LeBron Did Not Start The Superteam
The “superteam” is one of the most controversial topics in the NBA today, especially following the Golden State Warriors’ 2017 championship run that included the stockpiling of three MVP awards, four All-NBA players, and six former All-Stars. However, many have assessed the blame of this new trend on LeBron James and his 2010 flee to South Beach. Nevertheless, here’s why the “superteam” originated years prior to the Heat’s “Big 3”, and why LeBron was a product of the system rather than the perpetrator.
Last Monday, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to secure their third title in franchise history and second in three seasons. LeBron James averaged a triple-double throughout the series, but that still wasn’t enough to overcome the most loaded roster any sport has ever seen.
A back-to-back MVP, one of which was unanimous, who may very well be the greatest shooter of all-time. The likely second-best shooter in NBA history who can drop 37 in a quarter while also tormenting you on the opposite end of the floor. One of the top all-around defenders in the league who just so happens to drain threes and pass like no other power forward in the Association. A former All-Star who has a Finals MVP under his belt and remains one of the game’s most intimidating perimeter defenders. 73 wins. 9 losses. Oh yeah, and then they added Kevin Durant.
The Warriors are the definition of “superteam”. LeBron played some of the best basketball of his life in the NBA Finals, yet still lost in five measly contests. This prompted controversy following Golden State’s win. Did they- including Durant, who left the Thunder to join the Dubs last July -really earn this ring? No matter how dominating LeBron could be, is it even possible to defeat a team as stacked as the Warriors? Is the NBA heading down a road of non-competitiveness, all because of this new “superteam” concept?
After the Cavaliers’ heart-wrenching loss in Game 5, LeBron was asked by a reporter whether he thought that “superteams”- such as his current one in Cleveland, his former one in Miami, and the Warriors -were a good thing for the NBA. James answered by stating that “[he doesn’t believe he] played for a superteam. [He doesn’t] believe in that.” Golden State forward Draymond Green later lashed out at the four-time MVP, declaring that it was LeBron who “started the superteam.” However, is that really a true statement? Was LeBron’s announcement in 2010 that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” the beginning of the “superteam?” The answer is a resounding no- it was not.
Let’s travel back in time to July 1968. LeBron James wouldn’t be born for another 16 years, and he wouldn’t sign with Miami for another 26 after that. Anyways, it was during that summer of ‘68 when one of the first instances of building a “superteam” took place.
Although he had just won his first ring with the 76ers, Wilt Chamberlain- one of the greatest players to ever step onto the hardwood -wanted out of Philadelphia. Chamberlain used the possibility of jumping to the ABA as leverage, and stated that he would only accept a deal to the Los Angeles Lakers, who had made four of the previous six NBA Finals (though losing every time) and already had superstars Jerry West and Elgin Baylor under contract.
Soon, the Sixers traded Wilt to LA, and a “superteam” was built. Three seasons later, the Lakers would dominate the 1971-72 campaign, posting a then-record 69 victories- including a 33-game winning streak -and capping it off by defeating the New York Knicks in the 1972 NBA Finals. Yes, the reason that Wilt wanted a trade is largely unknown, especially considering the fact that he had already climbed to the top in Philly. However, one cannot deny that the Lakers’ acquisition of the “Big Dipper” created one of the game’s first “superteams”, almost half a century before LeBron switched jerseys.
Now, let’s fast forward 14 years after the Lakers acquired Wilt and look at another trade that altered the NBA landscape. The 1982 season ended with the Los Angeles Lakers winning their second championship of the young decade in six games over Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. So, who did the Sixers go and get that very same summer? None other than the reigning league MVP: Moses Malone. The Houston Rockets could no longer afford the multi-million dollar salary of the scoring-rebounding machine, and dealt away Malone to Philly for a mediocre starting center (Caldwell Jones) and a first-round draft pick.
The next NBA Finals ended, unsurprisingly, with the Sixers tromping their west-coast counterparts, sweeping Magic Johnson and his “showtime” unit. Malone would win both regular-season and Finals MVP.
Yeah, Wilt and Moses didn’t quite sign with their new teams as free agents like LeBron and KD did (since unrestricted free agency was not introduced until 1988), but the new squads they joined were “superteams” nonetheless. And the list doesn’t just end there.
