The cover design has been proofed, the pages typeset, the advance copies printed and shipped. The story has already been written. The next decade of professional basketball is pre-packaged waiting to hit the shelves. A series of Durant-Lebron rivalries, interrupted by Chris Paul and the Knicks' turns. When these stars hit their mid-thirties they are forced to give way as Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving finally breaking through. Somewhere in here an aged David Stern will go off into the sunset on a horse made of stock options down a trail made of highlight reels.
We already know the prologue. "…It was in the highly charged environment of Olympic practice, young stars clashed with established champions and a fire was ignited..." The romance of the Olympic games will intoxicate the next generation who won't see the NBA's superstars in Brazil, or any future Olympic games. After the sad plight of injured superstar Blake Griffin, future fans won't question the monetary motives behind the owners choice to pull the stars from the games despite the resistance of players, like Kobe Bryant. Ultimately, ignoring Kobe Bryant will be a regular theme in this story, Kyrie Irving mocking the former champion in practice, Kobe serving virtually a bench role in these Olympics, Kobe ultimately falling short with or without Dwight Howard in next year's highly watched playoffs, it will all fit with this story. Unfortunate for these would-be stars and champions. Because as he fades into darkness a point will be missed, that Kobe more than anyone else should deliver. Don't sleep on the Detroit Pistons.
In this stories pages, there isn't space for Detroit's passionate team oriented play. Relegated to a tiny portion of the back story, the Pistons are merely the team that Jordan and Pippen "had a right" to conspire against. According to this story, the Pistons are a team that can only call on asterisks and dirty play to win championships. Despite having more championships under Stern's watch than 25 other teams in the league, the Pistons are going to be but a small corner of this story and with good reason. The NBA needs to expand core markets, the new revenue sharing will ensure that successful large markets mean more viable small markets, and come on…Stern has yet to see a New York championship. Besides Detroit's economy can't support both a strong hockey and basketball team, not without a marketable star, and not in today’s NBA. It would be bad business to include them in the story. And this is why another story will be written.
The other story isn't yet packaged and printed, and it won’t even have a consistent cast of characters. While the story lacks a cartoonish narrative, the ending of the story is as familiar as any superhero comic book, and it’s beginning will be just as improbable. A bunch of leftover draft picks. Improbable because the GM in charge had driven the organization into the ground. Perhaps he realized that his attempts to transform the team through a series of superstar acquisitions was taking the team away from its hardworking team oriented philosophy. Perhaps he would have been fired but had stripped the team of talent to the point that he himself was the only remnant of Detroit's winning past that new owners were forced to keep him. Perhaps he had earned a string of professional luck after a series of crushing personal loses. Whatever the reason, the Pistons wound up with a collection of draft picks, and a start to the other story.
We already know the prologue. As the prologue of one story began in front of cameras and press in Las Vegas, the prologue of another story began quietly in Vince Carter’s Orlando home gym. While the NBA's anointed new stars suited up for the select team, a lower drafted position, hit the practice court for the Pistons. While some log forgettable performances in their Olympic debut, others will never forget the motivation from their Olympic snub. Before you know it, the Olympic teams were on their way to medals, the new core of the Pistons were finished with summer league, and both stories rolled on, one down a trail of camera flashes, YouTube videos, and autograph seekers, the other down a path of quiet gyms, solo workouts, and lonely trips home.
The two visions of the future continue off into the future, with stark differences. The former depends on the ability of select superstars and the pocketbooks of select owners, the latter depends on the ability of the players and the organization to make individual sacrifices and thankless decisions. The former will test positively in target markets while the other will only be comprehensible by those who deeply understand the game of basketball, or who really like the underdog. And for now these two stories can develop and grow without ever contradicting one another. But there will be a point, in the not so distant future, where these two stories must collide, because of their fundamental difference. While one story is based on an ethos of personality and branding, the other is based on an ethos of hard work and dedication, an ethos that is bigger than all of the players, even the prized draft picks. And the two stories will play out together through defensive stops and offensive execution across fourth quarter stretches and seven game series will ultimately result in the end of both.
Ultimately one story will have to be drastically altered, perhaps with some revisionist history and asterisk laden narrative that justified the original story that would have existed before the collision. Meanwhile, the other will need no conclusion or epilogue, as the play will speak for itself. It will simply conclude bluntly, and simply with something like “Ball don’t lie” or if you're not into the whole brevity thing: "You should have known all along. Don't sleep on the Detroit Pistons."