All aboard, rail riders – if ya not inspired then ya leave something to be desired. Because ATrain is lighting fire to TV’s Iron Throne, and Prone Bone Malone is about to ignite a pyre inside ya NBA comfort zone. Time to disown any falsities about building truly great teams – LeBron fuckin’ James, you might want to see what I mean. High beams and bright lights brought out their pinnacle performances…and made PBM a cynical hoops snob who reps tough for Michael Jordan’s ish. Unwarranted and abhorrent stat-laden truths shall be ignored! Triple doubles down twenty don’t mean a thing in this hoops forum. So sip a couple or blaze some flowers, baby. Maybe you’ll see the choice is yours, but just know there are consequences when blueprints aren’t followed true to form.
Elements of an NBA Dynasty (Post 1980-Present)
Get ready, laymen hoops watchers (I’m looking at you, gym teachers of the world). I’m about to present to you the surefire, five component formula to apply to understanding whether you’re watching a dynasty in motion or if you’re watching an easy-bake championship grab that isn’t built to last.
Component #1: Three finals victories with relatively close to the same player and management personnel. The Showtime Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, MJ’s Bulls, Kobe/Shaq Lakers (kind of an outlier – we’ll get to that), Duncan’s Spurs, and the present day Warriors (The Durant signing will also be addressed – truth be told, they don’t need him) all fit the bill. Sorry Bad Boys Pistons and Hakeem’s Rockets…you’re out. That eliminates personal bias, fools. Those are my two favorite teams ever. Joining them on the outside looking in are the Kobe-led Lakers of the late 2000’s and the LeBron/Wade Miami squad.
Component #2: Your head coach is Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, or Steve Kerr. Unless your core is Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, and Dennis Johnson. Then whomever Red Auerbach appoints as coach is sufficient. No team in history had ever held four players of that caliber at the same time until KD went ring chasing. And Auerbach did so via the draft and savvy trades…not one single FA signing during his all-time great executive tenure.
Of the last thirty nine seasons NBA, twenty seven of the championship winners come from a team coached by the aforementioned men or was built by Red Auerbach. Riley was the lead executive behind the three championships won by the Heat (pre-LBJ title included), so really 30/39 title winners had these legendary basketball brains at the helm. Point being? EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP AND COACHING ARE EXTREMELY FUCKING IMPORTANT FOR SUSTAINED GREATNESS IN PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL. Longevity is an impossibility when individuals place themselves above their franchises! I wonder whom I’m thinking about right now…
Component 3: Three foundational players attained through the draft. You may also draft two and attain one via trade if the trade acquisition is done in the prime of their careers. Exception here for the Shaq / Kobe Lakers three-peat. Having the most dominant big of that era and the best wing of all time other than MJ supersedes any formula. Especially when they’re surrounded by championship pedigree players like Robert Horry, Ron Harper, Derek Fisher, and others. SHEEEESH.
For each squad, I’m assigning one of their core three ballers to one of Newton’s Laws of Motion. Because it’s all about continued forward motion for dynasties – moving forward to repeated championship seasons for a singular franchise = ultimate success. Here’s Newton’s laws for those in need of a refresher:
First Law: If an object is at rest, it remains so, and if it’s in movement, it will keep moving at a uniform velocity until it is affected by an external force.
Second Law: Force is equal to mass times acceleration.
Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The Showtime Lakers (coached by Pat Riley):
First Law: Magic (drafted), Second Law: Worthy (drafted), Third Law: Kareem (traded for)
Magic was the engine. Worthy was unstoppable along side him on the break. If a team made the mistake of challenging Kareem, they saw the entire makeup of the second greatest player of all-time’s repertoire on both sides of the ball.
Bird’s Celtics (assembled by Auerbach):
First Law: Kevin McHale/Robert Parrish (drafted via trade and trade for – SAME DAMN DEAL!!!), Second Law: Dennis Johnson (traded for), Third Law: Larry Bird (drafted)
When McHale was in the zone, the Celtics were unbeatable. One of the best offensive post-games of all-time along side Hakeem, Kareem, Duncan, and Shaq. DJ was the guard version of Pippen – apparently all the way down his dong size. Bird was unflappable and if you engaged him via words, he ate your soul verbally and with his game.
