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Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 at 2:20 pm  |  33 responses

Hero Worship

The end of an NBA era is closer than you think.

by Adam Sweeney / @AdamSweeney

The season of summer movies is right around the corner and, by all accounts, looks to feature an ungodly number of films within the superhero genre. Captain America, Thor, The X-Men and Green Lantern all will grace the silver screen. It provides an interesting parallel when put in the context of the NBA season considering that we all are about to have to come to terms with a devastating truth. The headline? Superman is dead.

With all due respect to Dwight Howard, who is trying to play the part for a newer age of basketball enthusiast, the real Superman in the Association was and forever will be Shaquille O’Neal. His larger than life body was only matched by his personality, creating a figure that tore down backboards like The Man of Steel tears through meteors to save Metropolis, while also lifting up the spirits of fans everywhere who fell in love with the personality of the jolly giant. Sadly, we have yet to see him make any real impact in this year’s ultimate test for hoops supremacy. (Perhaps Celtics green is his Kryptonite?) As Boston gets some time off in preparation for its next opponent, likely the villainous Miami Heat (the city of Cleveland certainly thinks LeBron James should play the role of The Joker), the Celtics hope that Shaq can muster up one last feat of super-strength.

O’Neal ranks as only one of many heroes falling from the Sun. Time, the ultimate nemesis, is delivering supersonic blasts to the bodies of our hardwood saviors. Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and yes, even Kobe Bryant are among the group who will soon be looking more the part of Clark Kent than The Son of Krypton. That much is apparent as we watch younger teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets push the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers to the limit in the first round. Garnett has been blessed with a combination of landing in a weaker Eastern Conference and the powers of Paul Pierce, the forever youthful Ray Allen, and super sidekick Rajon Rondo. How long he can perform at a higher level is anyone’s guess, but he isn’t getting any younger. It’s likely one reason we see such urgency in Boston this season.

A large group of journalists and bloggers had gone chalk in the first round of their NBA predictions. Yes, the higher seeds appeared to have heart and displayed a relative amount of toughness, but the popular opinion was that the veteran guard of our league would emerge triumphant. (Did anybody really think the Memphis Grizzlies could beat San Antonio, for example?) The problem with that theory is that the stars we have grown to love (and hate) are starting to fade with alarming quickness. Anyone looking for proof can watch how swiftly the Grizzlies handled the Spurs in Game 4. Even head coach Gregg Popovich was left at a loss for how to handle the situation. He eventually did the only thing one can do when they’re beaten mercilessly into the ground. He gave in, putting the demigod Duncan on the bench to rest. (Somewhere you can hear Marv Albert asking, “Is this the end for The Big Fundamental? Tune in next game! Same ball time, same ball channel!”)

Luckily for Spurs fans, Duncan hasn’t taken an eternal slumber quite yet. Like almost all the great players in the game, he has too much pride to walk away right now. But his time is coming. Time, as they say, waits for no man, not even the greatest power forward of all time.

This isn’t the first time the NBA has watched a group of iconic figures fall. We’ve witnessed Larry Bird hobble down the court with a back brace as his team was rocked by Larry Johnson’s Charlotte Hornets. We’ve seen Michael Jordan try to make magic as a Washington Wizard, ultimately being unable to carry his team on his back to the promised land. (In his defense, even Harry Potter couldn’t have saved that team.) It’s painful to watch the death of a hero and even more of a downer to realize how fleeting the memory of their feats is. Even Michael Jordan, who came as close to invincibility as any player in the last 30 years, is an afterthought in the minds of some younger fans. That seems unfathomable. So was the notion that Zach Randolph could have his way with the No. 1 seed as recent as two weeks ago.

The silver lining, however, is two-fold. The death comes quick for most athletes’ careers and the reality is that, while there may not be another like them, there is always another hope.

Just like it happened in the late ’90s, a new group of heroes are ready to take to the sky. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard are already imposing their will now, pushing the old guard off the skyscraper. And as much as we hope and pray Kobe’s fall-away jumper will stay in the air, or that Duncan’s bankshot will continue to kiss the backboard, nothing lasts forever. Ask Michael, Larry and Magic about it. Jordan still toys with the idea of putting the suit on one for one last visit above the clouds. The problem is that once you’ve held the hopes of thousands in your hands and delivered, the role of sidekick just won’t do.