In the offseason of 1996, nearly two years after Michael Jordan’s return from the minor leagues and the season following Chicago’s magical 72-10 campaign, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler teamed up with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston. The Rockets had won both the 1994 and 1995 NBA titles, and Barkley even told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “with Hakeem and Clyde, [he had] a great shot at a championship.” Though they would end up losing in the Conference Finals to the John Stockton/Karl Malone Utah Jazz, doesn’t that sound like building a “superteam” to you?
Seven years later, in 2003, Gary Payton and Karl Malone- both robbed of rings at the hands of Jordan in the ‘90s- joined the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, winners of three of the previous four NBA championships. If you somehow believe that the goals of Payton and Malone were not to hop on the bandwagon of the league’s newest dynasty, and that LA had no idea of the “superteam” they were creating, here are some quotes, via Bleacher Report, that prove otherwise:
Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers center, 1996-2004: “A lot of people ask me, what was my part in attracting Gary Payton and Karl Malone to the Lakers, and my answer is simple: I did it.”
So three rings and three Finals MVPs weren’t enough for Shaq. They lose one series to San Antonio, and he has to then go and recruit one of the three greatest power forwards as well as one of the ten best point guards in NBA history. Got it.
John Black, vice president of public relations: “It was quite a coup. We felt we had a really good chance to win the championship.”
Well, if you had a great chance to begin with, and you just signed two future Hall-of-Famers, I’d also think you’d have a pretty solid shot at a ring (ironically, they lost in five to Detroit in June).
Gary Payton, Lakers point guard, 2003-04: “Karl and I had taken a pay cut to play with these guys. We weren’t into that anymore. I was into going somewhere and winning multiple championships.”
So Gary and Karl took pay-cuts to win. How honorable. What’s funny is that’s the same thing LeBron did in 2010, but I guess we’ll just ignore that fact.
Anyways, the point is this: the Lakers had won three consecutive titles between 1999 and 2002. Then, after losing one series to the Spurs, they felt the need to grab two Hall-of-Famers and stack up their roster as much as possible (sound anything like the modern Golden State Warriors??). In addition, both Payton and Malone did the “honorable” method of lessening their salaries for the sake of winning, despite the fact that all they were really doing was going from overwhelmingly-rich to slightly-less overwhelmingly-rich in order to hop on the bandwagon of the best duo in basketball. This, my friends, sounds a lot like the formation of a “superteam”.
Our last example of a pre-LeBron “superteam” is located in Boston, one of the most storied cities in NBA history. By 2007, though, the Celtics had only won three playoff series since 1995, and their legendary past was quickly becoming forgotten. However, that would change soon. With only two swift trades during the ‘07 offseason, General Manager Danny Ainge added sharpshooting stud Ray Allen from Milwaukee and all-around superstar Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to join Paul Pierce in the Boston Garden.
The initial acquisition of Allen in June was in response to Pierce’s complaints that Boston wasn’t getting enough starpower to become true contenders. Furthermore, the subsequent deal involving Garnett was thanks to KG’s frustration with the T-Wolves that they weren’t getting him enough help. The star power-forward was even against a move to Boston initially, and only complied after the Celtics had gotten Allen a month earlier. Man, that’s a lot of superstars complaining about how little talent they had around them. But I guess that only gets focused on when it has to do with LeBron James.
Now, it may seem like a lot of criticism has been thrown at these “culprits” of past “superteams”. However, that is not the desired goal here. All I am trying to portray is the hypocrisy of those that call LeBron James the “originator” of the “superteam” while ignoring all of these other previous cases. Here is my goal, though: why what LeBron did in 2010 and what Kevin Durant did last summer are far different examples of “superteams”, and why one of their moves was far worse than the other.
I’ve said this in the past and I’ll say it again: the Cavaliers’ front office was completely and utterly incompetent. Seven years was the length of LeBron’s initial stay in Cleveland, and who was the best sidekick that GM Danny Ferry got his superstar? I’ll let you decide between Larry Hughes and 38-year-old, heavily-overweight Shaquille O’Neal.
