NBA’s Post-Modern Era: Looking For The Face


In the wake of the most recent edition of the NBA Finals, it seems inevitable that the landscape of the league is changing. Not just for financial reasons, such as the impending lockout. Not because of the legendary faces that the league has lost to retirement: Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal. But the notion that the league appears to be facing a new chapter, the “Post-Modern Era” according to Max Kellerman on ESPN Radio 710 in Los Angeles.

Much like in 2003 when the Spurs won their second title, the league is at a crossroads in hierarchy. The old guard, Kobe Bryant and his Lakers, have shown signs of regression, while their renowned adversaries, the Boston Celtics are one step further into the lair of Father Time. The league and its media believe that the league needs a face for the future. Back then, the league turned the page with a new breed of rising stars in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

James was coming off a modern-day version of barnstorming, as his St. Mary’s high school team played at arenas across the country, including Pauley Pavillion in Westwood. And Anthony had just led Syracuse to the National Title over Kansas in his first and only season of college hoops. They were billed as the next generation and grabbed the spotlight, as they came right at the time of the Lakers mid-decade swoon. They were supposed to be the best players in the game and challenge each other for titles. They were the next version of Magic and Larry, and were to follow in the footsteps of Michael and Kobe. Yet, eight years later, nothing has changed. We’re back where we began(Cleveland sucks again).

The Lakers have been toppled by a Texas team, and face a possible dismantling. That Texas team, the Dallas Mavericks, much like the 2003 San Antonio Spurs, feature a foreign born superstar that has been underrated for much of his career, yet is suddenly being proclaimed a legend. Does that warrant a title of “face of the league”? Tim Duncan never achieved the billing of Shaquille O’Neal or Kareem Abdoul-Jabbar, so should Dirk Nowitzki be on the same level as Larry Bird?

Let’s ask Max Kellerman. The rambunctious New Yorker and self-proclaimed wise man, argues that the face of the “Post-Modern Era” of the NBA was LeBron James, but now is Dirk Nowitzki. Why? Because Dirk’s Mavericks beat LeBron’s Heat.

According to Kellerman, the team that wins in the NBA is the team with the best player, and he is therefore the best player in the world. Using this logic, Paul Pierce was the world’s greatest basketball player in 2008. Pierce, with no disrespect, has never been thrown in a discussion with names like Russell, Chamberlain, West, Bird, Jordan or Bryant. He just hasn’t. He’s not that guy, and at his age of 33, will never be.

The idea that the world’s greatest player moniker, and “Face of the Post-Modern Era”, could change from LeBron James to Dirk Nowitzki over the course of two games is ridiculous. Plus, it’s worse when you realize that James isn’t even the best player on his team. That’s Dwayne Wade.

The world’s greatest player, is one who plays in the shadows of his predecessors, yet strives to rise above them and overcome adversity on the court, playing with reckless abandon, and doing whatever it takes to use every ounce of his talent to destroy the competition. Right now, there is only one player in the NBA and the world who possesses that makeup.  Kobe Bryant.

Kobe has what MJ had, and Magic and Larry had before him: killer instinct. Jordan would have killed John Stockton with his bare hands if it meant the Bulls would beat the Jazz. Magic Johnson would have done anything to beat Larry Bird, and Bill Russell was so set on devouring his competition that the Celtics were 17-0 in series deciding games with Russell on the floor.

Those are/were the world’s greatest players. They were the living deities that at some point in their births, broke away from mankind.

LeBron James will never enter that club, and because of this, will never rightfully gain the moniker of “world’s greatest player”. The heart of a champion is as strong as the will of a lion, and yet James’ heart is more aligned with the soul of a kitten.

Kobe Bryant’s days may be numbered, but until someone comes along to wrestle the title of world’s greatest player away from his cold dead hands, he remains the lone spectacle.

As far as “Face of the Post-Modern Era” goes, look no further than Derrick Rose. But don’t let Max Kellerman catch you looking. He claims Rose was the worst MVP in the history of the NBA, because he wasn’t the “best player”. That argument, however, will have to be saved for later.