Good afternoon everyone, a special Friday treat for everyone, our first guest Columnist!
Brian Baranowski is currently working towards his Masters in Accounting at Marquette University but was kind enough to chime in on the NBA’s dynasty “problem”
By: Brian Baranowski
So, after the Magic somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by squandering a five point lead in the last minute, the Lakers now lead the NBA Finals 3 games to 1, and should probably close out the series on Sunday night in Orlando. A Finals win would give the Lakers their 4th championship this decade, and their 15th NBA title overall.
This morning, I was goofing off on Wikipedia for a bit, and I decided to pull up the list of NBA champions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NBA_champions). I noticed this incredible statistic: of the 29 NBA champions from 1980 thru 2008, six franchises have won 27 of the 29 championships:
Boston Celtics (4: 1981, 1984, 1986, 2008)
Chicago Bulls (6: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)
Detroit Pistons (3: 1989, 1990, 2004)
Houston Rockets (2: 1994, 1995)
Los Angeles Lakers (8: 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002)
San Antonio Spurs (4: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007)
The two other teams to win a title outside of these six teams: the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers (in their 3rd appearance in a 4 year span) and the 2006 Miami Heat (in their only NBA Finals appearance to date). A Lakers title would be their 15th overall, giving the six teams listed above 28 out of the last 30 championship titles.
Now compare this to the relative parity in the MLB in this same 29 year period (sans 1994), which many have argued contains a lack of competitive balance:
Anaheim Angels (1: 2002)
Arizona Diamondbacks (1: 2001)
Atlanta Braves (1: 1995)
Baltimore Orioles (1: 1983)
Boston Red Sox (2: 2004, 2007)
Chicago White Sox (1: 2005)
Cincinnati Reds (1; 1990)
Detroit Tigers (1: 1984)
Florida Marlins (2: 1997, 2003)
Kansas City Royals (1: 1985)
Los Angeles Dodgers (2: 1981, 1988)
Minnesota Twins (2: 1987, 1991)
New York Mets (1: 1986)
New York Yankees (4: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000)
Oakland Athletics (1: 1989)
Philadelphia Phillies (2: 1980, 2008)
St. Louis Cardinals (2: 1982, 2006)
Toronto Blue Jays (2: 1992, 1993)
If you’re counting at home, that’s 18 MLB teams in 29 years that have won a championship, with only 8 teams winning multiple titles. Plenty has been said and done about MLB’s economic structure in the last 15 years, but that only partially accounts for the amount of parity in baseball overall. Much of the parity in baseball has to do with the different manner in which teams can build towards a championship. Some teams have worked their way to a title and dismantled immediately ( 1997 Marlins), others caught lightening in a bottle (2006 Cardinals), and some teams have built via their farm systems and augmented their young talent with strategic free agent acquisitions (1995 Braves, 2003 Marlins).
So why has there been relatively little parity in the NBA over the same period? I can give several possible reasons:
- Luck of the already elite teams: When the New Orleans Jazz signed Gail Goodrich in 1976, did anyone have an inkling that the 1979 first-round pick they sent back to the Lakers as compensation would turn out to be #1 overall and go on to become Magic Johnson? Magic was added to a 47-35 team from the year prior featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime, and the Lakers won the title in 1980. Similarly, James Worthy ended up on the Lakers in a similar fashion in 1982, as the Lakers had acquired the Cavaliers 1982 first-round pick in a bit trade for a guy named Don Ford. All of a sudden, the Lakers had three of the top 50 players in NBA history and went on to win three more championships in the 1980s.
Honorable mentions: Hakeem Olajuwon being selected by the Rockets #1 in 1984 (3 years removed from an NBA Finals appearance); Spurs winning the lottery in 1997 and selecting Tim Duncan #1 overall due to David Robinson’s 1996-1997 injuries; Jordan/Pippen/Phil Jackson’s ability to prevent Dennis Rodman from torpedoing the Bulls’ 2nd three-peat.
- Incompetence of other teams: In 1980, the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors swapped the #1 and #3 picks in the draft. The Warriors picked Joe Barry Carroll first overall, and the Celtics took Kevin McHale third. In terms of career averages, Carroll and McHale’s numbers were roughly the same. However, while Carroll was an impact player in the NBA for roughly 5 years, McHale was an impact player for nearly twice as long. Oh, and Red Auerbach somehow convinced the Warriors to include Robert Parish in the trade.
Honorable Mention: Miami Heat drafting Dwyane Wade #5 overall in 2003 after Detroit Pistons bypassed Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh in favor of Darko Milicic (#2 overall).
Awaiting Honorable Mention (if Lakers Win the 2009 Finals): Memphis Grizzlies trading Pau Gasol to Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol, and 2008/2010 first round draft picks.
- Shrewd talent evaluation: While this may be somewhat of an offshoot of other teams’ incompetence, this more has to do with the ability of these teams’ GMs to evaluate talent, both in the draft and the free agent market, and to find the players who will properly complement their stars. Consider some of these (at the time) under the radar transactions and how they ultimately impacted these teams’ championship runs:
Bulls: drafting of Toni Kukoc (2nd round 1990, NBA debut 1993)
Celtics: drafting of Larry Bird (1st round 1978, NBA debut 1979), trade for Dennis Johnson (1983)
Lakers: trade for Robert Horry (1997) drafting of Devean George (1st round 1999)
Pistons: trade of Jerry Stackhouse for Rip Hamilton (2002)
Rockets: trade for Mario Elie (1993)
Spurs: drafting of Manu Ginobli (2nd round 1999, NBA debut 2002), signing of Bruce Bowen (2001)
- Hall of Fame Players/Coaches: While the NBA 50 Greatest Players/10 Greatest Coaches list dates only though 1996, every NBA champion from 1980 thru 2008–with the exception of the 2004 Pistons, 2005/2007 Spurs, and 2008 Celtics–every one of these teams included at least one member of the 50 greatest players list or was coached by one of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history. Were this list to be revised/expanded thru the 2008-2009 season, it is highly likely that Tim Duncan (2005/2007 Spurs) and Kevin Garnett (2008 Celtics) would be included on the players list, while Larry Brown (2004 Pistons) and Gregg Popovich (2005/2007 Spurs) would be on the coaches list.
Based upon members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, every single team that has won a championship in this window has at least one player or coach that’s a member/member-elect of the Hall, or a current player (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett) that could be considered to be a future Hall of Fame player at some point.
So if you want to win an NBA title, you need some luck (namely high-lottery level talent), a good GM that can take advantage of the incompetent GMs (see: Elgin Baylor and Chris Wallace), a shrewd talent-evaluation department to fill in the gaps, and a Hall of Fame-caliber player or coach. In this case, what teams in the league currently satisfy all four of these criteria?
I only see two: the Lakers and the Spurs. This is not to say that there aren’t several teams (like the Celtics, Cavaliers, Nuggets, and Rockets) that are very close in these areas. However, unless Lebron James gets a true star besides him in Cleveland or goes to the Knicks/Nets to team up with a Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, I wouldn’t be surprised in 10 years if you see that the ilk of the Bulls/Celtics/Lakers/Pistons/Rockets/Spurs have won 38 of the last 40 NBA Championships.