So, cling on to the cape while you can, true believer. The ride will be over before you know it. All we can do is take mental pictures for our sentimental scrapbooks, left with the bittersweet comfort that we were there.

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  • markymark

    on the verge of crying now…

  • CONEY ISLANDER

    #COSIGNED

  • don

    duuuuurrraannnnt!

    wesssstttbbrrroooooook!

  • http://www.twitter.com/xpotatotitsx mersh

    i definitely don’t want to see the day when these guys leave…i’ve been a garnett fan since the day he entered the league. and although i hate kobe and duncan, them leaving the league will be a huge bummer as well.

    although i do really see OKC carrying the torch in a great way if all of those young players stay smart and no greedy and stick together for win big and win often over the next few years.

  • http://www.slamonline.com c_cantrell

    ^mersh..
    OKC will be an elite team for years to come if they keep the team together and continue to grow as they have been over the last several years.

  • IndyB

    add Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Michael Redd, Jermaine O’Neal, Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, & Vince Carter to the list.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cheryl

    ^yeah, where the heck is vince? I do feel it’s coming to the end of an era. remember when the admiral was ushered into retirement with a ring and a pat on the back by his replacement TD? The really sad part is, where’s the young gun to usher Timmy into his retirement? Dam, I’m gonna miss these guys. And, as a Heat fan, I’m not willing to concede to OKC or Memphis just yet. We’ve got some players in their prime right here on SoBe.

  • Yesse

    Great article. Shaq will surely be missed.

  • HAMMER

    Damn. Almost all the players I grew up watching, and by “growing up watching” I mean players that were drafted up till I was 16 (NBA Draft 1996 to be exact) r gone. And the ones that remain r past their primes. This article is sad and makes me feel old. Curse u father time!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    I feel really old right now…

  • HAMMER

    Whenever I watch KG finish a play w/a layup, first thing that comes to mind is “He used to dunk those and anyone who got in his way”. Same thing w/KB8. That dunk on Emeka brought back some memories of yrs past. And when I see Duncan now? Its painful. Never thought I would see the day, or refused to concede to the idea, that he wouldn’t even b the best player on his own team. T.R.O.Y.

  • HAMMER

    And for the younger generation. Players like Jason Kidd, Antonio McDyess, Joe Smith, Kurt Thomas, Derek Fisher, Brian Cardinal etc.., they are 2 u what John Stockton, Antoine Carr, Jeff Hornacek, Eddie Johnson, Kevin Willis etc.., were 2 me. Those old wily vets that can still play despite their age and hit a big shot here and there

  • HAMMER

    Bottom line is this: Appreciate the players u c now who r n their primes. Cuz later on, if u luv the NBA and r a fan of gr8 b-ball, ur gonna miss them. I remember watching John Stockton and as a youngster and thinking “Why doesn’t he just retire already!” I hated him! Now, I miss the mofo. Miss watching him play. “You never know what you got until its gone”

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    They’re just dudes. Don’t worship them and you won’t be disappointed. I like watching basketball at the highest level, but I refuse to be star-struck.

  • Jono

    Hey Adam, why did you write this? I grew up idolizing Spreewell, Mourning, Iverson, Shaq/Kobe, Duncan/KG/Webber and Payton. Now they’re all gone. The NBA is a pretty bad place without them and you’re seriously not helping.

  • Anonymosdef

    Although ESPN has seemingly over night become the sports version of TMZ/BET I thank them for 30 for 30 and most of all ESPN classic….

  • Drew

    This article seriously has my lips trembling a bit holding back the teary eyes…So sad but so true all the same.

  • MJnotKobe

    It’s sad for sure but damn Drew. That’s just…well…pull your skirt up, man lmaooo

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/san-dova-speak-easy/ San Dova

    Kobe and Tim have definitely been falling toward Clark Kent status. Kobe is going to need to become an option 1B) and have a 1A) wing come in soon. He’s getting too old to carry that primary load like he has. That’s good stuff, man.

