is better, there's only one way to settle the debate. A head to head match up for all the marbles. With many people starting to lean towards LeBron, this season is just as crucial or more important to Kobe's legacy as last year. See, Kobe can't let up. The LeBron supporters come even harder year after year. Even the fiercest of Kobe supporters knows that it's only a matter of time before they have to concede the debate. It's natural. Kobe can't be this great forever. I would also have to assume that LeBron winning the Title would force the Kobe defenders to relent completely. Right now, Team Kobe will always have his accomplishments to back them up, no matter what LeBron does after this season. The impressive stats LeBron puts up with nothing to show for them are just meaningless numbers. For now...
It's about legacy. The NBA markets superstars over the game itself. We feel the need to define the greats by accomplishment. Who they beat. Who they didn't. How often they won. How often they lost. The NBA feeds off nostalgia. When a potential superstar breaks into the league, what do we hear? Comparisons to other legends. To Michael. Magic. Larry. Isaiah. The list goes on and on. We feed on the nostalgia and legacy of our past heroes and great teams. So, thinking about the Kobe/LeBron debate, and what might be the NBA's desire for LeBron to leave Cleveland, they would need him to fail this year to protect legacies and set up a better storyline in the future. There's still time for LeBron's legacy to be defined (if not another player), and for it to be done with a fairly clean slate. They can sell his struggle right now, just as they sold Mike's. Just as long at it's not Kobe who defeats him.
If LeBron won a title this year, how bad would he look leaving Cleveland? How could he? We hear talk of him possibly being THE All-Time Greatest, and there's just no way he could leave Cleveland after a Championship. Remember, we're under the assumption that the League wants LeBron to leave. If he loses? Everything is fair game. You've heard it already, so need for me to delve into why. In a conspiracy theory world, the NBA wouldn't want to help LeBron stay in Cleveland. They'd do what they could to force a loss. Unless, Lebron expressed his plans to stay in Cleveland in the long haul. He hasn't seemed t have done that. That's reason number one. That's the easy part.
Number two is more complicated. But good for conspiracy theorist Lakers fans...the NBA needs to protect Kobe's legacy. At least right now. Kobe's still the marquee player in the NBA. He's still the most popular and talked about. Until LeBron decides what he wants to do, there's no point in risking Kobe and LeBron's legacy. Especially in a Finals match-up against each other. Assuming they feed off the Kobe/LeBron debate, how much does it kill one side of the argument for one to lose to the other. Why spoil that prematurely? Why bite the hand that feeds you?
Kobe? He can't lose yet. If Kobe loses to LeBron, it definitively kills any argument as him being better than LeBron, or the greatest player of his generation. There would be no more questions. No more debate. It knocks Kobe's legacy down and kills an entire fanbase. A very large, money spending, tv watching fanbase. Loyal or bandwagon. Lakers fans are many and would be devastated. The questions and doubts all come back. Shaq, three Finals losses, Pau's arrival. It might flush away everything Kobe has built up.
LeBron can lose now. Just not to his MVPuppet cohort. If LeBron loses to Kobe, all Lakers and Kobe fans have the ultimate leg up. Plus, it smears the LeBron as future GOAT potential. No way he can suffer a Finals loss to Tim Duncan and Kobe, then be considered the GOAT, if he couldn't take the torch previous generations greatest players. Right now, Kobe is still too good, LeBron's status isn't clear, and don't forget. Would the NBA really want to tarnish Kobe's recent accomplishments by having Shaq get Ring #5 as a role player? Kobe is worth more to the NBA than Shaq is. Kobe still resonates with young NBA fans. Shaq doesn't.
In a strictly business sense, here's the best case scenario for the NBA:
- The Cavs lose to Boston in the Semis. LeBron also can't afford to lose to possibly lose Dwight in the ECF's again. Especially if the Magic win it all. Remember, we've already established that LeBron has to lose.