MJ’s Bulls (coached by Phil Jackson):
First Law: Jordan (drafted), Second Law: Horace/Rodman (drafted/traded for), Third Law: Pippen (drafted)
The Bulls might have flummoxed Newton. They really only needed Mike and Scottie to cover all three laws. Jordan actually did it himself, but that makes sense because he’s the GOAT. I settled on this because when MJ sat for reasons unknown, the dynasty stalled. Horace/Rodman handled the enforcing via very different skills/tenacity, and Pippen is arguably the best two-way player ever outside of MJ, Hakeem, Duncan, Kobe, and LeBron.
Duncan’s Spurs (coached by Gregg Popovich):
First Law: Duncan (whom gracefully passed his spot here to Kawhi – both drafted) , Second Law: Parker (drafted), Third Law: Ginobili (drafted)
Duncan got to San Antonio and the winning never stopped. Parker’s speed ate teams for all three meals. If you challenged this team, Ginobili dunked on your head.
Shaq/Kobe Lakers need not fit this portion of the programming. Phil coached them for the record.
Splash Bro’s Warriors (Coached by Steve Kerr):
First Law: Steph (drafted), Second Law: Draymond (drafted), Third Law: Klay (drafted)
I’ll say it again, Durant doesn’t matter for this blog’s material. As ATrain stated to me via phone the other day, Durant being a Warrior is more important due to him not playing for a team that could potentially derail this dynasty. Steph’s shooting has changed the league and kept them moving forward, Draymond’s energy overwhelms teams with it’s size/force/acceleration, and Klay has made more big stops and big shots than anyone other than his teammates over the past five seasons.
Pretty simple, no? I’ll mention it here that Kerr played for both Phil and Pop + studied the finer points of each’s vastly different styles. Kerr is damn legend.
Component 4: Established veteran players with a willingness to sacrifice individual output for the good of the team. Essentially, teams whom avoid what Pat Riley coined as “the disease of more.”
Showtime Lakers: Michael Cooper (five rings), Byron Scott (three rings), Kurt Rambis (four rings), AC Green (three rings), Mychal Thompson (two rings – KLAY’S DAD!!), Jamaal Wilkes (three rings), and Bob McAdoo (two rings)
Wilkes and McAdoo were both All-Stars in hugely reduced roles – especially a former MVP in McAdoo. Cooper, Scott, and Green played their formidable years with the same teams instead of fleeing for a bigger spotlight. Mychal fathered Klay – one of many connections between each of these dynastic squads.
Bird’s Celtics: Bill Walton (two rings), Danny Ainge (two rings), Scott Wedman (two rings), Gerald Henderson (three rings), ML Carr (two rings), and Cedric Maxwell (two rings).
Walton was a former MVP playing as a 6th man. Ainge stayed despite other offers (and went back to the finals as player three times + won a ring as a GM). Maxwell was the MVP of their finals victory and the key piece of the trade Auerbach made to acquire Walton. Wedman was a 2x All-Star who went from playing 36 mins/game and averaging nearly 20pts per to playing 15 mins/game and scoring only 6pts per. What would John Lithgow call this noble act?
Jordan’s Bulls: John Paxson (three rings), Bill Cartwright (three rings), BJ Armstrong (three rings), Stacey King (three rings), Ron Harper (five rings), Will Perdue (four rings), John Salley (four rings), Toni Kukoc (three rings), Luc Longley (three rings), and a bunch of other dudes who stuck around during either three-peat.
