Thursday, June 5, 2008

One is the loneliest number.

There's a lot of news right now, but the biggest story in sports in the U.S. is that the NBA Finals start this evening. The match-up is the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics, which conjures up memories of great battles of the past. The Celtics haven't been in the Finals since 1987, but when they acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett last year to complement their best player Paul Pierce, most experts agreed they had become the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers have been to the Finals much more recently, winning the championship this decade when Kobe Bryant, pictured here, was teamed with dominant center Shaquille O'Neal. But then Kobe had a run-in with the law and Shaq was traded and the Lakers faded. Now they are back to the Finals in an intriguing match-up.

An unanswered question in recent basketball history is if a team with a single superstar can win a championship. Teams have won with two big stars or three, and it could be argued that the Detroit Pistons won their championship this decade with no stars, just strong team defense and enough offense to get by. It's certainly possible for a single superstar team to make the Finals in recent history. LeBron James lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals just last year and lost, and Allen Iverson's Philadelphia 76ers got to the Finals then were crushed in 2001 by the Shaq-Kobe Lakers.

Single superstar teams have won in the distant past. George Mikan's Minneapolis Lakers were dominant in the mid-1950's, when Mikan was the first successful very tall center and the nickname "Lakers" actually made some geographical sense. ('Splainin' the other nonsensical name in basketball, the Utah Jazz were originally based in New Orleans.) In the 1970's, Rick Barry was the only superstar on the champion Golden State Warriors and Bill Walton was the key on the Portland Trail Blazers championship team. But since then, it's usually taken at least two major players. When the Lakers had Magic Johnson, they also had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Celtics of the 1980's were their rivals with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. As good as Michael Jordan was, the Bulls weren't champs until they added Scottie Pippen to the lineup, and Tim Duncan had David Robinson as a teammate when the Spurs won their first championship and Tony Parker when they won more recently.

Michael Jordan is still the gold standard in recent basketball history, though he has long since retired. Kobe Bryant was the heir apparent a few years back before he was charged with rape and acquitted, and then the Lakers lost Shaq and faded badly. If the Lakers win the championship, Kobe would have on his resume an achievement no player in thirty years could match, being the single key player on the best team in basketball.


CDP said...

I haven't followed the NBA playoffs since 2001, when my hometown (Philadelphia) team made it to the finals. My sister and I were both about to have babies (3 days apart) and we watched the games on the phone together every night. Sometimes my mother joined us in conference, and she complained about the Laker players who "won't leave Iverson alone". We had to explain several times that they were not SUPPOSED to leave Iverson alone. Generally, I prefer watching college basketball.

Matty Boy said...

Hey, CDP. I don't have a TV hooked up to anything but my DVD player, so I will have to go to a bar or something to watch games. This could get expensive, though I don't plan to watch every game.

dguzman said...

I've never been that big a pro b-ball fan other than when Jordan or a Texas team was playing, but I do know enough to say this:


jolie said...

man, I remember the celtics of old! larry bird, danny ainge! these days my team of choice is the san antonio spurs. the winning-est team in the 21st century, y'all.

terrific trio - timmy, tony, manu - and the coolest coach in pop.

I agree kobe is stellar. watching him defeat the spurs was painful. LAL strategy was to play bryant just a little in the first half, keep him rested until the third or fourth quarter, then let him loose. he's damnably accurate! and a hell of a jumper. don't matter if LAL was down 20 points - they'd win.

but I don't LIKE kobe. so I can't cheer for the lakers. even though they actually have a bench and it's not just kobe anymore, and the team played better than the spurs. as I can't go there, and the celtics were my first team, looks like it'll be the wearin' o' the green here in austin!