LeBron James did not invent NBA Superteams
“I am taking my talents to South Beach.”
In the summer of 2010, LeBron James shocked the world, and rattled the entire NBA with 8 words. With a small crowd of kids around him, at a Connecticut Boys and Girls Club, James announced that he would be leaving his native land of Ohio, and joining forces with NBA All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade on the Miami Heat.
He was not the first free-agent to leave a team, and by some accounts not even the most desired free-agent of all time (a case could be made for Shaquille O’Neal in the summer of 96). But the manner in which James announced his intentions was new, and abrasive to fans of teams he was not going to play for. A televised press conference, and without notifying his former team ahead of time.
It was very parallel to NCAA football signing day, where high school students holding press conferences with 3 hats on a table in front of them, notify a college or university of where they will pretend to take classes the next 3 or 4 years. This was in some ways, what made it so appealing to James, who did not get to live this experience, jumping straight from Mount Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s High School to the NBA. Like a middle aged man buying a red convertible, this was LeBron James trying to capture a part of his youth, he felt he had missed out on.
The NBA is a still evolving entity. The game has changed, and with it the rules, and playing styles. So too, has the way a team is built evolved. The first franchise to be considered a dynasty, was the Minneapolis Lakers. They were led by Hall of Fame center George Mikan, and won the NBA title in 1949, 50, 52, 53, and 54. This was the amoeba phase of the NBA, as coaches, players, and general managers alike learned fast and furious, through trial and error, how to be champions. This first variation to win an NBA title, was simple. “If you have the best player on the floor, you will win.”
As I mentioned, this was primitive thinking, and adaptation would be required to overthrow this mindset. And who better to achieve this, than a coach who lost to Mikan and the Lakers in 1949. A gentleman by the name of Red Auerbach.
Auerbach took over the Celtics in the summer of 1950, and went straight to the lab to figure out a way to beat the Lakers. Mikan was the best player in the land, and he couldnt find anyone better. So, he figured the best way to beat one great player is to have two. He paired flashy point guard Bob Cousey with Ed Macauley, and the two would finish in the top 5 in scoring for the league every season, but this would not end up resulting in championships for Boston. Simply said, two was not enough. Auerbach needed more stars. Like Nick Fury, he drafted and traded, and put together a team that in 1957, featured 5 Hall of Fame players. He finally had enough stars to win, but did he have enough to keep winning? The number of hall of fame players he put together grew to 7, and then 8. That’s 8 hall of fame basketball players on the same roster, at the same time. Are you still impressed with Bill Russell's rings? He played for the first NBA Dream Team, but instead of winning gold medals, he collected NBA titles.
The Lakers, dethroned now for over a decade, decided, if you can't beat them, join them. They knew the only way to beat the Celtics would be to form a super team of their own. And sure enough, by putting hall of famers together, just like the Celtics, they started to win. With combinations of hall of fame players Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain, the Lakers went to the NBA finals in 68, 69, 70, 72, and 73.
The two teams would battle it out all through the 80’s, super team vs super team, as Riley, now a coach for the Lakers would put Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy together to face off against Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, who Red Auerbach had put together.. The formula was rock solid. Form a super team, and you will win a championship.
The 90’s started with the Super Bulls (Jordan, Pippen, later adding hall of famer and arguable top 50 player of all time Dennis Rodman. The 200’s would see two players in the top 10 of all time put together with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. By the time LeBron James took his first high school pop quiz, the NBA had already seen more super teams than you can count on one hand. And like it always does throughout time, history repeated itself.
The Boston Celtics of the mid 2000’s could not beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The NBA seemed to have reverted back to 1949, where the best player on the floor wins. At least between these two. The league itself was embracing a new role player model. Started by the Spurs in 1999 and perfected by the Pistons in 2004. With Shaq off of the Lakers, the Celtics decided in the summer of 2007, it was time to hang another banner. Danny Ainge, proudly wearing his super team rings, traded for Kevin Garnett. He needed persuading though, so Danny had the help of Celtics Paul Pierce. Yes, Paul Pierce recruited an all-star to the Celtics in Kevin Garnett. The two of them, along with Ainge, then recruited Ray Allen. And in 2008, this super team won a championship. A super team formed, to beat LeBron James.
James did not set a trend in 2010, he was merely following one. A trend started by the Boston Celtics, carried on by the Celtics, and now hated by Celtics fans, who are no longer the beneficiary of the system. A trend the Golden State Warriors seem to have perfected. Does playing with other all-stars give you a better chance to win? Of Course. In fact, no super star in history has done it by themselves. It’s a team sport. But is LeBron James to blame for the Lakers and Clippers of 2020? No. You can place that blame on Red Auerbach.
Wayne Gregoire, Infinity Sports