| Evan Saacks
The NBA Conference Finals are set! The second-seeded Phoenix Suns are already up 1-0 on the fourth seeded Los Angeles Clippers, while the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will host Game 1 against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night. This is so so so so so so so good for the sport.
There was some concern among basketball fans when teams such as the Lakers, Warriors, Celtics and Heat were eliminated before the second round. These are marquee franchises recognized across the globe. Their participation in the NBA Finals is often seen as important to drum up interest in the event. Beyond just the teams, players such as LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are possibly more renowned than the teams they play for. But it's a good thing they're not here. Here are a few reasons.
Firstly, it's unpredictable. Most years analysts could easily pencil in the 1 seed vs whichever team has LeBron James to be the Finals matchup. But now both 1 seeds and a 2 seed are out. Any of the four teams can make a legitimate case for being the current title favorites. Not knowing who's going to win makes sporting events infinitely more exciting.
Of the four teams left, the Milwaukee Bucks have won a championship most recently.... 50 years ago. The next most recent champion is the Hawks in 1958. Not only was it 63 years ago, but the team was in St. Louis then, so Atlanta basketball fans still have yet to even see their team PLAY in the Finals. Then there are the Suns and Clippers out West. Not only have the Clippers never won a title, they've never made it as far as this team has in their 50-year history. The Suns also have never won a championship and had the second-longest playoff drought of any team in the league before going on this run. These current runs mean so much to these four fanbases. It's pretty evident in the energy you see in the arenas... and outside them.
Nine years ago I moved to Milwaukee and people told me not to unpack my boxes because the team wasn’t going to be here long. Tonight: pic.twitter.com/W8JZrGS30m— Dustin Godsey (@dgodz) June 20, 2021
Fans all around the world are seeing these franchises on the largest stage for the first time maybe ever. And likewise they're seeing stars who will next be seen as marquee names like LeBron and Curry. Devin Booker has skyrocketed into every sports fan's cognizance. Trae Young is a phenomenon at just 22 years old. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a household name. Players like these will define the next 15 years of the league and sooner or later people were going to see them on the big stage. The moment is here.
Nothing is better for the NBA than all 30 of their teams being exciting and interesting. The Lakers and Warriors will still be a draw next year. But now people are taking notice of the Atlanta Hawks. The Phoenix Suns are the best team in Arizona in a long time. The Clippers might not be the little brother in their own city. Then the cycle will repeat next year we see more new and exciting teams. This is what you should root for.