Every couple of months, some long-retired NBA legend will take a shot at LeBron. Clearly a lot of these “old heads” despise LeBron. In my opinion, they’re insecure about him because deep down, they know he’s better than all of them. But that’s just me.
Retired NBA legend Julius Erving appeared this week on the “Posted Up” podcast with Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes. Erving named his top two all-time NBA teams, consisting of 10 players in total. Surprisingly, Erving declined to list LeBron James at all.
“He’s the guy who led the charge in terms of superteams being put together when he put together a team in Miami,” said Erving of the four-time MVP James. “He put together a team in Cleveland as well and put together a team in Los Angeles. He can pick his own team. I ain’t gonna pick his team.”
Erving named Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor to his first all-time team. Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appeared on Erving’s second all-time team.
Dr. J, are you serious? Don’t get me wrong, Dr. J is an all-time great. A legend. Revolutionized the game.
But he apparently has a selective memory when it comes to what constitutes a super-team.
Super-teams have been around as long as the NBA has been around.
Let’s take a look back at the history of “super-teams”:
- George Mikan had a very short career. He came into the NBA in 1948 for the 1948-49 season, and was done playing by the end of the 1956 season. His Minneapolis Lakers won the NBA Championship 5 times in six years. Mikan had multiple Hall of Fame teammates. They’re all guys you’ve never heard of, but they’re in the Hall of Fame nonetheless: Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin and Clyde Lovellette. Obviously it was a whole different era, but those guys dominated the league for a long time. Five Hall of Famers on one team? I’d say that qualifies as a super-team. Plus they also had role players with awesome names: Whitey Skoog, Dick Schnittker and Pep Saul. Those are not made-up.
- Everybody knows the Bill Russell-Red Auerbach Celtics dominated the 1960s. They won 8 straight titles at one point and Bill Russell ended up with 11 rings. They were a super-team. Not only did they have Russell and Auerbach, they also had HOF point guard Bob Cousy, who won six rings. They also had John Havlicek, Tommy Heinshon, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. And they got Clyde Lovellette late in his career for the 1964 season, which was their 7th-straight NBA title. The 1960s Celtics were unquestionably a super-team.
- The Knicks of the early 1970s had Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, plus Dave De Busschere. All three are in the Hall of Fame. And Bill Bradley is in the Hall of Fame as well. They won titles in 1970 and 1973.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a rookie for the 1970 Milwaukee Bucks. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Knicks. The following year, they traded for Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who many of you know as the only guy to ever average a triple-double for a season until Russell Westbrook did it three times in a row just a few years back. The Bucks won the NBA Championship in 1971. They were a super-team.
- The 1972 Lakers are a legendary team that set a then-record for most wins in a season with 69, which stood until the 1996 Bulls topped it with 72 wins. They won 33 games in a row, a record that still stands today. The 1972 Lakers featured Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, although Baylor retired 9 games into the season. But they also had Gail Goodrich on the team, who led them in scoring and is in the Hall of Fame. They beat Kareem’s Bucks in the Finals that year, and were definitely a super-team.
- Then, for the rest of the 1970s, there was a lot of parity in the NBA because of the competition for talent with the ABA. From 1974-1979, five different teams won titles, with the Celtics winning two, 1974 and 1976. The Celtics had John Havlicek, 1973 NBA MVP Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White, a Hall of Famer. The mid-70s Celtics were arguably a super-team, especially considering the circumstances of the talent dilution caused by the ABA.
- Now we’re getting into more familiar territory: in 1980, the Lakers, who already had Kareem, managed to acquire Magic Johnson in the draft. They also had Hall of Famer Jamaal Wilkes, and 2x All Star Norm Nixon, who led the team in minutes in 1980. The 1980 Lakers were a super-team.
- We all know about the Showtime Lakers, who won five Championships between 1980 and 1988, and made nine Finals in total between 1980-1991. Beyond just their big three of Magic, Kareem and James Worthy (who was drafted in 1983), they also had the aforementioned Wilkes and Nixon for their first two titles, plus they added Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo in 1982, although he was 31 when he joined the Lakers and past his prime. The Showtime Lakers were definitely a super-team.
- And then we have their chief rivals, the Larry Bird Celtics. They were a super-team, too. Bird, Robert Parrish, Kevin McHale, plus Cedric Maxwell–the 1981 Finals MVP–and Tiny Nate Archibald, a Hall of Famer who was on the team for their 1981 title. Prior to their 1984 Championship, they added Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson. The best of the three Celtics championship teams of the 1980s was probably 1986, when they went 67-15. That team even had Bill Walton, although he was 33 and way past his prime due to injuries. Still, he averaged 19 minutes per game that year. The Bird-Parrish-McHale Celtics of the 1980s were a super-team.
