How will you be remembered? A question one must look deep inside to find the answer. I think a lot of people would judge their legacies based on accomplishments and lives they've impacted. If this is indeed the case, David Stern will no doubt leave behind a memorable legacy when he steps down from his role as NBA Commissioner in 2014.
Stern recently turned 70 and has decided to end his tenure as commissioner after 30 years in that position. What he leaves behind is a league that is far better off than when he took over it in 1984, and it's possible his biggest accomplishment is only just beginning. A rebirth of a rivalry that would make Tupac and Biggie proud. The time is now to choose a side...
The future looks bright for two of the leagues most important markets; New York and Los Angeles. The New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and L.A. Clippers, together have the potential to energize the league now, and into the foreseeable future. Much of David Stern's success has come from building up these big market teams, and now the rivalries that may emerge from them should be the catalyst that helps lift the NBA to new heights. East coast versus West coast in a battle of opposing cultures that fans will embrace and be drawn to for years to come.
Let's start by looking at the Lakers as they have been the most relevant team of the group during the last decade. Having appeared in three of the last five championships series, and winning two of them, the Lakers have been a significant force in the NBA almost yearly. This season's team has started slow but one can look at injuries and lack of chemistry to explain the lackadaisical start. During the offseason the Lakers managed to put together trades to acquire two former all-stars in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. However Nash has been out for a large majority of the season with a broken bone in his leg, and Howard is still settling in to his role with the team, while facing his own demons at the free-throw line.
Having said all that, you'd be crazy to think the "Showtime" Lakers won't be playing ball in the playoffs this year. Once they're back to full strength and get a much needed rhythm to their offense, there won't be much to stop Kobe Bryant from carrying the team back to their potential. If it's true the "Black Mamba" plans to retire after next season, he'll want to go out on a high note, and I won't be the one who bets against him.
So what does the East coast have to offer to counter the legacy of the Lakers? The new and improved New York Knicks. Over the last couple seasons the Knicks have taken huge strides to fill the seats of Madison Square Garden once again. Today's NBA market is run by star power and the Knicks have filled that void with scoring machine Carmelo Anthony. They've coupled him with former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, and surrounded them with key role players such as Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudemire, both former all-stars themselves.
The result of these rosters moves is a vastly improved ball club that New Yorkers can get excited about and be proud to root for. The Knicks have had a successful and storied history and this era's team has fans seeing a winning culture flourishing once again.
As long time Knicks fan, and courtside trash talker Spike Lee puts it, "It's like the old days."
If the New York Knicks can truly return their play to "the old days", Madison Square Garden may be adding to their championship banner count in the near future.
The building momentum in both cities doesn't stop with just the Lakers and Knicks. With the Jay-Z influenced re-branding and relocating of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, and the emergence of "Lob-City" in L.A. for the Clippers, Stern and the NBA have made sure the cross-country rivalry is not just a two team affair.
This years off-season was perhaps the most important in years for the Nets franchise. Majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov provided funds for the teams move to their new home in Brooklyn, while minority owner Jay-Z has helped put a spotlight on the new branding for the teams revival. What has emerged is marketing gold. A sleek new logo with a clean black and white color scheme, and an arena in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, that will not only draw fans in droves but will induce a new level of pride in a city that has basketball deep in it's roots.
Not to be outdone by the glitz and glam of a new arena and marketing direction, the actual basketball product being put on the hardwood has had it's share of vast upgrades as well. The team managed to lock up it's star point guard Deron Williams, while adding the underrated all-star Joe Johnson. The Nets also managed to retain center Brook Lopez, and forward Gerald Wallace, giving the team a strong presence in the paint along with the defense and energy of Wallace. What this "Core Four" brings to the Nets is a young team that is ready to compete in the East immediately and fill seats in the newly opened Barclays Center for years to come.
If you're L.A. and you see a second powerhouse franchise building up in New York, you'd hope your city can keep up with it's rival market in the east. This is perhaps where David Stern has had the biggest influence on creating this enduring rivalry. Last year around this time a trade was put together to send star Point Guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Lakers. All seemed final until David Stern ultimately nullified the trade for "basketball reasons" citing that the league controlled Hornets would be better off keeping Paul than accepting the trade offer from the Lakers. Later that week Paul was traded to the L.A. Clippers in exchange for a package of players and draft picks, thus giving birth to "Lob-City".
Pairing Chris Paul and the "Prince of Posterizing" Blake Griffin on the same team gives fans of the alley-oop a reason to watch the game. L.A. is known for being a flashy city and Paul's play fits that bill to a tee. The Clippers also feature a supporting cast of promising young players such as Center DeAndre Jordan, and experienced roles players like defensive-minded Matt Barnes, and scoring spark plug Jamal Crawford. The Clippers may not be on the same popularity level as the team they share a building with, but they are certainly on their way.
After all was said and done David Stern's cancelling of the Paul trade to the Lakers led to the Clippers suddenly having a relevant and talented team, and caused the Lakers to prioritize the acquisition of Dwight Howard to be their dominate center and star of the future. These moves have positioned the L.A. teams to be contenders with the equally improving New York franchises right away.
What fans are left with are four teams who, with the exception of the Lakers, have all increased their winning percentages over the last three years and so far look to continue that trend into this season. These four teams are all positioned well for the future and that future starts now. Some sports pundits have complained the last two years that the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder winning championships are bad for the sport because they're not necessarily in the leagues biggest markets. This may not be a problem for long.
These two cities have had a history of not liking each other and if that cultural aspect has any influence on the way fans root for their teams, we may be in for some legendary rivalries. It started with Bad Boy vs. Death Row, continued with Tupac vs. Biggie, and now we have Lakers vs. Knicks and Clippers vs. Nets. The league has seemingly realized the gold mind they're sitting on. They've made sure the Christmas Day schedule includes a nationally televised game between the Knicks and Lakers and something tells me David Stern may have had a say in that decision as well.
Whether you're a fan of the flashing lights of Hollywood, or the gritty streets of New York, you've got to be happy with the direction both cities' teams are taking. Stern will be remembered for many things he has done for the league. But if the New York and L.A. teams all become yearly contenders, the rivalry games and fan interest generated by them may end up being the most enduring stamp he has helped place on the game, as well as leading these powerhouse markets back to relevance.