The most astonishing thing when you look back at the Bulls is their limited roster turnover every year during each three-peat. In addition to having the GOAT player, the arguably GOAT coach, and a top ten two-way player of all time the Bulls had serious consistency in their locker rooms. Take notes, Daryl Morey and Rob Pelinka/LeBron James. More championship connectivity to call out – Kerr (he’s the only person involved with three of the dynastic organizations – UNREAL when truly appreciated), Harper, Perdue, and the aforementioned Ho Grant earned ‘chips on more than one of these profiled squads. Salley and the aforementioned Rodman were both 2x title winners for the Bad Boy Pistons. Rodman won five tiles throughout his NBA career.
Duncan’s Spurs: Steve Kerr (five rings), Mario Elie (three rings), Will Perdue (four rings), Bruce Bowen (three rings), Beno Udrih (two rings), and Robert Horry (seven rings).
This component is where the Spurs differ from most – due to the spread out nature of their success, their title teams consistent presences were the three laws of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. Duncan won five rings, and the other two men won four. What the Spurs culture fostered was sincere talent taking lesser roles in order to get a title (both homegrown or acquired via trade/FA) – for most of the men about to list, it was their sole journey to the promised land. They include David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Michael Finley, Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Steve Smith, Kevin Willis, Brent Barry, Danny Green, and Speedy Claxton. I credit this anomaly to the iron rule of Popovich + consistency of Duncan. Kerr’s and Perdue’s second appearance each in this component must be noted.
Shaq/Kobe Lakers: Robert Horry (seven rings), Brian Shaw (three rings), Derek Fisher (five rings), Rick Fox (three rings), Ron Harper (five rings), Horace Grant (four rings), Devean George (three rings), AC Green (three rings), and John Salley (four rings).
Glen Rice popped his head in here for a ring. As did Mitch Richmond. The Lakers core of Shaq/Kobe was bolstered each year by Horry, Fisher, and Fox more than the others. Like I said, a third law need not apply to Shaq + Mamba.
Splash Bros. Warriors: Andre Igoudala (three rings), Shaun Livingston (three rings), David West (two rings), JaVale McGee (two rings), and Zaza Pachulia (two rings).
This component is tough to apply to the Warriors due to the Durant element. However, the three laws of the Splash Bros. + Donkey have been joined by Iggy and Livingston the entire run. Kerr is their coach (Kerr’s NBA life is unmatched – need to say this one more time. Didn’t even mention his two FINALS clinching shot until now!) They’ve won three of four titles (soon to be four of five), and half of their chips are going to be without Durant on the floor. The one finals they lost, they shouldn’t have. They were up 3-1 and officiating decisions were HIGHLY questionable. If they had won in ’16, there would be little debate in calling them the greatest team in modern NBA history.
Component Five: A transcendent player that defines or co-authors their era’s largest moments.
Showtime? Magic Johnson. The best offensive PG of all time who could play every position on the floor due to his incomparable size + speed + handle combination.
Celtics? That’d be Bird. An offensive assassin who’s game hadn’t been seen or replicated until Durant (the best offensive player in the modern aside from MJ and apex Shaq).
Bulls? The GOAT. Michael Jeffrey Jordan. I’ve discussed this in length…read my past “defining greatness” blog.
Lakers? Shaq w/an assist from young Kobe. The most dominant offensive big man since Wilt, and he did so against vastly superior competition. Although Hakeem ate him up in their finals showdown (mandatory PBM Hakeem dick tug). Kobe won three rings as the second option and another two more as his team’s undisputed alpha dog. He’s a B+/A- Jordan at his best, and a top-ten player of all time.
Spurs? Duncan. The most consistent superstar of all time and the best power forward to ever lace them up. Duncan vs. LeBron in the NBA Finals? 11-5, Fundamental. I love that stat.
Warriors? Steph Curry. The greatest shooter to ever live. He is rivaled only by his two teammates for this honor, and it needs to be mentioned that he has won at every level he’s played at. Remember Steph in college? The guy beat future NBA all stars while playing with dudes whom are selling real estate and trading stocks right now. In an era where shooting is the undisputed king trait needed to win, Steph wears the crown. Piss off, kid from Akron.
And that concludes this edition of “Defining Greatness.” Be well, Rail Riders. And don’t quote stats if they don’t have wins behind them. Peace.