This Summer, the big news was the free agent acquisitions that the Miami Heat made. By adding Lebron and Bosh while retaining Dwyane Wade, the Heat have formed what is being called a “super team” as they have brought together 3 of the top 15 players in the league and then surrounded them by good role players in the hope of winning a championship. Meanwhile, as the summer has progressed, there has been much talk of the futures of Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and their potential quest to team up with Amar’e Stoudemire on the Knicks or go separately to some other team to be part of another roster with high level talent that can not only battle the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy but also claim a championship (or more) of their own. And then there’s the Lakers – the team that (presumably) all of these players have in mind when wanting to join forces in the first place. With Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, and the (still) up and coming Bynum, the Lakers have built a team on a foundation of talent that is pretty much unmatched by any other team in the league (and that includes the Heat, Celtics, Magic, etc).
But, none of this is really new as the concept of the super team has been around for generations. Look back to any era and you’ll find a franchise that thought gathering as much talent as possible on one roster is the way to go about their business. Which, when thinking about it, is actually an obvious tactic. I mean, talent wins in this league and has for decades. There’s no reason to think that this trend is somehow going to stop or that owners/GM’s aren’t plotting ways to make their respective teams as competitive as possible by acquiring as much talent as their roster can hold.
Below are some of the teams that I can think of off the top of my head that staked their claim as a super team with some results as to how successful they were in winning that elusive championship. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll only look at teams that have had at least three Hall of Fame caliber players on their roster at the same time. And, we’ll only go back to 1980 (though the Lakers of West, Baylor, Wilt and Goodrich deserve recognition as do the Russell/Cousy Celtics and the Russell/Havlicek Celtics). We’ll start from most recent and work our way backwards.
2008-2010 Lakers: This is the current group of Lakers that is the reiging back to back NBA champions. Their top 5 players (Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, Bynum) are all capable of being elite level contributors. The leader, Kobe Bryant, is a 5 time champion, a repeat first team all NBA performer and Defensive team performer, and is a former MVP of the entire league. Pau Gasol is one of the most versatile big men in the game and shows a combination of polish and skill on both sides of the ball that made him an all star before he came to Los Angeles. And while it may be a stretch to find another sure fire Hall of Famer amongst Odom/Bynum/Artest, it’s not a stretch to imagine Bynum being a dominant, All-Star caliber player on a different team that, over time could grow into an All-NBA selection. And while this might be breaking my own rule, when combined the trio of Odom/Bynum/Artest really do add up to another HOF caliber player as their unique variety of skill and versatility on both sides of the ball round out a roster that is the most top heavy in talent across the entire league.
2008-2010 Celtics: This team is a one time champion with two trips to the Finals. They possess the fantastic trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce – all three of which are multiple time all stars and all league candidates. KG is easily the most accomplished of the three winning a regular season MVP award and considered by many (including myself) to be one of the two or three best defensive players of his generation. Pierce and Allen are also quite accomplished in their own right as Pierce has a Finals MVP to his resume and Allen is considered one of the best shooters of all time, much less of his generation. When you add in the up and coming Rajon Rondo to run the point for this group, you have a fantastic base of talent that can make teams wilt with their defensive pressure and score enough points to make every game a challenge to beat them.
1997-1999 Rockets: The lone non title holder of the teams I’ll mention. After tasting the ultimate glory with an Hakeem + role players model in 1994 and 1995 (though in ’95, Drexler was still a very good player), the Rockets went for it all again using the super team model in the late 90’s. Needless to say it was not successful. After brining in an aged Charles Barkley, this team never really found the needed chemistry and cohesion to win the championship. Drexler was replaced with Scottie Pippen in ’99, but even that didn’t work and led to a messy, clash of Chuck and Scottie that led to Pippen leaving to Portlant in 2000 (where he saw this first hand).
