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Even if LeBron thinks otherwise, conference finals without super teams is kind of super

Unlike Major League Baseball and the NFL, where a far greater number of teams have won championships, 36% of the NBA has never won a championship

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Phoenix Suns forward Jalen Smith (10), Deandre Ayton (22) and Mikal Bridges (25) help Devin Booker (1) up in Phoenix, Ariz.

Phoenix Suns forward Jalen Smith (10), center Deandre Ayton (22) and forward Mikal Bridges (25) help guard Devin Booker (1) up during a preseason NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. The Suns are among the four unlikely teams still playing for an NBA title this season.

Matt York, Associated Press

By some cosmic accident, the NBA wound up with a collection of nobodies as its final four, and isn’t that more fun than the same ol’, same ol’. Admit it: Weren’t you suffering from LeBron Fatigue? With the Sixers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, the final four is set and look what we have here:

The Clippers — never won a title; never even been to the NBA Finals. Actually, this is the first year they’ve even reached the conference finals. They’re the closest thing to a super team remaining — they’re a half-super team.

The Suns — never won a title; haven’t been to an NBA Finals since 1993.

The Hawks — yes, they won a title. In 1958. They haven’t returned to the NBA Finals since John Kennedy was president.

The Bucks — they won a title, too, in 1971, a few years before Lew Alcindor fled to the Lakers. The last time they reached the NBA Finals: 1974.

It’s a breath of fresh air. Not a single team among them has won a title in 50 years, and two of them are from the smaller markets. If the Jazz hadn’t choked on a 25-point lead and blown a rare window of opportunity, it might be three small-market teams in the conference finals.

Anyway, finally, a little parity. Finally, something different in the race for the championship, and in the NBA anything different is good. LeBron’s latest behind-the-scenes creation in LA — gone. The Nets’ Super Duper Team and their $162M payroll, starring Kevin Durant, James Harden, Grumpy Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin — so long, farewell. The Warriors and their $173M salary — bye-bye. The Sixers, starring Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and all the hype around them — out, again.

Not that the NBA can take credit for any of this. It’s the worst professional sports league in America, period. It has let itself be ruled by scheming LeBron and his imitators and the super teams they create. Like college football, it has allowed all but a handful of teams to be eliminated from championship contention before the season even begins. The NBA could change this but does not care.

As noted here recently, it hasn’t been a fair fight in the NBA for a decade, and there were decades before that when the league was ruled by just two teams for decades, the Lakers and Celtics, who have won almost half of the championships. In the NBA, 36.6% of the league has never won a championship. In the NFL that number is 12.5%. In Major League Baseball, it’s 16%.

James, the league’s de facto leader, did not go quietly, of course. After seeing his Lakers eliminated in the first round, he blamed the current state of affairs on injuries caused by the shortened offseason. “This is the best time of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players,” James tweeted. “ … I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.”

Apparently, he believes injuries targeted only him and his pals and that the season is all but finished if they are no longer playing. Sorry, LeBron, anyone interested in fair competition is happy to see you and your so-called “fav” players on the sidelines. What he’s really doing is blaming injuries for his early exit (maybe he shouldn’t insist on playing so many minutes so he can pad his stats — a career average of 38.2 minutes per game for 18 years and almost 1,600 games).

It would be nice if we could believe this is the end of the Super Team Era, but it’s more likely a brief reprieve. The league has been held hostage by super teams since James took his “talents” to Miami (a super team being any team that wasn’t grown organically — one that was arranged by colluding players).

James’ Miami team — Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and James — appeared in four straight NBA Finals. They didn’t win seven titles, as James promised, but they did win two of them. Then James’ super Cleveland Cavaliers — Kevin Love, Irving and James — appeared in four straight Finals and won one of them. The Warriors appeared in five straight NBA Finals, three of them as a super team — Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green — and won three championships. Then the Lakers won the championship after James arranged a union with Anthony Davis.

The NBA got a reprieve this year from all of the above, whether it deserves it or not.

Doug Robinson is a columnist for the Deseret News.