If you threw up your hands in frustration, swore off the NBA this past summer and haven’t paid attention since then, you may be surprised to learn that the league is still up and running after Tuesday’s regular-season openers.
Back in July, when former league MVP Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign with the defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors as a free agent, there was a loud segment of fans and media that predictably overreacted and declared the NBA dead and buried.
By adding one of the league’s best players to one of the league’s best teams, the Warriors had allegedly stacked the deck and were now playing unfair. They had allegedly made all but a couple of the league’s 30 teams irrelevant and incapable of truly competing for a championship.
Parity no longer existed. Competitiveness was a thing of the past. The NBA was finished, and KD drove in the final nail.
Thing is, we’d heard this same kind of morbid diagnosis six years ago, back when LeBron James and Chris Bosh left Cleveland and Toronto, respectively, to join Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat. That collaborative power move created what became known as a “super-team,” and it was — like Durant going to Golden State — also viewed at the time as something that would destroy the league as we’d known it.
And yet here we are today, and the NBA is not only surviving, but thriving.
Television ratings are up, jerseys and sneakers and other merchandise is still flying off the shelves, league and team revenues are skyrocketing — just look at some of the huge contracts that were signed in free agency this past summer.
There have been five different NBA champions in the six years since LeBron and Bosh’s 2010 move, so parity is apparently still a thing.
And what happened on this season’s opening night? Durant and the Warriors were blown out by the San Antonio Spurs. So contrary to earlier reports, there are some teams out there who can beat the Bay Area’s super-team.
Another team that could pose a challenge to the Warriors is Durant’s former team, the OKC Thunder. While they’re obviously less talented without Durant, OKC is still a threat led by superstar point guard and MVP candidate Russell Westbrook.
Two of Westbrook’s teammates and possible Thunder starters are Muslim: center Enes Kanter and forward Ersan Ilyasova.
Both players are of Turkish origin and both played professionally in Turkey earlier in their careers. While Ilyasova has not been very public about his faith, Kanter is perhaps the league’s most outspoken Muslim player when it comes to religious and cultural issues.
Kanter used social media to both support fellow Muslim NBA player Dion Waiters and educate the public about Islam in the aftermath of a 2014 incident in which Waiters was (wrongly) reported to be sitting out the U.S. national anthem due to his Islamic beliefs.
Kanter has also helped introduce some members of the NBA fraternity and the NBA fan base to halal food.
And unfortunately, Kanter headlines this offseason when he revealed that he had received death threats due to his criticisms of the Turkish government. There were also reports that Kanter’s family in Turkey had disowned him over these politics, and that Kanter was considering changing his last name.
Kanter, Ilyasova and Waiters are three of the almost dozen Muslim players who are on NBA rosters as the league’s 2016-17 season gets underway:
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