Is it just me, or was there something fascinating about the fact that Kobe threw down 60 on his final night at the exact same time that the Warriors won #73 and set a new all-time NBA season wins record? It felt to me like more than coincidence. It felt like a turning of the tides.
For the record, I’ve never been a huge Kobe fan. Yes, I acknowledge that he’s one of the greatest individual players to ever play the game. But I’m old school LA. I grew up watching the Showtime Lakers. Back then, it was team first. Everyone knew their role. Some of the guys (Worthy, Coop, AC, Byron..shall I continue?) could have been bigger stars elsewhere. But Pat Riley got them to buy into the team first mentality and they were DOMINANT. In my mind, basketball is a team sport. Chemistry, roles, one for all and all for one. And it wasn’t just the Lakers. How great were the Blazers, the Celtics, the Pistons of those eras? They were TEAMS.
Then along came the 90’s. Michael Jordan ushered in an era of superstars. The theory was that you could build around one superstar, so teams kept trying to draft or create “the next MJ”. If you were really smart, you’d put together a one-two punch. Jordan and Pippen dominated. Shaq and Kobe came next. The sheep followed, and for years we saw teams try to add 2 superstars together and then surround them with role players. Remember when KG and Starbury were supposed to dominate? Shaq and Penny? Vince and T-Mac? Those 1-2 punches didn’t win championships. But maybe it wasn’t just about the 1-2 punch philosophy. Maybe it was about the
me first” players themselves, and the era they grew up in.
MJ was (in some people’s minds) the GOAT. (I’d disagree and say Magic is the GOAT, but I’m LA-biased). The years that followed brought us a generation of “me first” guys. I’d argue that Kobe was king of that hill, and he won plenty, but more on him in a moment. Numerous other players often considered selfish followed. AI, KG, GP, Vince, LeBron, Melo, Dwight and others always seemed to put themselves ahead of their teams. These guys were Gen X’ers who were brought up believing they could achieve anything they dreamed, and no one should stand in their way. They tried to carry teams on their backs, but you always got the sense it was their way or the highway.
But some things never change. In spite of the post-MJ parade of stars, Basketball was still a team sport. The Spurs were winning championships, and they did it without a selfish superstar. I’d argue the Suns deserve honorable mention as they came very close as well, and for years the Valley of the Sun was the home of some of the best unselfish basketball anyone had ever seen. The Lakers won again too, but only once the Zen-master convinced Shaq and Kobe (and Fox and Horry and Fish), and later Kobe and Pau (and Fish and Lamar) that playing as a unit was the way to go. Phil knows better than anyone that basketball is a team sport. When the Lakers played unselfishly, as the Spurs always have, they won titles. In fact, from 1999-2010, 9 out of 12 championships were either won by the Lakers or the Spurs.
The age of “me” was followed by the age of “three”. The Boston Celtics brought together KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, three vets who were hungry for a championship. Suddenly everyone needed a “big 3”, and the hot trend was to pick any three disgruntled superstars and bring them together. Book your parade. Boston won a single title with their Big 3. Miami won 2. All of the other Big 3 teams have nothing to show for their efforts. So much for that.
Then came the Millennials. This is a generation of players that has grown up post-9/11, post recession, post global warming. Yes they are also arrogant and cocky at times, but they know that there is strength in numbers. They believe “we’re all in this together”. The Golden State Warriors embody this notion, led by Steph Curry, the most unselfish superstar the world has seen since Magic Johnson. Steph leads the league in scoring, shot more 3’s than anyone in history, is about to win a back-to-back MVP trophy, and quite possible a back-to-back championship, and he’s considered a total team-first guy. He makes everyone around him better. And he has fun while he’s at it. And you know who Steph and the Warriors remind me a lot of? Nash and the Suns.
It’s not just the Warriors. Check out the Blazers. Pundits said that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum couldn’t co-exist in the same back court. But these dudes love each other. They inspire one another in a way that is eerily similar to the Splash Brothers just down the coast. They exceeded expectations this season, and are one of the most exciting young teams in the league. The young fellas in Boston are playing great team ball, as are the guys in Charlotte, and Detroit, and Toronto, and….
I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not. It seems the tide has turned from the age of “me” to the age of “we”.
Just my two cents worth. What do you think?