As the football season is coming to a close now with the Super Bowl decided, if you’re just now remembering that basketball exists and joining in upon the NBA season, we welcome you with open arms!
Success is attained in almost an entirely different fashion in the NFL than in the NBA; the team identity of a basketball team sporting 5 players on the court at once with a much smaller roster (and somehow more egos to manage) is much different than a football team managing a 53-man roster over a season that merely consists of 17 games with less moveable contracts.
However, the way that some of the operations and organizations have been run share some parallels, as there’s more than one way to skin a cat (or hoist a Lombardi or O’Brien).
Sports are all narrative- it’s just like the hero’s journey, where the archetypes are shared amongst the journey to the trophy.
As the football newbies are joining the NBA season at this point in the year, let’s evaluate the state of each operation with some comparisons of franchises between the NBA and the NFL as it stands and as it’s been over the years.
Los Angeles Lakers // Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This feels like a bit of a layup. It’s the team that was down and out for a while and rescued as the biggest face of their sports over the last several decades switched teams in the twilight of their careers and attracted a rag-tag team of veterans willing to take a discount to play with the GOATs of the era in the process. Tom Brady brought Leonard Fournette, Gronk, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, and even Antonio Brown to hoist the Lombardi just as LeBron has been playing GM of the Lakers, stringing together enough puppetry to win a title in the bubble in 2020 with his pals Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Now, every bit of the franchise’s investment hinges on the superstar that runs the team despite having all the mileage on them. For the Bucs, yes, they won the NFC South with an immovable Brady and a roster that looks like a sinking ship once he leaves. For the Lakers, LeBron has been playing at a historic scoring pace, but it’s all to potentially make the play-in by trying to move Heaven and Earth, also known as Russell Westbrook, and the future of the franchise with their future draft picks. They’ve sold their souls to the GOATs. It may have been worth it for one trophy, but here we are.
Golden State Warriors // Kansas City Chiefs
This is another obvious comparison that doesn’t need much of an explanation besides the offensive impact of Steph Curry compared to Patrick Mahomes and the paranoia that the opposing fans feel while watching them, knowing that no matter how far ahead you get, you can never count out a three-point maestro performance or an 80-yard drive.
They’re also both in transition phases- the Chiefs having to create new offensive production after moving Tyreek Hill in the offseason, and the Warriors looking to continue their dynastic run with more youth in their role players like Jordan Poole and Jonathon Kuminga as Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are in a new chapter of their career. It hasn’t seemed to matter for the Chiefs at all, but for Golden State, do you still want to bet against Steph in April?
Milwaukee Bucks // Cincinnati Bengals
A small market team in the midwest with decades of postseason irrelevance suddenly drafts a franchise savior to take them over the top as the entire team and community is galvanized around his character and leadership as one of sports media’s new darlings and now look poised to be in title contention for a long, long time.
Sound familiar? That’s because that’s Giannis and Joe Burrow. The Bucks struck absolute gold by drafting Giannis after seeing his grainy footage from Greece after being decidedly uncool for quite a while throughout their duds in the Eastern Conference Playoffs; now, the entire Milwaukee community adores him and his dedication to winning and simply not caring about playing in the bright lights of a big market and have invested everything into him and the team (shoutout to the Deer District) and winning a title.
The Bengals are on that similar path- making a Super Bowl in his second season, despite no-deposit bonus codes not being in their favor, paying pivotal players in free agency to invest in Burrow, and they even have an indoor practice facility now!
New Orleans Pelicans // Miami Dolphins
There’s a certain ceiling that the Pelicans can hit when everything is rolling- when Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, and Trey Murphy III are all healthy and on the court together, each of them a threat to be explosive by driving to the basket, and that’s a title-contender. They’re ahead of schedule, too, with all of the assets accumulated from the Lakers giving away their entire truckload of draft assets to them for Anthony Davis, meaning they could even make another move going forward before the deadline to take them to the top of the west. The way Zion changes the game as a practical Humvee driving down the court with a full head of steam but also being able to stretch the floor, is a similar level of tilt that the Miami Dolphins have with speed accumulated on offense with their game-changing receivers in Hill and Waddle.
