So, we’ve come to the end of the decade. When it comes to the NBA, we always evaluate and commend what we witness over the time period of the decade. It's amazing how time flies — I remember writing my column ten years ago looking back at the 2000s, and now it’s the 2010s. Time is going to fly again, and people who follow the NBA are going to study the statistics. But even though I believe in math and I’m good at it, I don’t completely believe in statistics. There is such a thing as the “eye test,” and by that I mean that only those who witnessed something can truly know it.
I remember writing ten years ago that the player of the decade was Kobe Bryant. Between 2000-2009, the player who had the most impact on the game and the league was definitely Kobe Bryant, hands down. For this decade, no question, the best player is LeBron James. He’s even one of the best players of the 2000s, but he wasn’t the “Great LeBron James” back then as he is now.
All the statistics say LeBron James all the way. But just for a minute, forget about the stats and his record. LeBron James carried two different teams to the NBA Finals eight times in the last decade. When you think about it, it really sounds crazy, but it's a fact we can't avoid.
For four years in a row, in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, he took Miami Heat to the NBA Finals and brought them to the championships back to back in 2013 and 2014.
In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, he took the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals for four years straight, and brought Cleveland its first championship in franchise history in 2016.
We could list the players of the decades as follows:
1970s: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
1980s: Earvin “Magic” Johnson
1990s: Michael Jordan
2000s: Kobe Bryant
2010s: LeBron James
In this decade we have to mention those who have truly had a big impact on the game: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and maybe more.
Just as a note, my candidate for the upcoming decade was Kevin Durant. But due to his injury from the end of last season, he’s sitting out this season. When he returns, we don't know if he's going to be the player he once was.
We might list two names for the team of the decade, the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors. In the summer of 2010, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat, we knew they were going to dominate the league for a while and have a huge impact on the popularity of the league. They sure did. If they didn't lose the 2014 final against the Spurs, they might not have broken up, and if they hadn’t, we would definitely be having a different discussion now.
And last but not least, the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors didn’t just win championships, they also changed the game. NBA basketball was all about “long ball” — it was center's league, the big man’s league. The Warriors changed this. They might be the first team to have dominated just by shooting the ball. But the key detail is that they move the ball a lot, so their system is not the traditional NBA “isolation game.” They don't create shots by force, they play selflessly and move the ball a lot. They took advantage of playing in an era in which teams don't move the ball a lot. So they also transformed the basketball-playing culture of the league. I think they are the team of the decade.
On this topic, we have to give credit to Steve Kerr as their coach because this is the system and the style he created. We can't mention this decade without mentioning Steve Kerr. He changed a lot of things — maybe temporarily, but that’s not the point. What he accomplished is still a fact.
There are two things we should mention in this decade that I think changed the flow and direction of history. First there was Kobe Bryant's Achilles injury. The next thing was the championship win by the Toronto Raptors.
Let's check the possible scenarios. What if Kobe hadn’t torn his Achilles tendon in the 2013 playoffs? The Lakers might have won a championship. In the least, Kobe would have won another championship if he had stayed healthy. He's got five rings, right? So, this one championship equals Michael Jordan's six. But this also would have taken one championship ring away from LeBron. This would have made many things different by now.
The second thing was when Kawhi Leonard got traded to the Toronto Raptors for the last year of his contract. Everybody knew he was just going to stay a year and move on. Kawhi Leonard brought a championship to the city of Toronto in his first and only year in the Raptors uniform. This was the first championship in the franchise history of the Toronto Raptors. It's crazy, isn't it? You play one year for a team and you become the greatest player in the team's franchise history.
Kawhi didn’t just bring a championship to the city of Toronto. He also ended the Warriors’ dynasty. We have to give him the credit for this. Kawhi Leonard was also the guy who ended the Miami Heat’s dynasty in 2014 by beating them in the finals and bringing a championship to the San Antonio Spurs. These two things always stay in the back of my head when I think about this era and this decade.
It was a great decade - we witnessed a lot of history, stories, and details. In ten years, we’re going to write new stories and new names when we look back on the 2020s. But for the 2010s... this is my breakdown.