In comparison, the Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen three seasons into Michael Jordan’s career. The Lakers already had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when Magic Johnson was introduced to hollywood, and James Worthy was added three years later. Meanwhile, Larry Bird played just his rookie campaign before being paired with the unguardable Kevin McHale. And LeBron? Well he was in Cleveland for seven years, and the best he got was Larry Hughes (or Shaq if you add another 150 pounds to the LA version).
So when LeBron joined the Heat and formed his infamous “Big 3” with best-friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, can you really blame him? If he had stayed with the Cavs, the incompetency would have continued, and all of James’ haters would still be pointing out the fact that he hasn’t won a ring, even if it was moreso the fault of Cleveland’s inept executives than “The King” himself. This, however, is not the same instance that occurred when Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors on Independence Day 2016.
On May 30, 2016, the Golden State Warriors defeated Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder to advance to the NBA Finals, eliminating a 3-1 lead in the process (though, for the purposes of our own enjoyment, only the subsequent blown 3-1 lead was remembered). Just over a month later, KD was holding a Dubs jersey with his name and #35 printed on the back; he had signed with the Warriors. There still are many who believe that this move simply stems from LeBron James’ free-agent decision seven years prior. However, to those people, I have a few questions:
Did LeBron join the team that beat him just a couple months beforehand?
The answer is no; the Heat and LeBron had never met in the postseason. If James wanted to join a roster that had defeated him the previous May, he could’ve maneuvered his way straight to Boston (the Celtics could’ve had $100 million in cap space and that still never would have happened).
Did LeBron join a team that had already won a title with its core and went 73-9 the season prior?
Again, the answer is no. Dwyane Wade had led Miami to a championship in 2006, but that was when the star guard was teamed up with an elite Shaquille O’Neal as well as other key role players. The Miami Heat right before LeBron arrived were a shell of their former selves, with no series victories in the playoffs since that ‘06 campaign.
Did LeBron help build a “superteam”, or did he simply add on to a roster that could already be labeled a “superteam”?
LeBron may have joined two other All-Stars in South Beach, but he was the reason why that team had the success that it did. Neither Wade nor Chris Bosh had made it out of the first round themselves (I’m talking without a legitimate sidekick) while LeBron had never been knocked out prior to the conference-semis. James was Miami’s leader. And while 2017 NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant can also be called the “leader” of Golden State this past season, the team seemed fine without him, going 140-24 over the previous two seasons with a Western Conference crown and a ring.
Lastly, did LeBron have a front office that he could rely on without a change of scenery?
As I explained above, the answer is yet another no. Meanwhile, KD had perhaps the best General Manager in the Association in Sam Presti. Yeah, Presti may have messed up on the Harden trade. But other than that, the man has proven to be one of the more impressive executives in the league, especially when it comes to the draftroom. From KD himself, to Russell Westbrook, to Serge Ibaka and even Steven Adams, Presti has shown that he knows how to scout and draft prospects that will be successful at the professional level. Sadly, LeBron never had that luxury.
Based on the Q and A period above, the difference between LeBron’s departure to Miami in 2010 and Durant’s escape to the Bay in 2016 should be evident. James needed to leave. His front office in Cleveland provided him with no hope for eventual championship-contention. And instead of jumping on the bandwagon of somebody else, he built and headed his own “superteam” (yeah, I’ll admit that LeBron was wrong; his Heat were definitely a “superteam”).
In contrast, KD had a great GM and a fellow superstar by his side in Oklahoma City, but instead decided to jump onto the 73-9 Warriors for certain glory. Now, someone please explain to a LeBron hater which is the truly weak move.
To conclude, most of you will try and disagree with me. You’ll label me a Nick Wright or a Colin Cowherd and use that to ignore the truth. But in reality, LeBron Raymone James did not start the “superteam”. And even though he did form one in Miami, that decision isn’t even in the same ballpark when being compared to Durant’s choice to join the Dubs last July. So, yeah, Draymond Green can try and torment the greatest player of our generation all he wants. But, in the end, there are only three words that can be used to describe the Warriors’ 2017 NBA title:
Given. Not. Earned.