West is best
Migration of stars weakens Eastern Conference
Updated: Monday February 05, 2001 8:44 AM
By Desmond M. Wallace, CNNSI.com
It wasn't all that long ago when the NBA's Eastern Conference was absolutely littered with championship-caliber teams. After all, clubs from the East won eight of the 10 NBA titles between 1989 and 1998.
And is there any doubt, really, that were it not for Larry Bird's Celtics which prohibited Julius Erving's Sixers from reaching the NBA Finals three times from 1981 to '85, that Philadelphia could just as gamely have represented the East for all of the marbles? And how good were even those Milwaukee Bucks, which, powered by seven consecutive 50-win seasons, actually produced the NBA's fourth-best winning percentage (.637) in the decade of the 1980s?
However, a quick gaze at today's NBA standings reveals all one needs to know about where the power now lies in pro basketball arenas. Five of the six best winning percentages in the league belong to Western teams. A whopping 10 teams from west of the Mississippi have winning records. Conversely, if the playoffs were to begin today, two of the Eastern Conference teams with losing records would qualify for the postseason.
This titanic power shift in the NBA is largely due to two things: retirement of several key stars and blue-chip player movement from the East to the West. Eastern stalwarts Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Bird had to retire sometime. Among them, the trio riddled Western Conference defenses seemingly every June and won 11 NBA championships in their careers.
The last few years also have seen seismic relocation of Eastern Conference talent westward. Today, no less than eight of the Eastern Conference All-Stars from as recently as 1996 and '97 now play for Western Conference clubs.
O'Neal, Pippen, Ewing, and Webber were once household names in the Eastern Conference. These days each one earns a living two or three time zones away. But to succinctly illustrate just how devastating the departure of these players has been, not only have all eight players led their new Western teams to a winning marks so far this season, but all but one of their former Eastern teams are now below .500.
The NBA power shift shows no signs of abating any time soon. As if the East's devastation weren't encompassing enough already, this season two of the conference's few remaining superstars -- Alonzo Mourning and Grant Hill -- are each nursing likely season-ending and potentially career-threatening ailments.