1996-1998 Bulls: Three time repeat champion that towered over the league for the second half of the 90’s. Many think of this team as the Jordan/Pippen show, but when you throw in Dennis Rodman you have a triumvirate that is very difficult to beat. And since everyone is familiar with Jordan and Pippen, allow me a moment to gush over “the Worm”. There will never be another Dennis Rodman. And no, I’m not talking about the hair dye, wedding dresses, or the all-night partying. I’m talking about the combination of elite level defense and rebounding from a six foot, seven inch forward that created a presence on the defensive side of the ball that was truly difficult to comprehend unless you watched the games. Rodman successfully bottled up players of all sizes and went to the backboards with a reckless abandon not seen since. Many can marvel at the rebounding numbers of Dwight Howard or even young KG but in the 7 consecutive years that Rodman lead the league in rebounding average, he never fell below 14.9 and had a high of 18.7. In comparison, neither KG nor Howard have had an average above 14.2 (Howard) in their high season. When you throw in Rodman’s underrated feel for offensive basketball (he was an excellent passer, had a high BBIQ, and of course his offensive rebounding was off the charts) and you’ve got a great offensive player that just didn’t put up traditional box score stats on that side of the ball to earn him recognition. In a sense, he was the ultimate teammate on offense and defense because he knew his role and performed it at a level that defies what even seems possible. It’s a shame to me that Rodman is not in the Hall of Fame. So now that I’m off my soap box, when you combine Rodman with Jordan and Pippen and the result is the dominance that we saw, they’re a super team.
1987-1990 Pistons: Back to back champions in 1989 and 1990. This Detroit team’s back bone were Hall of Famers Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and also had Adrian Dantley for part of this run (HOF class of 1998). When you add in a young Rodman and excellent, high level role players like Vinnie Johnson, Mark Aguirre, John Salley, Laimbeer, Mahorn, and James Edwards you have a team that often gets overlooked but was stocked full of talent. Many don’t really consider this group a super team because their star players don’t have the cachet of the superstars of that same era, but I watched those games and those guys (especially Zeke and Dumars) were top shelf players that raised their games in the big moments.
1980-1991 Lakers: Ahh, Showtime. We’ve discussed this group a lot at this site, so I’ll save all the recounting of fond memories. But, let me just say that over that decade plus of basketball this team went to 9 NBA Finals, won 5 championships, and fielded a combination of players that include Hall of Famers Magic, Kareem, Worthy, and McAdoo while filling out their roster with near HOF players like Wilkes, high draft picks like Nixon, Mychal Thompson, and Scott, and great role players like Rambis and Green. (EDIT: And Michael Cooper! How could I have forgotten Coop? He’s a Laker I Miss.)
1980-1991 Celtics: Three time champion that went the the Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals 8 times in 9 seasons (’80-’88). Parrish, McHale, Bird, and Dennis Johnson are all in the Hall of Fame. Danny Ainge was one of the best role players of his era (went to Finals with Boston, Portland, and Phoenix as a major contributor). While this team was a hated rival of the Celtics and one that I personally loved to see lose, I must show proper respect by including them here. The 1986 Celtic team is considered by many to one of the two or three best teams of all time and with reason.
There are some teams that didn’t quite make the cut. The first ones that come to mind are the late 90’s Jazz, the early 2000’s Spurs, and the early 80’s 76ers. All of those teams had two HOF players, but didn’t have either a third player that fit the bill or a group of top end players that were right below that threshold (though the 76ers did come close with Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, and Doug Collins).
Back to the Heat…will they follow the trend that these teams displayed and win at least one title? The odds point in their favor. They’ve amassed high quality talent in their top three players that will make them contenders for years to come. However, questions remain. Will they fill out their roster with the type of hard nosed role players that help win championships? Will their games blend in the manner that past trios have? Will they have the coaching that pushes them over the top? Will one of the other “super” teams that currently exist (Lakers, Celtics) be too big a road block for them to break through? Only time will tell with these questions. But the Heat are hoping that their formation of a “super team” will lead them to the promised land that many of the other ones mentioned visited. Because remember, this concept is not new and the Heat are banking on the past being their guide in their pursuit.