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Updated Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 02:51 PM

Why the NBA product is worth reclaiming

By Jerry Brewer
Seattle Times staff columnist

This is a good time to embrace the NBA again.

It's not just a good time to embrace the return of the Sonics, or to build an arena with Chris Hansen footing 58 percent of the bill, or to make the Seattle sports scene whole. Those are all wonderful reasons to consider this a favorable situation for the city and its basketball fans, but here's an underrated and misconstrued benefit: You get to have the world's greatest basketball league back, and it comes during a time when the league is actually living up to that title.

Over the past year, as Hansen's plan to lure back the NBA became clear, I've rededicated myself to watching the NBA. Perhaps some of you have, too. The goal was to scrutinize the worth of the league five years after one of the ugliest relocations in pro sports history.

This is what I now know: The NBA is considerably better than the league that abandoned us five years ago. Some of the problems of NBA business still exist — look at what we might have to do to the Sacramento Kings for evidence — but the league isn't the financial disaster that it was before a new collective-bargaining agreement was reached in 2011.

And in terms of quality of play and its entertainment value, the NBA is enjoying its best run in nearly 20 years.

Take a closer look. You'll find that some of the longstanding arguments against the NBA are outdated.

The game isn't as slow and boring and devoid of various styles of play anymore. The defending champion Miami Heat plays small ball and excels in transition. Even the San Antonio Spurs — the plodding ol' Spurs — score 104.2 points per game. There are big and bruising teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz, and there are teams defying gravity such as the Los Angeles Clippers. The game is more wide open than it used to be, and there's no single prototype that everyone copies.

It's still a superstar-driven league, but better overall teams are being built. The franchise players continue to run the NBA, and they've been teaming up to form super teams, but interestingly, the league is far more competitive than the days when Shaq and Kobe reigned. For all the Heat did to put LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together, they're not miles ahead of the rest of the league like many thought they would be. And there are several teams, the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets included, without a true superstar that are winning with depth.

The biggest change? This crop of stars is far more likable and trustworthy. Don't throw out the breathless and lazy thug label with these guys. James, the league's best player, is a responsible torchbearer who has never been in trouble and who tried in vain to play the villain role after he left Cleveland for Miami. He gave up, returned to being a fun-loving guy, and he's playing the best basketball of his career. Kobe Bryant has rebuilt his image. Kevin Durant is a basketball savant. Wade is a great league spokesman. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving — they're all easy to root for. Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan — like Bryant, they're all future Hall of Famers still chasing one more championship.

Right now, the most polarizing player in the NBA is probably Dwight Howard because he forced his way out of Orlando and is having an awful, injury-plagued first season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He comes across as too whiny. He doesn't have the toughness of a classic Lakers center. All these things are true, but if he's the worst of your superstars, you have found Nirvana.

Is the NBA worth it? No doubt.

From an entertainment value, no doubt.

From a star-power perspective, no doubt.

And if you're still not convinced, there's this: commissioner David Stern, who will always be on your most-hated list, retires in roughly a year from now.

The league is evolving, out of its old funk and well into an era of stars who will force you to rewrite the list of the NBA's 50 greatest players. It's good basketball, and it's in the hands of elite players who aren't likely to bring shame to the game.

It's an ideal scenario to return to an abandoned city and start the process of winning back the fan base. That's part of why Hansen is doing everything he can to bring back the Sonics; it's a wise investment. And that's why Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is fighting so valiantly to keep the Kings in his city.

In Seattle, we've already felt the sting of losing Durant to Oklahoma City. It's depressing to ponder what he would've meant to this city. His impact would've been Griffey-esque. Of course, there's nothing you can do about that now, except get back on the train under the right set of circumstances.

This is that time.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.


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