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Rumbles of Thunder? Don't Believe the Hype

I’m happy that the NBA continues to grow its’ brand and attract new fans. It’s important for the league. The strides the league has made over time is very commendable and we fans are better off for it. At the risk of dating myself, games were broadcast on tape delay depending on where in the US you lived, when I fell in love with the game. Today I can program my DVR to record anything I want from my cell phone. With a 24 hour news cycle, one where we can hear Rick Kamla yell at the camera 12 different times a day, things happen much quicker than they ever did before. We get scores faster. We see highlights faster. We even see funny post game interviews faster. The flip side is that some of the bad parts of the game happen quicker as well. Today, with all the countless resources available (TV, Radio, Internet, Blogs, Players own tweets, etc) even hype comes at you at light speed.

Today we live in an age where a team that has won 2 playoff games the previous season is projected to be a Top 3 team in the Western Conference. They didn’t sign any significant new free agents over the summer. They didn’t make any crazy trades. They just got one year older. The hype (or is it hope?) surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder has reached critical mass with this NBA fan. So much so that I had to write about it. I’ve seen teams hyped up before. I’m going to talk about them here, and speculate on why we should be wary of falling too in love with this Thunder squad. I’m not going to pull any punches either. But before we start let’s get all the criticism out of the way:

  • You’re a bitter fan
  • You’re jealous
  • You’re scared
  • You’re a hater
  • Your team sucks
  • Karl Malone is a thug
  • What are you, a Mormon? ...because apparently I can't like the Jazz and be something else...

Are we done now? Okay. Now that you’ve had your say (or what I presume you at least feel right now), indulge me by actually reading my criticism below.

Defining Hype:

Some teams get attention, or have coverage that they earn. If you win a lot of games, you deserve it. It’s not hype by my definition. If you are a historic franchise that has many titles, you deserve it. It’s not hype. If you do something crazy, and people write and talk about it, it’s somewhat justified. Hype, to me, is undeserved attention, praise, and coverage. I hate hype. I hate it especially because deserving squads get overlooked because of these flavors of the month that pop up.

I’ve had to wait till the end of a program to even get a final score to a game I cared about because the TV station wanted to give me an in depth look at Derrick Coleman’s New Jersey Nets. Has that guy ever done anything in this league? Nope. But his team was hyped up and we all had to suffer for it. I hate the Nets franchise so much I am not even going to use them as an in-depth example in this post.

Some of the teams that were most hyped over the past few years shared some common qualities. The first is that for a team to get undeserved attention, it usually comes from a very rich history of sucking. It’s not news if the Spurs win 50 games because they always do. Most teams that get hyped up are sorry franchises.

The second quality of a hyped up team is a direct product of the first quality. The team sucks so bad for so many years that it just ends up with a lot of high draft picks. Unless you actively try to be bad, like the Clippers, you are bound to at least have a bounce back season here or there based on talent alone.

The third quality is one where a new coach (or one that’s bounced around a lot) happens to have the good luck to coach this team bursting with 1st round draft picks and they end up winning a number of games. Many times you can get a Coach of the Year trophy out of it. A number of undeservingly (is this even a word?) hyped teams propped up a Coach of the Year during their ‘hyped era’.

Fourth, we have a very rapid jump in popularity. Obviously if the team is winning (finally) all the "die hard fans" will crawl out of the wood work and support the team. By winning and having all this young talent (from high draft picks) the media will start boasting about their vast potential. People will write about them. They’ll be on TV. Fans will go to their games. Everyone will love them. (Even though 2-3 years ago no one did except locals)

The fifth, and most important aspect of hype, is that the team does not justify any of this attention with wins or playoff success. They may show a great improvement in stringing together 3 good regular seasons in 5 years – but there is no sustained growth at all. They are still bad franchises that got hyped up because they were so bad for so long they stumbled their way to good players on their rookie contracts.

It’s absolutely repugnant to lavish praise on these teams, unless you really love them. Jumping on a band wagon just because they’re doing well ‘now’ is pathetic. We don’t do this with nations, right? No one is saying "Holy cow, Pakistan has cruise missiles now, I’m going to root for them!" Why is this okay with sports? It shouldn’t be.

