Lately, there’s been a great deal of talk about “super teams” in the NBA. From Kevin Durant joining the already star-studded Golden State Warriors, to Paul Pierce calling his own Los Angeles Clippers a super team, to LeBron James suggesting that players are forming super teams to stop him, the term is suddenly very much en vogue. The things is, there’s still no true definition of what exactly a super team is. It sometimes seems like the term entered the basketball lexicon when LeBron and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade in South Beach, forming the “Big Three” mini-dynasty (also known, thanks to the Big Three themselves, as the “Heatles“) that brought the Miami Heat four consecutive NBA Finals appearances and back to back titles. However, the term has actually been part of the game for decades. But the question is: what, exactly, is a super team? Is it the congregation of 3 or more superstars? Does anticipated potential matter, or do only established NBA resumes count?
The Durant-boosted Warriors are, to many, the definition of the term; to add the Slim Reaper to a team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and star-turned-roleplayer Andre Igoudala puts them in the discussion for the greatest assembly of talent in league history. But could the 2013-2014 Brooklyn Nets also be considered one? Before you laugh, consider that their roster had a number of perennial All Stars and future Hall of Famers, including Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Jason Terry. Alas, due in part to their collective age, they were a super team of a half-generation prior; they finished 44-38, 6th in the Eastern Conference. Still, the on-paper talent still makes them arguably deserving of the term super team–or at least an attempt at one. The addition of Derrick Rose to a roster with Carmelo Anthony and rising star Kristaps Porzingis has got some calling the New York Knicks a super team in the making; but the Knicks, too, have struggled at times since Rose’s addition. In order to put things in better perspective, let’s briefly look at some of the NBA super teams from past eras.
Throughout the 1980s, the”Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers managed to win 8 conference titles and 5 championships led by three of the best players in NBA history: Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They also had some of the most highly regarded roleplayers in NBA history, including Michael Cooper, AC Green, Kurt Rambis and Jamaal Wilkes. This team created the blueprint for what a super team could look like, and how successful one could be.
1996-1997 Houston Rockets
The core of this Houston Rockets super team was formed on the heels of the Rockets winning consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995, led by Hakeem Olajuwon. Olajuwon was joined by Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler, creating a team many expected to continue in dynastic fashion for years to come. They went 57-25 and reached the Western Conference Finals, losing in Game Six on John Stockton’s game-winning three-point shot; Barkley would retire 3 seasons later.
2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers
This extremely hyped super team included four future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Shaquille O’Neal and went 56-26 despite dealing with injuries for much of the season. Their “big four” only played together 20 times during the regular season, but they still made it to the NBA Finals, where they would lose to the Detroit Pistons. Like many of the other examples herein, they were short lived as a group; tensions between Shaq and Kobe began to boil over, and Shaq was traded to the Heat the next year.
2007-2008 Boston Celtics
This is one of the more popular super teams in recent memory. Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen won a championship in their first season together, beating Kobe and the Lakers in a thrilling six game series. Though it was their only championship, they were an elite team for several years before disbanding; they started the next season 27-2 and finished at 62-20, but lost Garnett for the last third of the season along with the playoffs. Garnett, Pierce and Allen didn’t disband until 2012, after vaulting the franchise back into perennial relevance.
Four consecutive finals appearances, two consecutive titles, and countless critiques of their character, motives and relevance make the “Heatles” arguably the most memorable super team in NBA history.
This was an example of a super team gone wrong, although they looked great on paper and had plenty of hype going into the season. Between Steve Nash and Pau Gasol battling injures and Dwight Howard intermittent personality clashes with Kobe, this team went a mediocre 45-37 and somehow managed to land the 7th seed. The San Antonio Spurs swept them in the first round of the postseason.
It’s probably safe to say that to qualify as a super team, a minimum of three Hall of Fame caliber players should be involved; anything else is just a really good team. Even a team full of All Stars doesn’t count, because outstanding roleplayers like Kyle Korver or Joakim Noah can make All Star rosters without ever becoming all-time greats. The bottom line? Super teams aren’t as rare as some think, and they aren’t always successful or long-lasting. And as time goes on, great players will continue to band together in hopes of winning multiple championships. If nothing else, it makes for good entertainment.