Take it the Court is a new weekly column on SCH featuring the arguments, opinions, and random musing of a Utah Jazz fanatic.
In the preseason, Big Al Jefferson stated that he hoped to be the “Robin” to D-Will’s “Batman.” As any kid who has spent time watching Saturday morning cartoons can attest, Robin was never Batman’s greatest teammate. Recall that Batman teamed up with Superman, Wonder-woman, Aquaman – even Scooby Doo. For all the arrogance of Ironman (née Tony Stark), his greatest allies were Thor, Captain America, and Nick Fury (to name a few). Would the X-Men be as popular/successful as the X-man? For all of Batman’s prowess in policing Gotham, he had greater impact and magnified his influence by teaming up with other superheroes. So you ask, what do these comics have to do with the NBA? Observe:
During this off-season, we all watched in abject horror (or amazement) as LeBron announced his decision to take his talents to South Beach. One of the best basketball talents of all time, ‘Bron essentially espoused the Batman model (or, as some may say, the Legion of Doom model) of teaming up with other superheros (Dwayne “don’t call me Flash” Wade & Chris Bosh) in order to chase his championship. As impressive as the Heat experiment has been in the opening weeks of the season, not all is right in south Florida.
As has been discussed ad nauseum (here and elsewhere), earlier this week, Paul Millsap exposed the weakness of Miami’s front-line (I’m looking at you Bosh). The Jazz somehow overcame a HUGE deficit and 39 points from the basketball-player-formerly-known-as-Flash. A fluke? Perhaps.
But Miami’s other losses in the young season (two at the hands of the Boston Senior Citizens, and one to CP3 – the other best PG in the league) demonstrated just what is wrong with throwing a bunch of superstars together…a lack of chemistry. Against the Hornets, Miami allowed CP3 to put up 19 dimes and 13 points – Okafor posted a double-double – three other players scored in double figures. In two games against the Shamrocks, Miami has looked the part of the pretender – not the contender that was promised. In an alpha-dog league, no one is quite sure where their place is in the Heat-pack.
When ‘Bron decided to go to Miami, many (myself included) thought him a coward for teaming up with his “Super Friends.” What would this mean for the future of free agency? Would Carmelo and CP3 make good on Paul’s toast to NYC and joining Amar’e with the Knicks? Was parity in the NBA a thing of the past? How could the Utahs and San Antonios of the league compete with the NY Yankee model being copied in the NBA (hard cap)? Perhaps the league could consolidate into 6-8 “super-teams,” and leave the “average” NBA talent in the D-League (and send the D-Leaguers off to find work in the “real world”).
In today’s megalithic NBA, superstar Free Agents have the ability to demand outlandish salaries. Granted, the value of a dollar is the same for me as for LeBron James – but what can he buy with $125 million that he can’t buy for $115 million? Really? If you have the basketball talents of Kobe Bryant, LeBron, Dwayne (and to a lesser extent, Deron Williams), why not simply pick a home and have your similarly talented friends come play with you? I’m sure games of H.O.R.S.E after Miami’s practice are much more spirited with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James going at it…I mean really, who wants to face off against Lazar Hayward in Minnesota when you could be playing the King just steps from the beach?
Business as Usual
MJ made it clear that he never would have called up Magic or Bird to from a triumvirate championship monster. Magic said that he was too concerned with figuring out how to beat Bird to consider teaming up with his rival. Bird, too. If you take those comments at face value, you’d think that Magic, Bird, and Jordan single-handedly won championships (combining for 14 ‘chips in 18 years). For all their contributions to their teams, though, last time I checked, basketball is a team sport…and all three had the benefit of stellar supporting casts.
- Magic teamed up with all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, not to mention another Hall-of-Famer, James Worthy. They had a pretty great Coach, too – Slicked-back Pat (Riley).
- Larry Legend didn’t do it all himself – he was part of one of the best front-lines in NBA history – surrounded by Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale. The Celts won the ’86 title on the backs of FIVE future Hall of Famers (the aforementioned, Dennis Johnson, and Bill Walton).
- MJ? His ‘chips never came until Chicago traded away rookie (and future Jazzman) Olden Polynice to Seattle for a former walk-on at NAIA’s Central Arkansas. Under the tutelage of Jordan and Zen-master Jackson, Scottie Pippen developed into one of the all-time greats.
Forgive me, then, if I find MJ, Magic, and Bird a little disingenuous in their musings about not teaming up with the greats – instead, only wanting to beat the greats. Surely each of their many successes were aided by the superstars around them.
Here is the key difference, though: MJ, Bird, and Magic had teams that were carefully built by the organization to serve a specific purpose. Is the union between Kobe and Pau Gasol more holy because it was brokered by management rather than between friends? You bet. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan have earned a spot in NBA lore playing together at the behest of their organization – not in choosing to play with their best friends. I may be alone in this, but I would trust the championship basketball IQ of Phil Jackson, Greg Popovich, and Pat Riley over the IQ of young superstars who can’t see the forest for the trees [Author's note: In Riley's defense, who would turn down LBJ or Chris Bosh?]. Personally, I’d look to Professor X for guidance before asking an unstable, aggressive and emotional Wolverine.
A Superhero Model for Winning Championships?
As all too familiar to Karl Malone (and broken-hearted, betrayed Utah loyalists), simply assembling the best players onto a team doesn’t necessarily lead to the O’Brien trophy. The Mailman’s foray to Laker-Land with Gary Payton, Shaq, Kobe, and Phil Jackson didn’t result in the automatic ‘chip he had hoped for. In 2004, a Detroit TEAM made up mostly of Bruce Waynes and Clark Kents ousted their rivals of Batmans and Supermans (err..Black Mamba, Glove, Diesel, Mailman, Zen-Master).
Utah, New Orleans, and Boston have shown the league just what it takes to beat the Heat: playing team basketball (and attacking their weak front line). Miami is vulnerable. In the words of Whiplash, Ironman’s nemesis in the recent Hollywood film, Iron Man 2:
If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him, there will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.
Remember, Miami – for all the advantages of playing on the beach, never forget your proximity to the sharks.
Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz [AT] gmail [DOT] com