- The NBA is getting major publicity with LeBron's possible failure. Add the questions of whether he's ready with his upcoming free agency, the NBA could rule the summer by staying in the headlines in a way that the NFL would be jealous of.
- Boston eventually advances to the Finals, where they lose to the Lakers. A rematch of these great rivals would be epic. I think it's bigger than Kobe vs. LeBron, right now. The Lakers beating the Celtics makes a great story in Kobe and his teammates avenging the crushing defeat in 2008, and gives us an answer to who was the overall better team in this span. Yet, none of the Celtics legacies are ruined by a loss to the Lakers. They have a built in excuse of age. Celtics fans can be proud that their team, with Championship hopes considered dead prior to the Playoffs, even made the Finals. They'll appreciate the effort, and always claim they would have won in 2009 if KG never got hurt. Nostalgia.
- Lakers over Celtics puts a stamp on Kobe's legacy by giving him 5 Rings. Making him, bar none, the greatest player of his generation. It also kills the "But he won three Rings playing alongside Shaq" angle. Do you realize what it means to take a completely different team to three straight Finals, and then winning back-to-back Titles? With a big man, in Pau Gasol, whom just may be the polar opposite of a Shaquille O' Neal? History might show that it could have been Shaq who won three because of Kobe.
- The NBA could then focus on LeBron's legacy when he decides where his address would be. Preferably in New York, where the NBA could then possibly reach heights it's never been to before with Kobe on LA, LeBron in NY or Chicago, and Dwyane Wade taking whichever of the two LeBron declines. By the time LeBron starts winning, Kobe's legacy is cememted to the point, that if the Lakers did lose to King James' team, it doesn't matter as much. Most of, it not all of the basketball world might already consider LeBron as the best player, and Kobe's age by then just makes that obvious. Still, it might appear that LeBron finally took the torch and the league is his.
- Oh, and after Kobe cements an impeccable legacy, don't be surprised if Shaq comes home to come off the bench and win a Ring to help him surpass Tim Duncan in what may be a lockout shortened season. The Shaq/Kobe debate would already be dead, but his return would be mega.
You see, if you want to play the conspiracy angle, look at it from all of the angles. Then you'll see it all works against LeBron and in the Lakers favor. In Kobe's favor. The Celtics favor. Or even the Magic. No one gets hurt. The NBA cashes in, and sets up better stories in the future. It's because we define the greats by the feats and accomplishments, or who they defeated or lost to. But if there is no real answer, then we'll never really know, and the NBA doesn't want to lose any fans by ending the debate that is still going strong. Think about Michael Jordan's struggle. He had the great stats while Boston, then Detroit ruled the East. But he lost, and lost for seven years, until he figured it out. Boston got old, he finally beat Detroit, then went on to take the torch from Magic, who was already 5 Rings deep. Whose legacy was hurt in all of that? Not a one. Celtics, Pistons, Lakers and Bulls fans all remained happy, and readily accept Jordan as the GOAT, while still able to remain satisfied in the legacies of their teams and the stars who led them. Larry got old, Isaiah beat Jordan enough, and Magic had 5 Rings. LeBron? He's on that path. He'll have his day, but not before we do. We'll all be happy.
*Let me remind you. This is all hypothetical. I don't believe the things I explained above unfolding as a "plan." Everything could play out just as I explain, but because that's just how it is. A "natural order of things" as Jevon O. put it. I just wanted to show the "Stern wants LeBron to Win" faction that any conspiracies most likely make no sense. I believe the Lakers will win, because they are still the best team in the NBA, that the Celtics have shown they aren't dead yet, the Magic are worthy, and that LeBron might not be ready, or that his team definitely isn't ready yet. LeBron will win Titles because he's just that good, and when he does, it's because he's finally ready to get over the hump. It may be this year, it may not be. Kobe won his because he's just that good too. Nothing was ever handed to any player. It will play out on the court, but either way we're covered. Haha.