A Very Bright Future Amid Dark Clouds

When your favorite sports team, which won six championships in the 1990's and was led by the greatest athlete of a generation, manages to win exactly 20 percent of its games in the last three seasons, it's easy to become apathetic towards the game you love.

As a Chicago Bulls fan however, it was easy for me to rekindle my spirit for the game of basketball when I watched the NBA All-Star Game two nights ago.

I wasn't expecting to catch more than a few cheap thrills: a Vince Carter facial here, an Allen Iverson crossover there. Yet what I saw on Sunday night was a new and exciting batch of superstars taking the reigns of basketball stardom from the old guard.

Long gone are the days of MJ, Magic, Larry, and Sir Charles. The NBA is now the league of C-Webb, KG, Kobe, Iverson and co. How fitting that the two remaining all-stars from the heyday of Dream Team I, Karl Malone and David Robinson, played a combined 14 minutes, or about exactly half the time that Tim Duncan spent on the court.

It's easy to be cynical about a sport in which 19 year old kids earn millions of dollars for little more than sitting on a bench and looking interested, and where news of drug busts and wife beatings are no longer shocking. But at the same time, the years of being able to look towards professional athletes as role models have long since passed.

The NBA is a league still trying to define its identity in the post-Jordan era. The golden age that started with the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 1980's and continued with the Bulls domination during 1990's is over, and is not likely to be duplicated any time soon.

Yet despite this mini-crisis of sorts, the Association remains the most exciting league in the world, save for perhaps the NFL. And better yet, it's being led in the new millennium by a class of superstars that is just as deep and exciting as the original Dream Team coterie.

Parity, talent, and competition usually create excitement, and judging by this standard, the NBA is in the nascent phase of a new 'silver age.' The drafts from 1992-1996 yielded a bonanza of new stars that now define basketball like the 1984-1985 classes of Jordan, Olajuwon, Malone, Barkley, Ewing, and Stockton did for the past 15 years.