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.