Competing Basketball Eras

As the game of basketball has developed and transformed throughout the decades, the discrepancies have spawned heated quarrels between the fans of old and new. Many of these arguments are baseless and entirely subjective. There are many comparable aspects of each era, and it’s in a basketball fan’s best interest to view each era through an objective lens, rather than pride and malice.

The 80’s & 90’s

The 80’s and 90’s are viewed as the “Golden Era” of the NBA. Whether it be Magic and Bird’s bouts of rivalry, or Jordan’s Bulls, this era witnessed many unforgettable and awe-inspiring moments.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s rivalry extends all the way back to their college careers, competing in an Michigan State versus Indiana State game where they played for their respective teams. Larry Bird was taken with the 6th pick of the 1st round in the 1978 draft to the Boston Celtics where he immediately made an impact, improving the Celtic’s win total by 36 games and leading them to first place in the Eastern Conference.

At the time, many racial inequities were brought to light and there was major discourse across the country. Bird and Magic were basically the symbol of these issues due to the fact that Bird played for what was known as a “racist hotbed” in Boston. On the other hand, Magic played for an African-American city in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 11 assists. His career achievements include 3 MVP awards, 5 championships, and 12 All Star selections, solidifying himself as the greatest point guard of all time.

Another reason for the fan’s infatuation with these two players was the retirement of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.Fans were disinterested in the NBA and it failed to find a network offering big money. Magic Johnson led the Lakers to championships in 1980, 82, 85 and 88. Bird led the Celtics to three rings in 1981, 84, and 86, with many iconic moments fans will never forget.

Michael Jordan was selected third overall in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, behind legendary Hakeem Olajuwon. In Jordan’s first rookie season, he averaged 28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Jordan brought a competitive energy they had never seen before. Jordan teamed up with Scottie Pippen, who became Jordan’s second man, and eventually they were regarded as one of  the greatest duos of all time. Fans were glued to their screens, witnessing Jordan’s amazing talent every time he touched the floor. Jordan transformed the Bulls into a superteam consisting of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson. Many iconic moments were present during Jordan’s stint with the Bulls, such as his remarkable “Flu Game”.

 On June 11th, 1997, a series between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz was one of the most iconic and remarkable games in NBA history. With the series tied 2-2, Michael Jordan wouldn’t let the Bulls play without him. The ailing Jordan recorded an unbelievable 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block, including a 3-pointer with less than a minute left that gave the Bulls a lead they did not relinquish. Michael looked incredibly sick, keeling over after every stoppage of the game. The Bulls won the game 90-88 in the most impressive showing of willpower in NBA history.

Jordan averaged 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Jordan’s accolades include 6 Finals MVPs, 5 regular season MVPs, six championships, 10 All-NBA first team designations, 9 All-Defensive First Team honors, and 14 All-Star Selections.He was widely regarded as the greatest NBA player of all time, and his talent drew thousands of fans to the NBA.


Modern Era

The Modern Era is an ultra-talented, versatile, positionless era in basketball. It’s incredibly different and almost incomparable to the Golden Era. Many superstars have dominated the 2000’s and 2010’s. 

Lebron James was the most hyped prospect in NBA history. He went first overall in the 2003 NBA draft, where he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs were a relatively new team and yearned for a culture and a star. Lebron was perfect for this role, and in his rookie season, averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. However, Cleveland had no stars or even semblance of talent besides Lebron. He had no pieces alongside him, and after many lackluster seasons, carrying the team on his back, Lebron left Cleveland.

On July 8, 2010, ESPN aired the television special “The Decision,” in which superstar Lebron James would declare what his Free Agency destination would be. Lebron made a heavily controversial decision to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. When this was revealed on air, a massive upheaval occurred. Cleveland Cavalier fans ignited their Lebron Jerseys, setting them aflame, marching down the streets of Cleveland in unhinged rage. Lebron James became the most hated NBA player in the league. 

Lebron’s stint in Miami was incredible. Averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal, alongside superstars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, the Miami Heat won the 2012 and 2013 NBA championships. He then left Miami to return to his hometown in Cleveland, for another run at a championship. In 2016, Lebron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first and only championship in franchise history, beating the 73-9 Warriors. A heartfelt moment, seeing Lebron crying on the court, realizing he accomplished the incredible and brought a ring to Cleveland and their die hard fans.

In 2018, Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers in pursuit of improving his legacy. After an unsuccessful first year, Lebron managed to acquire superstar Power Forward Anthony Davis, in what would become one of the best duos in NBA history with Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Lebron dominated the 2020 playoffs, earning his 4th ring, and is still hungry for more.

Due to advances in technology, NBA players of the modern era are more talented and versatile than ever. With the Golden State Warriors popularizing the three-point shot, teams are looking for high volume shooters anywhere they can find. Three Point specialists are a hot commodity in today’s game, whereas in the 80’s and 90’s, that wasn’t the case. Because of the very effective three point shot, spacing has become very valuable. Defenders aren’t able to help off a man, because they have to deal with the dynamic of the ball handler driving or passing to the open man and creating high percentage shots.

Today’s game is faster than ever and because of this, Slow Centers who’s only move is posting up and looking to shoot or pass have become nearly obsolete in today’s game. Across the league, Centers are able to shoot the three, defend, and maybe post up once in a while. Players who can thrive in this league without a reliable shot are a diamond in the ruff. Only two players are superstars in the league without a three point shot, in Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetakounmpo.


The bottom line is, the 80’s and 90’s basketball is so wildly different than today’s game, it’s really not comparable. There are many pros and cons with both eras, and basketball fans should appreciate each, rather than attempting to discern which is “better.”