The NBA’s Millennial Generation Takeover Is Official

The marquee play of the NBA’s playoff-opening Saturday was when 37-year-old Andre Miller had young buck Draymond Green out at the top of the key on an island with the game’s closing seconds ticking down and the score tied at 95. Green is about four inches taller than Dre; and Green’s stronger, quicker, faster, and 14 years younger. Yet, there was Dre – slow as molasses – getting all the way to cup. It was strictly off of guile and smarts – using Green’s uncertainty and indecision on defense against him. Once Dre got to the hoop, he hit Green with a dipsey-doo, up-and-under scoop shot (from well below the rim) just like an old-head at the YMCA. That bucket gave him 28 for the game – Old Man Dre was killin’ all night.

Miller’s heroics were bookended by big-time performances from 40-year-old Jason Kidd and 36-year-old Chauncey Billups. But lest you think that the near-retirees were dropping their canes to regain control of the NBA, it’s imperative to note that Carmelo Anthony’s 36 points owned Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon. And, while Andre Miller was the most memorable performer in Denver, it was young point guards Ty Lawson and Steph Curry that went tit-for-tat down the stretch of a compelling fourth quarter, JaVale McGee with the instant-GIF, and Chris Paul was clearly the best player on the Staples Center court.

TSL’s J.R. Gamble has a short but keen piece of commentary on the Spurs today, asserting that the Spurs lucked out by getting the Lakers in the first round:

The aging Spurs were afforded the luxury of playing one of the few NBA teams older and more banged up than them. The Lakers are slow, lacking athleticism and Kobe-less. This makes them a perfect playoff mark for a Spurs team looking to preserve Tony Parker’s, Manu Ginobili’s and Tim Duncan’s energy before venturing on to face barn–burner, high-flying squads like OKC, Denver or the Clippers.”

This is the first postseason that is the conspicuous province of NBA Millenials.

We entered the 2012 postseason under much different circumstances. In fact, my debut column that we used to launch The Shadow League (“All Stacks, No C’hips”) last May, was a piece concerning Generation X’s lingering vice-grip on the Larry O’Brien trophy and, thus, the league. I (along with many other invested hoop-heads) was anxiously waiting for the young heads to start a hostile takeover of league-rule.

Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s been admirable and even inspiring to see Kevin Garnett and Duncan and Kobe and other OGs stay more than relevant, but, it’s time. It’s time for Generation Y – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and other ’80s Babies – to get disrespectful and take the car keys. It’s seemed like Gen Y has been ready to do just that, winning all the regular season MVPs and scoring titles and taking up the bulk the All-NBA spots the past four seasons. But, what’s troubling is that for all the virtuosity that the young cats exhibit, they aren’t winning the big boy. We could be looking at a Boston vs. San Antonio matchup in the NBA Finals. This is a problem.”

Well, we know what happened. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals happened.

We’ve parsed the meaning and impact of the game ad-nausem, I know. But, just to reiterate: LeBron, coming off a possibly career-defining/threatening dud in Game 5, came back and annihilated his arch-rivals on their home floor in what could have been a closeout game. LeBron has, and always will, typify and represent the NBA’s Millennial generation more than any other athlete. The Celtics – with KG’s ornery sneering and constant woofing, Paul Pierce’s antagonistic bravado, and Ray Allen’s subdued stateliness – came to typify the last vestiges of Gen X dominance. LeBron deaded that. Game 6 was the official signal of regime change; even if it happened one day after the young Oklahoma City Thunder sent the Spurs dynasty deeper into decline, after it seemed like San Antonio was on the verge of championship rebirth.

This postseason, the old-regime Lakers and Celtics are looking like first round casualties, while the Spurs are no longer on even par with OKC as West favorites. Those three teams, at least at the onset of playoffs, look like they’ll be non-factors by Memorial Day. The Dallas Mavericks – the other playoff staple of the old regime – will have a representative at the NBA’s draft lottery show for the first time since 2000 (Cuban strikes me as the kind of old dude that takes Instagram “selfies,” so I wonder if he’ll look sullen, slumming it with losers, or use it as an opportunity to ham it up).

This is clearly a new league under new player-management. LeBron is going for back-to-backs while Kobe (as Coach Vino) is tweeting on his couch.

But now here’s the issue: What kind of league will this new generation steward? Will LeBron & Co. just raze through the league for the foreseeable future? That’s a possibility and not necessarily a very inviting idea. In Jack McCallum’s Dream Team book, he observed that, if Michael Jordan were jealous of anything when it came to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, it was that he never had a true rival to push him.

What if alpha-jostling derails the KD/Russ partnership? Shaq and Kobe broke up, but not without a three-peat. The questions don’t stop there. The Derrick Rose love affair is over in Chicago. His skeptics are now the loudest chorus. When he comes back, can we merge with his tough-as-nails cohorts and create some conflict in the East’s upper-echelon? This postseason will shed light on whether Carmelo Anthony, within the context of sports, is a winner or loser.

I count X first-ballot Hall-of-Famers from the previous generation (Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, J-Kidd, Dirk and A.I.). That’s 10 players – drafted between 1992 and 1998 – and those dudes are locks. Each of those dudes has a ring or played in the Finals (other than Nash). Their era lasted from 1999 to 2011 and, more importantly, it was dramatic. Early on, Shaq and Kobe seemed destined to bore us with unchallenged dominance, but their egos and their peers didn’t let them.

Who’s going to stop LeBron, make him sweat? That is the central issue for this current generation.

Last year, we wondered if/when the Millennial would take the league reins. Well, they did. Now what are they going to do with them?


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