I, personally, am one who is not prone to hyperbole. The “of all time” label is almost always met with an immediate eye roll. However, this upcoming NBA season is quite possibly the most anticipated of all-time. At the very least, the offseason whirlwind has created the most buzz around any season in recent memory.
With the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant hitting the free agent market with a perceived fondness for other suitors, those plugged in to the league predicted the possibility of an unusual summer two seasons ago. These two legendary players have been particularly loyal to the franchises that drafted them their entire careers, but the allure of a new situation, though for different reasons, was too much to not consider.
Here is where the “are super teams beneficial or detrimental to the league” argument arises. However, before diving headfirst into that murky abyss, let’s first set the whole “super team” record straight. Fact is, this idea that super teams are some sort of staple of the NBA is false, specifically in the current connotation of the word. Prior to the CBA deal in 1988, which famously allowed Tom Chambers to go from the Seattle Supersonics to the Phoenix Suns, unrestricted free agency didn’t exist. Even that agreement came with stipulations, as players were required to be in the league for seven years and have played through two contracts before being able to sign with a team of their choosing. So those unmatched Boston Celtic squads that won championships throughout the 1950’s and 60’s were filled with players that were either drafted or traded to that organization.
Fact is, this idea that super teams are some sort of staple of the NBA is false, specifically in the current connotation of the word.
Those dominant Showtime Lakers of the 80’s were all players either drafted or traded to the City of Angels. The Bulls team that won their second trio of championships is often one that people look to in efforts to strengthen their case for early super teams. Scottie Pippen was acquired via draft day trade in 1987, and Dennis Rodman did not welcome a bevy of executives to some highfalutin vacation spot or hotel space to hear their pitch on why he should play there. Nope. Dennis Rodman, though productive in San Antonio, was traded for (drum roll please) Will Perdue and cash considerations, which is equivalent to saying “you can have him, just give us whatever you can.” In short, the notion of a player strategically matching his otherworldly talent with that of another is overblown and simply not true.
Before Danny Ainge constructed the Boston Celtics “Big 3” by way of homeboy-type trades in the summer of 2007, the Lakers had what many would consider a “super team” comprised of four future Hall of Famers when Karl Malone and Gary Payton, neither in their primes, signed with Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers in 2003. This team was the first in my time that people thought was unbeatable. People were going as far as to say they would win 80 games…80! To put it mildly, that didn’t happen. In fact, that team went 56-26, was a two seed in the Western Conference and lost the 2004 NBA Finals in five games to a Detroit Pistons team that rolled out a squad whose small and power forwards were taller than its center. The Lakers completely disassembled after that. Shaq left for Miami where he won a title on the first leg of the Shaq World Tour; a tour that saw the Big Fella play for three teams in the four years after Miami. Gary Payton was traded away to Boston, then played in Miami, ironically winning a ring with Shaq before retiring just three years after his Laker stint. Karl Malone retired the summer after the season, and Kobe was left to play with Smush Parker. We all know how that went. Essentially, the best thing to come of that “super team” was the Gary Payton Jordan PE’s.
Going even further into the “super team” annals, the Houston Rockets traded for a declining Charles Barkley to their 1996-97 roster that included Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler – also not in their primes – but couldn’t get past the Utah Jazz in the West. Albeit due partly to injuries, the Boston Celtics won just a single ring with their “Big 3” and Rondo. Hell the Miami Heat, the super team du jour, only won two championships in the four years they combined powers in Dade County. Yes, that may have been outlandish, over-the-top expectations, but so was the celebratory “not 1, not 2” spectacle that came before their first practice together. We won’t even speak of the 2012-13 Lakers debacle. Yikes!
This current Golden State Warriors team is certainly a “super team” in its truest form. Three of the 4-headed monster were drafted by the organization and became great players, but the mere addition of Kevin Durant, a one man wrecking crew in his own right, has created a collection of talent unlike we’ve ever seen. Four All-NBA players in their prime on the same team; the last three Most Valuable Player award winners on the same team. The two best shooters on the planet in the same lineup as one of the most lethal scorers of a generation! This is all one team.
Nevertheless, the brief history of super teams has shown that it isn’t a lock to necessarily work. Though having it “work” varies with the eye of the beholder, it definitely doesn’t guarantee accomplishing the ultimate goal of winning a championship ring.
Therefore, the argument of whether the formation of super teams is a good or bad thing is two-pronged. One set of detractors would argue the case for the parity of the league being disrupted. They would say that there are teams that have no shot at all. The other set of critics complain that the league is too top heavy. Thus, throwing the league off balance and creating a lack of competition among teams and players, and a lack of interest among fans. I, however, would beg to differ on both fronts. While I agree that the balance is off, parity has never been a real thing in terms of NBA Championships. In the last 50 years, just seven franchises have been one-time champions. In the 70 years of the NBA’s existence, five franchises have won 48 of the championships with 33 of those coming from two franchises; the Celtics and Lakers. The NCAA Tournament thrives off the idea of parity. The chance for David to beat Goliath provides intrigue unlike any other sporting event. But in order for this scenario to exist, there must be the presence of a Goliath. There has to be a formidable foe to take down because greatness breeds the anticipation that becomes the exhilaration of defeating said foe. If teams all had the same chance, David versus David per se, would you watch with the same baited breath and inevitable rooting interest? Didn’t think so.
The NBA has seen resurgence in the last decade-plus due to its greatness. People have been, and always will be, drawn to dominance. Whether that perceived dominance is hated or embraced, it is watched. Ultimately, the job of the NBA as a business is to increase viewership and subsequent revenue. On the heels of the highest rated NBA Finals in history, the League’s new television deal, signed in 2014 and worth $24 Billion over nine years, went into effect. There is no way this is possible without an energized fan base regularly tuning in to games; great games with great players. You watch the Warriors versus the Cavs because of the immense star power on the court at all times.
As a lifelong basketball fan, I would love for dudes to fight and figure it out with the franchises that draft them. I wish deep down that KD and Westbrook could have worked through their late game woes to sit atop the mountain as co-kings. Batman and batman with a championship for the small market, yet rabid, fan base that adored them. I’m not even an OKC fan, but it burned me to the core for KD to link with the bully that just pummeled him. We, the fans, are emotionally attached to these players; our players for our teams. We follow these players, justify joining power teams, and vow to root against them when they leave us for alleged greener pastures. You may have hated the Showtime Lakers or the 90’s Bulls. You may have despised the awkward, slightly unsettling, sight of LeBron with his buddies in Heat jerseys. You may even hate what appears to be Kevin Durant’s submission to the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors. You may have loved it all. You may be on either side of the spectrum, but one thing is for certain: you are watching. That’s a good thing.
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