Do you root for players in the NBA but teams in the other Big 4 sports? Does your favorite basketball player not play for the NBA team geographically closest to you? Prior to 1980, your answers likely would have been different. However, something “magical” happened since then. In this post, I discuss the early days of the NBA Modern Era when television stations aired playoff games on tape-delay. Starting with superstars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the league made a conscious decision to promote its stars more than its teams. Fortunately, players like Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron have been able to take the game to the next level. In fact, they helped drive the game’s tremendous international popularity. The NFL is set, but perhaps MLB and the NHL could learn something from their younger (and smarter) brother.
On February 26, 1978, the Portland Trail Blazers escaped Chicago Stadium with a 100-99 win. Making the game even more exciting, Portland guard Lionel Hollins banked a 30-footer at the buzzer for the victory. Led by MVP-candidate Bill Walton, the “Blazers” were the prohibitive favorites to repeat as NBA Champions. However, the team’s fortunes changed that night due to a series of fateful events after the game. The story may sound far-fetched, but it really happened. At least, I heard it did.
As a 19-year old from Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the state), Nikoloz Tskitishvili was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 5th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. With six foreign players taken in the first round that year, the NBA’s evolution into an international league had hit another gear. Relative to draft position, that group included three very productive players (Yao Ming at #1, Nene Hilario at #7, and Nenad Krstic at #24), two underproductive players (Bostjan Nachbar at #15 and Jiri Welsch at #16), and one unproductive player (Nikoloz Tskitishvili). Based on a combination of horrendous shooting and abysmal production, Tskitishvili earned the title of #8 NBA Draft Bust.