Saturday, May 30, 2009
A one man team
Half of the NBA Finals match-up is now decided, and I think the league and the advertisers are much happier with the prospect of the Los Angeles Lakers on the big stage than the Denver Nuggets. The directors love to cut into the stands to show all the celebrities in the crowd. They don't even have to take special shots sometimes, because the front row in L.A., which is naturally in the background when the action on the court is being shown, has been a star-studded affair for many years, most notably with Jack Nicholson in his seat behind the visiting team's bench.
In Denver, the stars in the crowd are John Elway and Chauncey Billups' mom.
On the court, the Lakers have just one star, Kobe Bryant, and a bunch of role players around him. Can a basketball team that is essentially one star win an NBA championship? It's common wisdom that even a superstar like Michael Jordan needed another strong star on his team like Scottie Pippen. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a teammate, Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, even Julius Erving had Moses Malone. The teams that are far enough in the past that their best players are in the Hall of Fame almost always have more than one Hall of Famer.
Here's the last exception to that rule. In the 1975 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors upset the Washington Bullets, sweeping the series 4-0. Over 30 years later, two of the Bullets' line-up are in the Hall of Fame, Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, but the only Warrior with that distinction is Rick Barry, who was also the Finals MVP. Barry was an unstoppable scorer in his day, best remembered now for shooting free throws underhanded in what was called "the Granny shot". It's hard to look cool shooting free throws this way, but it should also be mentioned that only three people in NBA history have a better percentage of free throws than Barry's 89.3% lifetime mark.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers make it to the Finals, and they have to win two straight games to make that happen, it will be one star vs. one star. If the Orlando Magic are the standard bearers, it's more like a no star team, though people are taking more notice of defensive standout Dwight Howard. The most recent incarnation of the Detroit Pistons to win championships could be called a no-star team, strong on defense and team play. If Kobe Bryant can join Rick Barry as the one big gun on a championship team, it will give him some vindication, because the press portrayed the break-up of the Lakers championship teams from earlier this decade as Kobe Vs. Shaq, and Shaq went on to win a championship in Miami, while the Lakers have languished since the big center went away.