The NBA's ideal form is as an engine of chaos, and the Elder Gods have finally deemed us worthy of its return. This is a beyond-rare state of play because it demands specific circumstances, namely, a cosmic alignment of Eternal Ballers that leaves pitched, euphoric madness in the wake of its perfection. The last time it happened, we got the Golden Age of basketball. It's happening again right now.
Asking more of an era already blessed with LeBron James is no doubt greedy as F, but whatever, fans are a selfish lot and I want more cool stuff forever. The thing about James' role in christening the chaos is that he has been miscast. The NBA's enduring post-Jordan hangover left them desperate for some hair of the dog and James kinda sorta fit the role. His combo of endlessly transcendent, championship-winning play and ready-made mainstream appeal is as close as the league has come to a replacement. James is already as good as Jordan was, but he was never going to be a perfect narrative sequel. Close, but not quite.
After all, you, viewer of large men bouncing a ball, are most likely familiar with one Kevin Durant and him turning the league into Kendrick Lamar's "Control" verse. He's averaging 36.85 points per game in the month of January and his PER over that span is 36.84, which is basically impossible. He's also flirting with a consecutive 50-40-90 seasons while averaging 31.1 points per game, which is also basically impossible. Something is up when opposing teams openly wonder if the son of God could cover you.
Barring some unspeakable combination of tragedy and injustice, he'll beat James for the MVP award and rightly so. All this despite LeBron James posting LeBron James-type numbers. Unlike Derrick Rose's 2011 MVP award, the one being assumed for Durant puts on the table a previously unthinkable question: Who is the best player in the NBA? This isn't part of the Jordan narrative, but it's becoming part of a much better one.
What set off the NBA's golden era was the emergence of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as possible heirs to the Infinity Gauntlet -- they were both that damn good at the same damn time. They also happened to play for teams that routinely rated as the league's best. However, the league was blessed with talent all around and, soon enough, no one had any idea who was going to win the title one year to the next. It was the era that established basketball as perhaps the most exciting and aesthetically beautiful sport we have. It was glorious chaos and the NBA is closing in on it again.
Not even a full season removed from sports books getting action on James' Miami Heat going 16-0 in the playoffs, the Heat managing a three-peat is becoming more and more unlikely. An improved version of the Indiana Pacers that took them to seven games last season is now in control of the Eastern Conference. Out west, Durant has the Oklahoma City Thunder back to looking like a long-term title contender while the San Antonio Spurs continue to defy trivial concepts such as the passage of time. Due consideration is reserved for the Heat being a flip-the-switch team, but Dwyane Wade's deepening injury issues are really all it takes to open the door for the league's best teams. For as dominant as the Heat can be, they just barely won it all last year. Anything less than last year's team won't get it done again. No one has any real idea of what's going to happen this year or next or the one after that. This is wonderful.
Myself and most basketball fans of a certain age give the 1980s its dap as a defining era of basketball, but weren't really around for it. While there will never be a perfect parallel of that era, just as the same applies to the Jordan years, the circumstances are there for a new age of chaos. It was supposed to have arrived when the Thunder and Heat met in the Finals two years ago, but chaos only cares about messing everything up. Whatever the wreckage, it's going to be beautiful to look at.