Back in 1968, star musicians Eric Clapton, formerly of Cream, and Stevie Winwood, formerly of Traffic, formed one of the first so-called rock super roups – Blind Faith. The group released one successful album (there were no CDs back then) and then disbanded a year later.
In 2010, we may be on the verge of seeing the first, so-called super team, if what we are reading and hearing is correct. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are said to be in cahoots and talking about all playing together next season. If it’s true, the Miami Heat can only hope their luck is better than that of Blind Faith.
We’ve seen great teams before, of course, but never one that potentially has been built by the players. The Celtics of the 1960s had their dynasty and was chock-a-block with Hall of Famers. The Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s were also filled with Springfield-bound players. The Bulls and Lakers of the 1990s and 2000s had fewer stars, but more success than any franchise since the 1960s Celtics due in part to an increase in teams with the accompanying dilution in talent.
But those teams were built from within. (Just ask Jerry Krause if you don’t believe me.) Red Auerbach constructed the Celtics. Jerry West built the Lakers. And while not trying to diminish the power, presence and cachet of Miami president Pat Riley, or the obvious allure of southern Florida during an NBA season, this looks more like three guys making a conscious decision to play together.
Luckily for Riley and the Miami fans, the Heat are the one team that can accommodate their wishes.
Miami always had one advantage over the other, crazed cap-space clubs who stripped to the bone in anticipation of July 2010. It had Wade, one of the prized free agents. Then Riley moved to strip his roster, but not so as to create a D-League team with cap space, which is what the Knicks did.
You could always envision one marquee free agent going to Miami. But two? And the number one prize in James along with the player who many think is No. 3, Bosh? That didn’t seem possible. Cap mathematics dictated that someone would have to give up something (i.e. $$$) and history has shown us that, in most cases, the players want the most they can get.
This is sort of what happened in 2003, when Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined the Los Angeles Lakers, who still had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. There was constant talk of the four Hall of Famers on the roster (although I’m not that sure about Payton) and how the Lakers would start another championship run with such a powerhouse group. However, Malone and Payton both played for considerably less money than they had earned with Utah and Seattle, respectively, in hopes of winning a title.
The Lakers of 2003-04 were very good when healthy, but Malone missed 40 games that season with injuries. The team got back to the NBA Finals, but lost to the Pistons in five games. By the time L.A. made it back again to the Finals in 2008, O’Neal had been traded and Malone and Payton had both retired. (Malone called it a career after the 2003-04 season. Payton played three more years and won a ring in 2006 with Miami at the age of 37.)
The difference here is that both Malone and Payton were at the ends of their careers and in search of a championship to add to their resumes. James, Bosh and Wade, it could be argued, are in the primes of their careers and, lockout notwithstanding, could look forward to five productive years together. Wade already has one ring. James and Bosh are still looking – and both have figured out that it probably isn’t going to happen for them where they currently reside.
The players themselves made this possible, first by all agreeing to contracts that allowed them to become free agents at the same time. Then they realized how much fun it was to play together when they joined forces for USA Basketball. Now, they are on the verge of creating a mini-USA Basketball roster, not to mention a team that automatically jumps to the head of the line when the topic of discussion is the 2011 Finals.
Naysayers will talk about there being only one basketball and who will defer to who when the game is on the line. Nonsense. The players are the one making this happen and they are the ones invested in the success of this enterprise. They will make sure it works. One of them, probably Wade, would even give up some money to make it come together. What greater sacrifice can an NBA player make?
And they will get along. Bosh, of course, is Mr. Deferential, so we don’t have to worry about him. He never was comfortable being the man in Toronto. And Miami will have to get someone to play center. (even Mark Blount could probably work in this scenario) because Bosh doesn’t like to play the position.
My guess is that James will happily defer to Wade as well. He is the consummate facilitator on the court and has a truly unselfish game. Of course, you can also assume that Erik Spoelstra, or whoever coaches the team, will have an end-of-game play designed for LeBron.
Riley, meanwhile, should have no trouble attracting the requisite role players, although he won’t be able to use the mid-level exception because his team is under the cap. But my guess is that there won’t be a shortage of candidates lining up to play alongside three of the best in the game, including the two-time Most Valuable Player.