- Then there’s the less-famous “mini-dynasty” of the late 1980s, the Bad Boys Pistons. They won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990, and went almost 10 deep with great players. They also should’ve won the title in 1988, too, but got robbed due to the infamous “phantom foul” that put Magic Johnson on the free throw line at the end of what should’ve been the clinching game 6 of the Finals. The Lakers won game 7 to take the championship, but people in Detroit still to this day insist they were robbed in 1988 and should’ve had three straight titles instead of two. The Bad Boys Pistons had the following players: Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Adrian Dantley (all HOF), plus arguably the most well-known (and despised) enforcer ever in Bill Laimbeer. I’m not done yet: Mark Aguirre, Rick Mahorn, John Salley and last but definitely not least, Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson (one of the all-time great NBA nicknames). That’s insane depth. In 1989, they went 15-2 in the playoffs en route to the title, only dropping two games to Jordan’s Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. They beat Magic’s Lakers once in the Finals and it probably should’ve been twice. The Bad Boys Pistons were absolutely a super-team.
- Then in the 1990s, there was the Jordan Bulls. The Jordan Bulls were 100%, hands-down, no questions asked, a super-team. Not only did they have Jordan, Pippen and Phil Jackson, arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, they had Horace Grant for the first three titles. Grant made the All-Star team in 1994 and was 4x all defense. Their role players–John Paxson, who hit multiple massive shots late in Finals-clinching games, and BJ Armstrong, who made an All Star team in 1994–were rock solid. The Jordan Bulls were a super-team for the first three-peat, but they were even more of a super-team for the second three-peat. Jordan, Pippen and now Dennis Rodman, one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history and a 2x defensive player of the year, plus Toni Kukoc, one of the first European players in NBA history who really got major hype. Remember, European players weren’t prominent in the NBA until the early-mid 1990s, and Toni Kukoc was one of the first ones who had serious buzz. The Jordan Bulls of the 1990s were a super-team.
- You could even argue the Stockton-Malone Jazz were a super-team. Both guys made the NBA’s all-time 50 best players ever list. The only problem is they never won a ring, although then again that’s because they went up against an even greater super-team in the 1997 and 1998 Finals.
- Then there’s the 1995 Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, who came over from Portland to chase a ring. The Rockets even added Charles Barkley to the mix in 1997 alongside Dream and Drexler, which made them undeniably a super-team. Although admittedly all three guys were over age 33 by 1997. They wound up losing to the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals. The 1997 Rockets were the only team in the West that came anywhere close to having as much star-power as the Jazz.
- While it might seem like these 1990s super-teams pale in comparison to the ones that came before them in terms of the number of Hall of Famers, remember that the NBA was going through major expansion in the late 1980s-early 1990s. The league expanded from 23 to 29 teams during this period, meaning the talent started to get more spread out, similar to what happened with the ABA in the 1970s. Having two Hall of Famers was enough to qualify as a Super Team in the 1990s, even though in the 1980s, when the league only had 23 teams, it was more like 3 hall of Famers. You have to compare the Jordan Bulls to the other teams of their era.
- Just look at the 1993 Eastern Conference, for example: outside of the Bulls, the best teams in the East that year were the Knicks, Cavaliers and Celtics. The Celtics had zero Hall of Famers. The Cavaliers had zero Hall of Famers. The Knicks had one, Patrick Ewing, and their second-best player was John Starks. Starks was no slouch, but he and Ewing were not even close to as good a duo as Jordan and Pippen. Starks made an all-star team in 1994, but he doesn’t even hold a candle to Scottie Pippen. Even though the Jordan Bulls “only” had two Hall of Famers, compared to their competition in the East, they were definitely a super-team.
- Moving on: the Shaq-Kobe Lakers were a super-team. In 2000, their toughest competition in the West were the Blazers, whose best players were Rasheed Wallace and 34-year-old Scottie Pippen. In the Finals, they played the Pacers, who had 34-year-old Reggie Miller, and Jalen Rose. None of those teams were even remotely on the Lakers’ level. In 2001, the Lakers had to play the Duncan Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, but it was a 4-0 sweep for LA, and by this time, Robinson was 34, and it was before the Spurs got Tony Parker (2002) and Manu Ginobili (2003). The Lakers’ Finals opponent were the A.I. Sixers, but Iverson’s #2 guy was Theo Ratliff. No comparison to LA. In 2002, the Lakers probably should’ve lost to the Kings in the infamous “rigged” game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The Chris Webber Kings were pretty good that year, but they did not come close to the star power of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. LA also had to play the Duncan Spurs in the second round, a series the Lakers won 4-1. But in the Finals, they had to play the Nets, who had Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn and Jason Kidd. No contest.