  • ai come back

    yea uh lebrons only 26………

  • http://twitter.com/BeezKneezy LA Huey

    I enjoyed the past decade in the NBA but I’m actually excited to see how the Spurs-Lakers’ era transitions into a new one. Which team define the next decade? Which players will forge their legend?

  • mj23

    lebron what he is 26 damn he still hasnt reached his full potential damn media sucks

  • Pharaoh

    It’s definitely gonna be sad once this generation of players retire but the league is still in great hands right now. OKC is going to dominate the west for a looong time and will probably have some epic battles with Portland. The east is gonna be real fun with Chicago, Miami and New York being power houses this decade. Well I hope so anyways

  • http://music.entelleckt.com/ entelleckt

    it’s the end of an era. it’ll be interesting to see how much longer the new guys careers will be based on “advances” in technology and officiating (no handcheck/defense rule)

  • Joe

    Still crazy for me to watch the NBA and not see Sheed playing!
    And as a KG fan, Its hard to fathom “Da Kid/Big Ticket” soon being somewhere other than on the court banging his head on the stanchion.

    You know when its near the end for these guys, they start getting non-contact injuries…..KG, KOBE, SHAQ, Chauncey,

    THank God for Youtube though, I can keep the images of KG catching lobs from Steph, fresh in my mind.

  • Supes4Life

    GP and Reggie are my favorites of all time. I grew up with them plus MJ and Pip, Penny, G-Hill, Barkley, Ewing, Stockton and Malone, Dream, Shaq, and J-Kidd. The NBA hasn’t been the same since all these guys were in the L together. Honestly, I don’t even watch it anymore. I miss the days when someone would drive the lane and get put on their back by Oakley or Laimbeer. I miss the days when guys went hard, playing through injuries, and not putting themselves above the game. The NBA will never be the same.

  • NJ4Life

    Kobe, Shaq, KG, Dirk, Duncan, Kidd, Nash, Carter, McGrady, Webber, Iverson, Steph, Yao

  • http://itsahardwoodlife.blogspot.com omphalos

    I think there’s something to be said for retiring gracefully as your downturn begins, rather than when you’ve hit rock bottom. Jordan sort of ruined that with the Wizards, but he showed he could still play which was worth it, even if he couldn’t carry such a sorry team. But Jordan aside, I’d rather miss the players as they were than cast shadows over otherwise bright careers, with players like Nash hustling away on a non-playoff team in Phoenix, or Jason Kidd still no closer to a title than he was years ago. If the lock-out happens, I see a slew of vets retiring at once. Would be nice to see them go out together.

  • http://pickandroll.tumblr.com/ airs

    loved this write up

  • bike

    I miss Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, Willis Reed, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West. Some of these guys now look so old, fat, and bald. Ravages of time.

    I am headed out to a dark smokey bar somewhere and get drunk

  • http://www.slamonline.com Mars

    TEARS…is that what you wanted to do Adam? Make people cry? Well good job, it worked. You did it. LOL… but the truth is that this what people are afraid to admit. Nowadays the label of elite and young get mixed up easily by the yooungsters, when in all actuality the greats just get old.

  • http://www.onitsukatigermexico66.us onitsuka tiger mexico 66

    That is a pity for the spurs go home. I never though that before they down on the 6th game. yes, they are really old enough to have a rest now. how will they go in the next season? will the coach Gregg Popovich leave them in the next season? and what about duncan? will the ginobili be traded to other team? I will not be happy for the 3 to be away.

  • http://www.playmakeronline.com Adam Sweeney

    Thanks for all the kind words, everyone. I definitely think we’re seeing a passing of the torch to a new generation of players. My thought was reaffirmed when I saw Kobe and friends, aka the Lakers, go down so easily in Game 4 against Dallas. It will be interesting to see how the league is changed in the next generation, and if LeBron, Durant, Rose and the new school can live up to the greats like KG, Kobe, Duncan and others.

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