How the NBA teams were built and designed at the start of the season, the tweaks and upgrades (or downgrades) as the season progressed, the goals, and the expectations that were set—all of these felt like a promise to the fans.
Always has been. Always will.
As to what was promised exactly—that one varies. Some teams promised a legitimate title run, while other teams promised fans a better season than the last. Some teams promised the prospect of rebuilding while other teams promised fans they’ll get better chances at the rookie draft. Some teams made the promise of having more players of value to use now or to trade later to pursue a marquee name fitting the role of a superstar. Some teams promised better coaching staff and better rotation of players, while some teams promised to recruit better players so that their superstar does not end up fighting for the team’s survival almost single-handedly, doomed to lose however gallant (albeit futile) the effort.
Teams made promises, and so did individual players.
One man promised that age wouldn’t matter, but it did because with old age comes injuries. With old age comes diminished athleticism, which matters a lot in a sport that is won by a team with players who can always run, and run the fastest, can always jump, and jump the highest, and stay healthy after repeated exposure to the gruelling demands of playing high tempo offense and defense. And with old age comes a less pliable, inflexible attitude. It is hard to bring everyone to buy into a system when each one is already set in his own way of doing and perceiving things.
Another man promised to stay with the team, but his promise to his fans, like before, was trumped by his promise to himself that he will always put himself in a position to be able to inch closer and closer to a championship because every year he exits with empty hands, he returns the following year heavier, slower, more tired, less motivated, more vulnerable to being outplayed by younger players many have not yet even peaked, year after year becoming faster, stronger, more determined, with skills and instincts sharper than before, used to prey on distracted players more focused on chasing a championship (and haunted every day by this lingering failure) than continuing to improve his basketball on a personal, professional level.
Winning the championship is the crowning glory of the tournament, but promises not as lofty as winning the Larry O’Brien trophy are just as valuable, treasured by fans if the promise is true and if the promise has been fulfilled.
The NBA is a fickle world, filled with fickle-minded front office personnel, fickle-minded agents, and fickle-minded players. As such, the promises teams and players made—overt or implied—should be taken with a grain of salt. One thing history can prove is that many promises in the NBA did not survive tough times.
And what good is a promise that can’t stand and outlast difficult circumstances?
That said, teams and players should commit to a promise when things are difficult. Make a promise when in the middle of a long, hard grind, in the midst of fighting an uphill battle.
And to fans, do not hold on to promises made during a press conference. Do not believe promises on Twitter (a tweet can be deleted, but a screenshot will linger, and the Internet never forgets). Do not believe promises uttered half-heartedly, promises borne of the teams’ or players’ communication protocol with the media, promises made out of contractual obligation. Consider promises made before the war began as nothing more than an optimistic setting of goals because only those that teams and players take with them to the finish line or to the grave are the only real promises. These are the only promises that matter.
I write about promises because around this time, NBA fans are already screaming reckoning (some fans started weeks, even months, earlier), up in arms because of perceived betrayal by teams and superstars, to whom they have entrusted their loyalty, fervor, and devotion.
If we are given a penny for every promise broken by an NBA player or an NBA team, we’d be rich by now.
Rich (or, realistically, just adequately recompensed), but greatly disappointed. Who wants to be a fan of professional sports that has abandoned the honor of promise? Enough with the premise “professional sports is a business” because, in truth, business thrives when people involved in it keep their promises, stay faithful to their promises, and most important of all, mean the promises they made from the time they made them until the promises are fulfilled.