The NBA tips off the regular season next week, but some fans would prefer to skip ahead seven months to when they assume the Warriors and Cavaliers will be squaring off in a fourth straight Finals. Oddsmakers largely agree, having installed those teams as 5-12 and 4-1 title favorites, respectively (per ESPN), with the Celtics next closest at 10-1.
That’s even after Cleveland lost star point guard Kyrie Irving over the summer, as he demanded a trade, but it got back Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder from Boston in that deal and further bolstered the roster with free agents such as Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green. Golden State had a quieter offseason but, of course, it scored one of the biggest free agent acquisitions ever last year when Kevin Durant joined the likes of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
In response, some other NBA teams have tried to assemble their own all-star casts, most notably the Thunder — with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony joining Russell Westbrook — and the Rockets, who brought in Chris Paul to pair with James Harden. However, neither those squads nor the Spurs are given much of an chance to derail the Warriors in the West, and the Celtics are the only team viewed as a credible threat to the Cavs in the East.
Meanwhile, the Hornets have 100-1 odds to win the NBA championship this season, and their owner recently said the trend of top players joining forces on so-called “super teams” is bad for the NBA. That owner would be one Michael Jordan, who offered his comments to Cigar Aficionado (while enjoying a Cuban with a glass of whiskey, naturally).
“You’re starting to see a little bit of it now, where the stars are starting to gang up and go on one team,” Jordan said in an interview for the 25th anniversary of the magazine. “I think it’s going to hurt the overall aspect of the league from a competitive standpoint. You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage. Or they’re going to have a tough time surviving in the business environment.”
Having posted winning records in two of the past four seasons, the Hornets aren’t exactly garbage, but Jordan is aware that Charlotte isn’t a preferred destination for free agents in the way that Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco are. “The star players are not rushing to small markets,” he said, “so I put more emphasis on draft than I used to, because you’re not going to be able to get the LeBrons of the world to come to Charlotte.”
Of course, LeBron James went from Miami to Cleveland, another NBA city not usually considered a Mecca for free agents. However, that was a special case; he is a native of nearby Akron, Ohio, and was drafted by the Cavs, spending his first seven seasons with that team before returning in 2014.
When James famously ditched the Cavs for the Heat in 2010, he helped usher in the era of super teams by uniting with Wade in Miami, along with another prized free agent, Chris Bosh. James was criticized for choosing to join his rivals rather than try to beat them, but at the time, Jordan claimed he didn’t have a problem with it, although he said it was not what he would have done.
“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,’ ” Jordan said in 2010 (via ESPN). “But . . . things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has offered mixed opinions on the topic of “super teams.” In 2016, shortly after Durant went to Golden State, he said, “I don’t think it’s good for the league, just to be really clear. I will say, whoever is favored, try telling that to the 420 other players who aren’t on those two teams. … When you aggregate the great players [on those two teams], they have a better chance of winning than many other teams.”
In May, though, Silver said (via ESPN), “It’s just hard for me to fathom how there becomes this perception that at the moment there are only two teams that are truly competitive in this league. I just don’t believe it. I think you’re going to see these things have a way of working themselves out over time.”
Jordan’s thoughts on the league’s competitive balance were not the only noteworthy comments he provided to Cigar Aficonado. Here are some others:
- On who is the greatest of all time: “I never played against Wilt Chamberlain. I never played against Jerry West. To now say that one’s greater than the other is being a little bit unfair. … I won six championships. Bill Russell won 11. Does that make Bill Russell better than me or make me better than him? No, because we played in different eras.”
- On Tiger Woods and the advent of social media: “Tiger played at his peak somewhere towards the end of my career. What changes between that time to now? Social media, Twitter, all types of things that have invaded the personal time of individuals. I don’t know if I could survive in this Twitter time, where you don’t have the privacy that you’d want, and what seems to be very innocent could always be misinterpreted.”
- On his childhood sports idols: “I also grew up a NASCAR fan, a Richard Petty fan. I was more into stock car racing than I was into anything else.”
- On Derek Jeter: “He’s like my little brother. We hang out a lot.”
- On leaving the NBA to play baseball: “Everybody says it was a failed opportunity to play baseball. That’s what they think. For me, it was the best thing to happen to me, because it allowed me to go back to the game [of basketball] with a stronger passion. … When we won those championships [in 1996, 1997 and 1998], those things mattered to me far greater than what I did in ’91, ’92 and ’93. People don’t see that. All they think about is, ‘He batted .202, and he struck out a certain number of times.’ Yeah, okay, but the effort was there, and the learning curve and the passion was there.”
- On possibly coaching: “No. I have no patience for coaching. My biggest problem from a competitive standpoint is the focus of today’s athlete. For me to ask an individual to focus on the game the way I played would, in some ways, be unfair. And if he didn’t do it, there’s no telling where my emotions would be.”
- On his bucket list: “Winning a championship in Charlotte.”
Not surprisingly, Jordan was also asked about his love of cigars. “I smoke six cigars a day, maybe,” he said.
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