Championship Star Numbers Have Increased

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Top Trio Will Be Triumphant

By John Ventola

As the 2014 NBA version of “the season that will never end” plays out over the next two weeks, the names and number of star players on the championship squad has already been determined. The finals are here. It is Miami General Manager Pat Riley’s dream creation of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh versus San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, now completing their twelfth professional season together. While the number of high marquee names on league championship squads has varied over the years, the number three appears to be the current magic digit that allows teams to dribble into the winner’s circle.

Basketball requires teamwork and winning teams in the NBA generally showcase that Basketball Starsquality on their way to the trophy platform. Although there have been a few cases of one star, two key support players and five or six role players capturing a championship, the trend today is for multi-stars on a squad. While it is rare to have a single player solely responsible for hoisting the title trophy, there have been years where an individual has almost singlehandedly put a team on his shoulders and flashed an ability to make those around him better.

Bob Pettit did that for the 1958 St. Louis Hawks while Wilt Chamberlain used his height and strength to break the unbelievable title streak of the Boston Celtics (Celtics won eight straight and nine of ten from ’57 to 66) and pace the Philadelphia Warriors to the 1967 crown. In 1971 Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) used his sky hook to bring Milwaukee the NBA title. It was a precursor to his future title hauls in LA during his illustrious twenty-year career. Rick Barry’s hot shooting and leadership led Golden State in 1975, and oft-injured Bill Walton held together long enough to lead the Portland Trailblazers to their only championship two years later. Kobe Bryant carried the Lakers to back to back titles in ’09 and ’10 and Dirk Nowitzki zeroed in with his fall back jumpers to lead the Dallas Mavericks the next year. Each guy mentioned had a functional supporting group, but they were the individuals that refused to let their team lose.

After Pettit’s 50-point performance gave the Hawks their only championship in franchise history, losing coach Red Auerbach put the finishing touch on a diversified team with varied skill sets that he would lead to eight-consecutive championships. Anchored by defensive stalwart Bill Russell and playmaker Bob Cousy, the team also starred Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Tom Sanders and others during it title reign. The Celtics were hard to beat as they had so many weapons, quality contributors on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.

The New York Knickerbockers were the next team to showcase a well balanced team with so many key players. Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave Debusschere, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, Jerry Lucas, and future Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson epitomized team in their approach and execution. The Knicks won in 1970 and 1973 under another Red, coach Red Holtzman.

Los Angeles squads that called on Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were competitive during the Celtics-Knicks run, but only got over the hump once (1972). It took the pairing of an aging Kareem Abdul Jabbar and a young, flashy Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the combination of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, and continued exploits by Bryant to loft most of the banners in the LA Staples Center. The Celtics enjoyed a brief revival with their duo of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, and the Detroit Pistons had a two year run (’89 and ’90) with Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and some role playing bad boys (Bill Lambeer and Dennis Rodman). Another duo, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, paced the Houston Rockets to back to back wins in ’94 and ’95, taking full advantage of a missing Michael Jordan.

However, the pair that had the greatest success was Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippin. Jordan and Pippin, with a changing supporting cast, worked Phil Jackson’s triangle offense to perfection and won six championships together (91-93 and 96-98). If not forBasketball Jordan’s absence from the game for two years (94-95) to pursue a baseball career, the Bulls may have challenged the Celtics’ streak of eight consecutive titles.

Riley and Jackson both had success with their two man led teams, (Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson for Riley, and Jordan and Pippin, Bryant and O’Neal for Jackson.) When Jackson moved into coaching retirement, Riley attempted to duplicate what the Spurs had achieved with their three man setup of big man Duncan, facilitator and scorer Parker, and the all-around Ginobili, the Spurs winning in ’03, ’05, and ‘07. Signing James and Bosh as free agents and putting them with Wade has brought two more trophies to South Beach. Wade had won one himself as the key player (’06).

Meanwhile the Spurs, coached by Greg Popovich, has been the most consistent team over the last twelve years as their trio continues to exhibit solid skills with unselfish personal qualities, always passing the ball and finding the open player.

Question now is which trio of players will trumph this year? The series is tied 1-1 and last year the Heat won in a seven game series after losing the opener to the Spurs. Will history repeat? Will the Heat achieve that rare three-peat?

Question for the future. Will three stars be enough to win future championships or will franchises be forced to go to four star lineups in order to compete for the world crown?

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