Signs of change in the NBA

NBA All-Star Preview

NEW ORLEANS -- It felt like the opening scene in "The Godfather," with people requesting audiences with Don Corleone during his daughter's wedding. Kevin Durant made his way toward an immaculate white couch where Michael Jordan was sitting in the back of his shoe brand's party.

Jordan stood up, they shook hands and hugged, exchanged a few words, then Jordan nodded his approval at Durant, then tapped his temple with his index finger. You didn't have to hear the conversation to understand the respect flowing between the two.

Then it struck me that Durant and his contemporaries are two generations removed from Jordan. How did we get that far this fast?

With All-Star mainstays such as Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan not present this year, the number of All-Stars who played in the NBA at the same time as Michael Jordan was down to three: Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker. If you refuse to acknowledge any part of Jordan's career after Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the number drops to zero.

"Speed" isn't an adjective that usually comes to mind in this distinctive city, which seems to have every clock set to the pace of the Mississippi River that ambles through it. And All-Star Weekends in general mean slower traffic and longer waits. There's something different this time, a tempo that neither this town nor this event could detain.

"The rate of change is accelerating," said Adam Silver, the newly ascended NBA commissioner.

Whether it's by action or perception, the NBA is rapidly moving in a new direction. It's evident if you pay attention to the details, such as the Photoshopped presence of Silver's signature on the NBA balls dribbled by the giant images of All-Star players plastered outside the Smoothie King Center. The Smoothie King Center is another example of change: finally the New Orleans Arena has a naming rights sponsor. Expect more money to rush into the league through more avenues, including sponsor logos on jerseys, a move that Silver said "ultimately will happen."

Elsewhere this weekend there was talk of a lucrative future, with whispers of more and more franchises hitting the billion-dollar valuation mark, licensing revenue increases of 25 percent or so and TV rights deals that could double the current annual revenue of almost $1 billion a year.

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