As Public Enemy said it, "Don’t believe the Hype."

Examples of Hype:

There are common qualities, as you just read. And we see this over and over again with the types of teams that the NBA shoves down our throats. Let’s look at them, and see if we can identify any trends.

Golden State Warriors: Post RUN-TMC [1991-1996]

This is a classic example because I will never forget being forced to watch their buffoonery on NBC as they’d lose a game to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland. The image shows all the important information. They had a very rich heritage in sucking the previous 5 seasons before this hyped up era began. They had a stable of high draft picks on the team, with an average draft position of their "best" players being an 18th pick. (Seven top 10 picks) They were flashy, and stylish, and they held it together to win enough games to have Don Nelson win ANOTHER Coach of the Year Trophy. (For those keeping score at home, he has one for each time he’s quit on a team during the season) Despite their genius coach and massive hype they managed to win 1 entire playoff game in five years. I am sickened by all the praise they were given though.

Sacramento Kings: Webber and Vlade era [1998-2004]

Do you remember how exciting this team was, with their rookie point guard White Chocolate? They were on TV all the time. Their bigs passed behind their backs. Their guards shot threes whenever they wanted. They were the new hotness. They also exhibited some of the classic signs of an over-hyped team. This era emerged after the previous five seasons had them winning only 40.73% of the time. Ten of their top thirteen players during this era were picked in the first two thirds of the first round. (Average draft position of 13.92 – that’s all lotto picks, on average) Rick Adelman was their coach, but he’s a good coach – not a charlatan like Don Nelson. He didn’t win the CoY award, mainly because this team got better more organically than some other teams I’ll mention did. (It didn’t happen over the course of 2 NBA Drafts) Still, their popularity went off the charts and they were really hyped up. Unlike a lot of these teams, though, this was a very solid era for the Kings. They won nearly 20 more games a season during this period of time and got to the West Finals once. (They were really close a number of other times as well) I’m not going to fault them for not being able to beat the Shaq Diesel Lakers. I have much less disdain for this franchise than I do the Golden State Warriors. They did, though, satisfy three of the five key signs of being an undeserving of being hyped up team.

Denver Nuggets: Allen Iverson teams up with Carmelo Anthony for the win [2006-2008*]

Iverson was traded during the season in 2006-2007 and played 50 games for the Nuggets in the regular season. This was a marketing bonanza. Everyone loved this. Melo and AI were on so many magazine covers, and had so much ink written about them (almost as much as they had injected into them). AI actually played 3 games in the 2008-2009 regular season for the Nuggets. But he was traded to the Pistons, and the Nuggets actually got better. I’m not including any of that last season in this discussion though. AI and Melo were the story, but did you look at all the high draft picks they had on this team? Five top 3 picks! Seven top 10! They sold so many jerseys that the TV Big Money boys couldn’t keep them off the nationally televised games even if they wanted to. Alas, it was too perfect to really exist. They won one whole playoff game during this era. I’m really surprised that all the hype didn’t make them a better team. I was almost convinced they were with all the love they got from ESPN . . . maybe hyped up teams are actually flawed?

What? The Golden State Warriors again? [2006-2008]

Remember how frequently we were told that the Oracle was loud? [We know this to be a lie, now] Or how many times we saw Baron Davis dunk on a white guy in an oft-reused highlight? Or how great their team chemistry was? Or that their Coach had three CoY trophies? Wait, who was it? Don Nelson? Again? Who keeps hiring him after he quits teams in the middle of the season? Anyway, this team of mercenaries came on strong (and out of nowhere) to make the playoffs and defeat the Mavs. They left as quickly as they came. With no tradition of winning, or larger game plan the team went back to its’ 30-win strategy a few months after that awesome Baron Davis dunk. Wow. That was so great. Who cares about success when you have hype!

