With the 2016-2017 NBA season starting today and some high-profile retirees after last season, my thoughts wander back to twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, Michael Jordan totally owned the NBA. Shaquille O’Neal — young, slim, athletic — was perhaps the most dominant individual player. The question was who would be the successor to Jordan. My two favorite candidates were Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, though I wasn’t sure who would eventually be more successful; I hedged my bets by buying both their rookie cards. (And, actually, this was my first “investment” in a sense, and the return has been great!)
Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were also on the rise and in the post-Jordan conversation as well. Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitski were in the NBA pipeline and came on the scene a couple years later.
If we call that the dawn of the post-Jordan era, then that era is pretty much over now. Shaq and AI have been retired for a while. Kobe, KG, and Tim Duncan retired after last season. The question of whether Kobe or AI would have the better career has been settled so definitively that it feels a little silly now even comparing them. Vince Carter is an old man, a three-point-shooting specialist. (Do the kids these days know how he used to play?) Dirk is probably the only one still recognizable from his old self. This all hit me with a strong wave of nostalgia, because this is around the time I really started following the NBA.
Twenty years ago, I was in elementary school in a small town in Missouri; I’d never really visited a big city. I was finally able to convince my parents to get Internet access; we started with CompuServe, but made our way onto AOL not too long after that. PCs were king, Apple was kind of a distant memory; our old IIGS was in a box somewhere. Bill Clinton was president; I collected his card too! The White House sent back a form letter and picture in response to a letter of mine that I’ve forgotten now — and yes, using physical mail carried by the Post Office. Golf was an incredibly boring niche game that only old rich white guys played; somebody named “Tiger” was just turning pro. The two movies I remember most from around then are Independence Day and Space Jam. Although now that Independence Day, Space Jam, and a Clinton presidency have been or are about to be remade, some things haven’t changed much.
Alright, that’s enough nostalgia-indulgence for today. The king is dead, long live the king and all that.