Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to take the Shock the World Tour up to The Ford Center to watch The Lakers-Thunder game. The Lakers ended up with the victory, which knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs, and in the midst of hearing 20,000 people stand and give their team an extended standing ovation, plus watching the youngsters huddle up for the final time, it made me proud to be a fan, and to see a fan base take pride in their team. If only they can stay together, add a piece or two and get better, then they’ll be a force for years to come, and even contend for a championship.
Then the proverbial cynic in me went off. The Thunder win an NBA Championship? In this lifetime? Yeah, right. By no means am I saying they are not worthy, or won’t eventually be good enough. What I am saying is there are some things that are beyond the control of the players on the court, which leads to a myriad of events, circumstances, and issues swirling around in my head. Once these came together, a startling revelation came about. In the past 25 years, only seven organizations have won an NBA championship, and out of those seven, only one of them is a single-winner (the Heat). The other winners have won it multiple times. Is there something to this, or is it a mere coincidence? That’s where the exploration goes further.
In the past 25 years, the Lakers have won seven titles and the Bulls have won six. The Spurs have won four, and the Celtics and Pistons have each won three, and the Rockets have won two.
Now here’s a remarkable, yet unfortunate fact about the NBA. In its 62-year existence, two teams have combined for over half of its championships. Those two teams are the Celtics (17) and the Lakers (15). Both teams are still in the playoffs, and even with them not playing the greatest basketball, they both have a decent shot to make the Finals this year. The last time they squared off in the Finals, the NBA loved the set-up; we were bombarded with classic videos, old-school interviews, and everything else under the sun. It was heaven for the league. In essence, it was the total opposite of say, 2006, when the Mavs took on the Heat. There was no historical significance here, and even with the presence of The Big Homie, Dwyane Wade, and Dirk, there still wasn’t an outpouring of folks looking to watch this thing. We know the Heat ended up winning, but when you look beneath the surface, who was the head coach? Pat Riley. Who was the coach of three of those Lakers titles since 1984? Pat Riley. Even though there was a new champion, the power still stayed at the table, so to speak, due to the LA connection.
“Hold on, brother. What’s with all the conspiracies? What about Jordan? He played in Chicago.” Well, I’m glad you asked about The Jordan, and I’ll be more than happy to give a take on how that worked out for Chi-town. The Bulls have always been a proud franchise, but not a championship franchise. In the old days, they had Jerry Sloan, Bob Love, and Artis Gilmore (one of the flyest names in the history of basketball) to name a few. However, as great as they were, they weren’t once-in-a-generation basketball players.
Then enters The Jordan.
There aren’t enough words to describe the significance of His Airness, so what I will say will be as brief, yet significant, as possible. Jordan’s teams went through their early growing pains, and Jordan himself received backlash from some of his own peers. They kept getting closer to the throne, just to be repeatedly kicked down by the Celtics and Pistons. Eventually, the Bulls pieced it all together, and they won a ring, and once they won, and as long as Jordan played a full season, they never lost again. Jordan was that once-in-a-generation player that comes along, took the league to another level, and with that, the Bulls earned a seat at the table. Think about how many teams and players don’t have rings, because of Jordan and Chicago. On top of that, who did the Bulls beat to get their first title in 1991? They beat the Lakers, a team that, once again, had already won three rings since 1984. Keep the power concentrated at the table, and it’s all good.
You can even look at San Antonio as a similar situation; small-to-moderate market team with good players previously (The Iceman and The Admiral immediately come to mind), but once they got Tim Duncan, they won multiple championships. Hell, people still claim they tanked the 96-97 season to get the number one pick, in the same way the Cavs tanked 02-03 to get the number one pick (I’ll get to that one in a minute.) The Spurs run a model organization, have great coaching, one of the most underappreciated superstars of our era in The Big Fundamental, and terrific role players. They’re at the table, along with the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, and the Bulls.
The other multiple winner, the Rockets, is a case I haven’t quite figured out. It’s just known that they played (arguably) the team with the biggest market in sports in the Knicks in 1994, and beat them. After that, they mashed on Orlando, and with that, they’re at the table, too (I never said this was complete; it merely triggers discussion.)
With all that said, it leads to the player and the team that has the best opportunity to join the elites at the championship table.
The King recently got his second NBA MVP award, with pretty much little-to-no debate from any reasonable basketball fan. The Cavs have done everything in their power to surround this man with good enough talent to win the championship. He’s gone through the growing pains of becoming a star, has had his “I Am Legend" moment, courtesy of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, when he busted Detroit's thang open in Game Five, which helped catapult the Cavs into the NBA Finals, after destroying the Pistons in the very next game at The Q.
It's no secret that Cleveland's a small market team. They've had some pretty good players over the years (Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Craig Ehlo and them come to mind), but The King is one of those cats, like Jordan, who comes around once in a million years. The league has crowned him, ETSF has crowned him (yes, that means something), and all that’s left now is for them to win a championship, which they have a great chance of doing this season. Much like Jordan, once he learns how to win a ring, he’ll never lose again (injury withstanding), because he’s just that damn good, and people wanna play with him. By no means am I saying this man is as good as Jordan, much like I say no one’s as good as Jordan, but the combination of appeal, circumstances surrounding their teams, moments in the league, and the NBA putting him on a pedestal all contribute to the possibility of The King putting Cleveland at the table of champs and staying there for quite some time.
Now some people will read this, and think I’m talking out of my ass, and that’s fine. With that, ask yourself this: how many teams have we seen that are good, young, and on the rise, but all of a sudden, they go to hell, stay stuck, and simply do not win a ring? Taking it a step further, how many very good teams have we seen over the years, teams that seemed to have it all, but still couldn’t win a championship? Sure, things happen, but for there to only be seven different teams win championships in 25 years, doesn’t this bear some discussion? Clyde Drexler was already a Hall of Famer, but he didn't get a ring, until he went to a team who just won a title. Kevin Garnett, one of the greatest players in my lifetime, had to go to the standard of NBA championship organizations, in Boston, to get a ring. Pau Gasol, a very good player his entire career, joined the Lakers, and got a ring as well. Is it all a damn coincidence?
In order to understand the present, and gauge the future, you must look at the past, and judging from this, you may have a better understanding of what’s to come in the immediate future. It's obvious to see who's got the juice, and from the look of things, there are too many teams out here who've been dyin' of thirst for a long, long time. I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’.