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron’s ascendance [2005-2010]

I don’t want to bag on the Cavs fans, so I’m not going to say anything snarky here. (Just like the same principle that prevents me from including the New Orleans Hornets in this post on hype…) Even legit attention can turn into hype with the right player on your team. LeBron is a great player. He took a really bad franchise to 42 playoff wins over 5 seasons. Yes, they exhibited all the classic signs for being hyped up – their "coach" even won CoY, but they were very good in this era. Yet, the era ended, and who knows how thick the slices of bread will be in this fail sandwich? Years of mediocrity gave them LeBron, and now that he’s gone, years of mediocrity seems to be in the future for this team. [The Bread = bad seasons, the meat is this 5 year stretch of doing well in this sandwich – I feel stupid for having to point this out here.]

Portland Trailblazers: Post-Jailblazers [2006-2010]

I’d say 2006-present day but all the hype that surrounded this team (and it was significant, it had to be to get Hollinger and Stein to agree with the Basketball Jones) has migrated to the Thunder. It’s sad that the bandwagon emptied so quickly. They had so much going for them, all the years of bad teams, a bazillion high draft picks (average draft position of 9.85!!!!!), Greg Oden, Greg Oden’s dong, Brandon Roy, a guy named LaMarcus who doesn’t rebound. It’s hard to see how this group could possibly fail – they even have an owner who went out and bribed the Western Conference coaches that one year by sending them all expensive electronics (iPods w/ Roy highlights on them). Remember that? If Mark Cuban did that he’d be fined – but because it was Portland, everyone was cool with it. In four seasons they have four playoff wins. Jeez. I thought they’d be better. And now the love is gone. People still like the team . . . but they aren’t in love with them anymore. You know, because someone hotter and slightly younger came on the scene . . .

Do these trends appear to have anything in common with the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Years of sucking? Collecting 1st round draft picks? Talent puts it together to carry coach to CoY award? Crazy hype? Survey says yes. This team won 2 games in the playoffs. This year they are expected to challenge the Lakers for the top spot in the west. You know what, the Utah Jazz won 2 games vs. the Lakers the first time they played in the playoffs too three seasons ago. How did that work out for the Jazz? Yeah. What is actually worse for the Thunder, though, is that they aren’t the Jazz. They don’t have a history of winning, and they only got all this hype because they sucked so hard they have five top 5 picks on the team, and eight Top 10 picks. Oh, what’s that? Salary cap? What does the salary cap have to do with anything . . . oh holy mother in Heaven . . . most of these young guys are still on their rookie contracts, which end around the same time as their veteran contracts! There’s no long term growth here, it’s just people banking on other players wanting to take less money to play in Denver Cleveland Oklahoma City. Who could say no to wanting to play with Melo LeBron Kevin Durant. Young stars on crappy teams ALWAYS have the support of their front offices to get the players to make a dynasty outside of kids on their rookie contracts. Right? This is especially true for small market teams, right Chris Paul?

Damn you Amar! You’re a bitter fan! You’re jealous! No, no, you’re scared of the Thunder! And you’re a hater! Also your team sucks!! Karl Malone is a thug! C’mon, what are you, a Mormon?

Harsh reality aside, this team is a fun team. They have a lovable cast of characters. They’re going to win some games. I just don’t think that they’re projecting to be a dynasty with all of these common qualities with over-hyped teams of the recent NBA’s past. How good is this team going to be in 4-5 years? (All the other teams, except the really bad ones I listed, had eras lasting 5-6 seasons . . . how many of these guys are going to stick around through all of it?) It remains to be seen how good this team will be, but they have all the potential in the world.

You know all about potential, right? The post-RUN TMC Warriors had loads . . . or AI’s Nuggets . . . or the Dubs . . . or Webber’s Kings . . . or like LeBron in Cleveland, and so on. Think upon this before signing your life savings into the ‘savior’ of the NBA Kevin Durant. Remember we used to think that Kobe, LeBron, and Bosh had no faults when they were young too!

Hope and optimism elevate the Thunder to adoration they have yet to deserve. In my language, this is hype. What’s that Chuck D?