- You could also categorize the Spurs Dynasty as a super-team. They had Tim Duncan and David Robinson for the first ring in 1999, plus they added Parker and Ginobili in the early 2000s. People think of them as more of a “system” than a true “super-team,” but look at what happened to Popovich’s “system” when he lost all of his star players: the Spurs are an average team now. The star players were the “system.” Basketball Reference says Tony Parker has a 94% chance of making the Hall of Fame, but gives Ginobili only a 20% chance.
- It is only now that we get to the Big Three Celtics, a team most people think of as “the first superteam.” In reality, the Pierce-KG-Allen Celtics were just the latest in a long-line of NBA super-teams that stretches all the way back to the earliest days of the NBA in the late 1940s. What made them appear different, at least in my view, is that they were the first team in at least a decade to have not two but three star-level players. Probably the 1997 Rockets were the last team to have three, legit high-profile stars on the same team, along with the Bulls of the second three-peat.
- So that’s the context behind LeBron and super-teams. LeBron went to Miami to form a super-team with Wade and Bosh primarily because he had lost to three different super-teams in the playoffs: the Spurs in the 2007 Finals, the Celtics in the 2008 playoffs, and the Celtics again in the 2010 playoffs. What rubs people the wrong way is how LeBron did it, and I’m not talking about “The Decision.” I’m talking about how it was plainly obvious that he, Wade and Bosh had essentially “colluded” and planned it all out. It was the moment the “player empowerment” era began. Sure, in the past, players would demand trades and join new teams in free agency, but this was something different: this was the players themselves building the team.
I can see why Dr. J–and many others–hold some resentment towards LeBron over the way he formed his Miami Super Team. But really, all LeBron did was make a proactive move to surround himself with Championship-level talent in a way the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office never could during his first stint there. Every other all-time great in NBA history had at least one superstar running mate, often two or even more. LeBron was never going to get that in Cleveland, so he took matters into his own hands.
I guess in LeBron’s mind he’d rather be resented by guys like Dr. J for forming a super team than called “overrated” for wasting away with the Cleveland Cavaliers for 15 years and winning no rings because his best teammates were guys like Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes.
But all these retired NBA players taking shots at LeBron are kidding themselves if they think LeBron’s Heat team was the first-ever super-team in NBA history. Super-teams have been the norm in NBA history since the very beginning. Virtually every great team in NBA history has been a super-team.
Hold on a sec. There’s one more super-team I almost left off the list: the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers. This is one super-team Dr. J definitely didn’t forget about, because he was on the team. In the 1982 offseason, Erving’s 76ers acquired superstar free-agent center Moses Malone, one of the 15-20 greatest NBA players ever. They already had Erving, obviously, plus Hall of Famers Mo Cheeks and Bobby Jones, plus all-star Andrew Toney.
The 1983 Sixers were the infamous “fo, fo, fo” team that went on a rampage through the playoffs and won the NBA title in a sweep over the defending champion Lakers. The Sixers didn’t quite live up to Malone’s “fo, fo, fo” prediction, but they came pretty close, going 12-1 in the playoffs. That stood as the best playoff record in NBA history until the 2001 Lakers went 15-1 en route to a Championship. The Sixers also went 65-17 in the regular season that year. I’d say Dr. J’s 1983 Sixers were a super-team. To fully drive the point home, consider this: Dr. J won league MVP in 1981, and Moses Malone won it in 1982! When you have the past two MVPs on your team, you are a super-team. 100%.
So when you look at LeBron in light of all this we’ve just gone over, it’s actually kind of appalling that so many retried players–who were fortunate enough to land on and play for super-teams–are bashing LeBron for going out and building his own super-team.
It’s like seventh-generation old money bashing first-generation new money for engaging in ruthless business practices and questionable deals to amass a fortune. How are you going to begrudge someone else for how they make their money when you’re already rich? If you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you have no grounds to criticize someone else for wanting to get to where you are.
Dr. J had Moses Malone, plus two other Hall of Famers and an all-star, on his team, and he’s taking shots at a guy for wanting to upgrade from Mo Williams and Sasha Pavlovic. It really is incredible.