The 2010s Showcased the NBA at Its Very Best

Nostalgia for previous eras remains strong, but the NBA has never had as much top-tier talent as it does right now. This year has been disappointing, but we can thank the coronavirus for that. The last few years have been filled with memorable moments and high-end basketball. Looking at all of the NBA decades, we’re planting a flag in the 2010s.

The NBA has a great history but a better present

It’s been a tough few months for the NBA and its fans. The league began the year fighting fires. A tweet from Rockets GM Daryl Morey supporting protests in Hong Kong caused a schism between the NBA and the Chinese government. It eventually led to a lot of bad PR and a decrease in the salary cap. 

Zion Williamson, the phenomenon pegged to be the next big thing, missed the first few months of the season due to knee surgery. The start of the new year was difficult as well. Kobe Bryant’s sudden death sent the entire sport into mourning.

Now, the rest of the season is up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before a tough 2020, the last few years of basketball were exceptional. With no new games on the horizon, fans have engaged in debates over which players and eras stand out above the rest.

The late ’80s and early ’90s tend to win these arguments due to memories of Michael Jordan. Many fans involved in these discussions grew up during this time, experiencing MJ’s brilliance as kids. It was certainly a great time for the NBA, but the last 10 years were better in many ways. Here’s why the 2010s were basketball’s golden age.

The biggest talent boom in NBA history

The number of elite players who hit their prime in the 2010s is exceptional. No other decade of NBA history experienced so much depth.

Throughout the 2010s, you could watch any of the following stars playing at or approaching their peak: LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Nikola Jokic, Blake Griffin and pre-injury Derrick Rose.

These players weren’t just great. Some of them changed the way basketball is played. Curry’s Warriors convinced the rest of the NBA to prioritize three-point shooting and “small-ball” lineups more than ever before. James’ dominance has made wings who can run an offense the most in-demand players. He’s inspired superstars to have more control over their franchises; he also took a stand as an athlete via his “shut up and dribble” campaign.

The 2010s also included old greats like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dwayne Wade as they wrapped up their careers and received the goodbyes they deserved. NBA fans also saw young stars like Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson, who still have their best years ahead of them. 

The 2010s’ incredible competition and dramatic storylines

LeBron James celebrates with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat in 2010
LeBron James celebrates with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat in 2010 | Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The greatness of these players made for intense playoff series with intriguing narratives and great games. Six teams won championships during the decade; most of those Finals were very competitive. Two franchises dictated the NBA during the last decade: the Warriors and whatever team James played for at the time.

No one had lower lows and higher highs than James. The formation of the “Big Three” made Miami everyone’s favorite team to hate. They entered the 2011 Finals as the heavy favorites, but the Dallas Mavericks beat them to become one of the most surprising champions in recent history.

James more than made up for the Heat’s defeat in 2016 when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers back from the dead to defeat the 73-win Golden State Warriors. 

Golden State still did plenty of winning, earning three titles and going to the Finals five years in a row. They began as likable underdogs who won by playing differently than other teams. But the Warriors became more villainized as they signed Kevin Durant away from Oklahoma City.

Golden State’s reign ended with the Toronto Raptors, led by Kawhi Leonard who, after playing out one of the best postseasons ever, left for LA’s sunnier climate. 

Plenty of other great moments didn’t take place in the Finals. The Warriors had their own 3-1 comeback against OKC and developed a rivalry with the Houston Rockets. Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beater against the Thunder last year didn’t bring Portland a title, but Blazers fans will remember that shot for a long time. The NBA isn’t prone to big surprises, but this didn’t make the games any less entertaining.  

This forced break could lead to a new beginning for the NBA

While all of these qualities still exist, there are signs that casual fans are not as enamored with the NBA. Ratings have been down across the board. There are many possible reasons — the regular season is too long or fans aren’t as attached to the players as they once were — but it may have to do with things that aren’t based on the on-court product.

The NBA has taken its collective eyes off the ball in regards to marketing. Many believe the league is too focused on what happens in free agency and not on the actual games. 

No one wants this period of social distancing to last any longer than it has to, but the league can use this as a reset button for how they showcase the game.

Now is the time to consider if changing the schedule would make fans more invested. Make changes to the league’s presentation to focus on the blend of athleticism and skill that makes basketball so beautiful. The NBA has players full of talent and personality to invest in. Once fans see it, they won’t want to look away.