The problem they both face is never being able to have the availability to see that ceiling. The Dolphins were rolling and looking like they had that sort of title contention in them when Tua was healthy until his concussions started piling up, and we never got to see that team when it mattered. We got a stretch of peak Zion this year, but Ingram was out with a toe injury, and now with Ingram back, Zion is out once again for several weeks with a hamstring. We’re hoping the Pelicans aren’t following in the footsteps of the Dolphins as the “what could have been?” team of the league.
Miami Heat // Baltimore Ravens
The Heat and Ravens, year after year, are consistently the gritty franchises that will always find a way to muddy up a game and play up to the competition when it matters most, no matter the circumstances, in unconventional ways; they always feel like the junkyard dogs of the league. The Ravens have been embodied by the unbelievable defenses that took them to multiple Super Bowls over the past several decades, and the current state of the franchise has been having to win with that similar mentality due to either the absence of Lamar Jackson or a Greg Roman offense that chooses not to throw the ball at all in a league that has been defined by passing. They throw punches at you in a different direction.
The Heat have been the same way over the years– finding diamonds in the rough that play for the social-media culted “Heat Culture” like Max Strus or Caleb Martin and revolving around defensive alpha-male personalities like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to take them to the top instead of smooth shooting in the age of the 3-point ball. They’re their own separate entities that contend no matter what it takes to get out of their rosters, and you always fear them.
Toronto Raptors // Indianapolis Colts
Is the Kawhi one-and-done run in Toronto the NBA equivalent of the seasons where Andrew Luck lit the league on fire for a brief time (minus the championship) before suddenly retiring and leaving the Colts in the dust?
After each of their superstars have left, the organizations have been floundering and doing whatever
it takes to tread water. The Colts have had substitute teacher veteran quarterbacks filling in year after year for a roster that you always say is “just a quarterback away” and given a grace period due to the shocking circumstance of Luck retiring, and now the entirety of the franchise aside from Jim Irsay is getting a reboot after a dumpster fire of a season where Jeff Saturday got out of his desk at the ESPN studio to coach the team.
The Raptors still have a roster full of serviceable role players, great team-oriented play, and a coach in Nick Nurse who always gets the most out of hand he’s dealt post-Kawhi, but with a dreadful start to the season, the era could be coming to a close entirely or moderately, depending on how many of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, or Gary Trent Jr.
Interestingly enough, the Colts were once rumored to be in on the Tom Brady sweepstakes. The Raptors this year were rumored to be a Kevin Durant landing spot but refused to move Scottie Barnes.
What could have been.
Memphis Grizzlies // Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl with the underdog, Philly mentality where they carry themselves with the “no one likes us, we don’t care” mantra, all while using a CBS sports drama narrative of a backup quarterback taking over for their injured MVP candidate. After several down years following that glory, they did what competent franchises do- they move on and found a new way to win and shape their roster, all due to Howie Roseman and their ownership. They moved on when Nick Foles, Carson Wentz, and Doug Pederson weren’t working, built through the trenches, and now have the entire team rallied around Jalen Hurts, the incredible, galvanizing leader who fell in drafts after being undersized and beaten out in college competition at Alabama.
The Grizzlies were just moving on from the “Grit and Grind” era after almost a decade of sustained success, and after landing on the second pick in the draft, people forget that many believed them to get the short end of the stick by missing out on Zion; they “ended up” with Ja Morant, the undersized guard from a midmajor.
Ja’s similar alpha mentality has rallied the entire young Grizzlies roster into carrying themselves with the most Philadelphia energy of a non-Philly sports team in existence.
They’ve rebranded into a new kind of winning in contrast to the winning carried by the good guy of the league in Mike Conley- they’re carrying themselves as if they belong with Golden State and Phoenix, that they should be feared, and play with their chest out ready to come at the throats of the opposition in a meaningless game in January. The rebranding, the attitude, and the parallels of Ja and Jalen are uncanny.
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