The NBA saw exponential growth in popularity between the 1980s and the 2000s. The league became popular worldwide on a level that it had never before experienced. At the time, it was the most lucrative period in the NBA.
When a league finds itself becoming more popular, it must make a concerted effort to sustain and improve upon this growth. This can happen in a number of ways. For the NBA, this growth came in the form of expansion.
Under the NBA expansion, more franchises were introduced to the league in an effort to add greater competition to the league and create a more compelling viewing experience for the fans.
This doesn't always work out the way leagues would hope. For the NBA, an expansion meant that rosters had to get thinner because expansions required more players to complete rosters. Jazz announcer Ron Boone hinted at the same in the 90s.
"The talent level now nowhere compares to what it was eight years ago, and obviously it's because of expansion."
In one sense, it would bring parity to the league, as the league would have their best players spread out across the league, giving every team a good chance to compete. But on the other hand, this also meant that players who earlier didn't have a chance to succeed would now find a spot on a roster.
Jerry Sloan, the head coach of the Jazz in the 90s, spoke about the dilution as well. He talked about how in the past, teams would need to have a solid roster from top to bottom in order to win. But post-expansion, a few good players was all that was needed to win.
"You look at the overall picture, it is diluted to some extent. You can get by with three great players on a team, and have a chance to win it all. Before, you had to have four or five great players, and some good players around them."
Whereas, some teams would have to settle for mediocre players for the sake of filling out their rosters. On top of that, the question of markets also comes into question. Big market franchises like the Knicks, the Lakers, and the Heat always had an advantage when it came to luring big stars to the franchise.
Whereas, smaller markets had to hope for a revolutionary star through the drafting process. So team-building became a challenge. The expansion would only create more small-market teams, meaning big stars had to be more selective about where they would choose to ply their trade.
By 1996, the NBA had expanded significantly, allowing for more teams in the league. But this expansion left several rosters in the league extremely thin. As Richard Evans wrote in 1996, the NBA only had a handful of good teams thanks to the expansion.
"There are no great NBA teams this season. There are some pretty good teams - Chicago, Orlando, Houston spring to mind - but no great ones.The reason? Expansion.
This is not an isolated viewpoint. All around the league, people are saying that the NBA, in its rush to take advantage of an expanding fan base, has diluted its product.
The prime evidence is in Chicago. The Bulls are on their way to a 70-plus win season, causing some people to call them a great team."
At the time, the Bulls being on track to break the record for most wins in an NBA season (69). The Bulls were having a bounce-back season, thanks to Dennis Rodman, who was enjoying his time under Phil Jackson. Rodman even admitted in later years that Jackson called him the best player he ever coached.
Rodman was not impressed with their feat. This was because the league was so stretched out that there were a lot of teams that could be beaten without warranting an effort from the Chicago Bulls.
"This league is so filtered and watered down, we can beat anybody with our eyes closed, pretty much."
The '95-96 Bulls were a well-oiled machine. Rodman had instant chemistry with Michael Jordan, and their relationship goes strong to this day, with Rodman even visiting Jordan from time to time.
That chemistry earned Rodman the trust of Michael Jordan, which was a rarity for most of his teammates. But Rodman proved why he deserved that trust. The duo, along with fellow superstar Scottie Pippen, went on to win three consecutive NBA championships.
But from what Rodman appears to be saying, he doesn't take too much pride in their incredible 72-10 season, because he felt the league was just too weak at the time, and that they didn't have any legitimate competition.
Regardless, their 72-10 season was historic, and that record was broken 20 years later when the Golden State Warriors went a historic 73-9.
It is unlikely that Rodman watched the Warriors or any other NBA team at the time, as he has said in the past that he doesn't watch the modern NBA games because of how over-reliant teams have become on three-point shooting.
There are arguments to be made for both sides. With more teams, stars that were relegated to a smaller role would get the opportunity to become more prominent players and take their talents to the next level.
Then there are those who believe that most teams in the NBA got weaker as the talent pool became thinner. Rodman is clearly a proponent of the latter.
But the expansion has paid dividends for the league, as the NBA is one of the biggest hubs of basketball in the world, and employs several athletes and staff across the country.