The Importance of Star Power And Their Contribution To Championships

One of our newest contributors from Portugal, Step-Back J, dives into the interesting debate of whether or not team ball or star power wins you championships. Most of us have are own opinion on this subject, and after reading this article, we hope you share yours in the comment section. 

Ever since the Big 3 from Miami came together there has been a notion that if you gather a couple of star players and you automatically form a contender and a champion. The Lakers tried to do this same idea by adding Dwight Howard (yes, he used to be a really big star and the best big man in the game for many years), and an aged Steve Nash (that despite slowing down seemed to still have some fire in him to win a title), but this didn’t go as planned. The new big three is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are built around Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and LeBron James. When the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat, the notion of team ball gained a lot of fans, with the complete destruction it caused the Miami Heat. Ball movement became a norm, and an idea started to emerge, that you can win without stars. The Atlanta Hawks showed a great demonstration of this with their perfect month of January this past season (17-0). Even with this perfect month, many known commentators and the media slept on them. Where they right?

Past Champions:                                                                                                              

2015 Golden State Warriors 4-2 Cleveland Cavaliers Andre Iguodala
2014 San Antonio Spurs 4-1 Miami Heat Kawhi Leonard
2013 Miami Heat 4-3 San Antonio Spurs LeBron James
2012 Miami Heat 4-1 Oklahoma City Thunder LeBron James
2011 Dallas Mavericks 4-2 Miami Heat Dirk Nowitzki
2010 Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 Boston Celtics Kobe Bryant
2009 Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 Orlando Magic Kobe Bryant
2008 Boston Celtics 4-2 Los Angeles Lakers Paul Pierce
2007 San Antonio Spurs 4-0 Cleveland Cavaliers Tony Parker
2006 Miami Heat 4-2 Dallas Mavericks Dwayne Wade
2005 San Antonio Spurs 4-3 Detroit Pistons Tim Duncan
2004 Detroit Pistons 4-1 Los Angeles Lakers Chauncey Billups
2003 San Antonio Spurs 4-2 New Jersey Nets Tim Duncan
2002 Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 New Jersey Nets Shaquille O’Neal
2001 Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 Philadelphia 76ers Shaquille O’Neal
2000 Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 Indiana Pacers Shaquille O’Neal
1999 San Antonio Spurs 4-1 New York Knicks Tim Duncan
1998 Chicago Bulls 4-2 Utah Jazz Michael Jordan
1997 Chicago Bulls 4-2 Utah Jazz Michael Jordan
1996 Chicago Bulls 4-2 Seattle SuperSonics Michael Jordan
1995 Houston Rockets 4-0 Orlando Magic Hakeem Olajuwon
1994 Houston Rockets 4-3 New York Knicks Hakeem Olajuwon
1993 Chicago Bulls 4-2 Phoenix Suns Michael Jordan
1992 Chicago Bulls 4-2 Portland Trail Blazers Michael Jordan
1991 Chicago Bulls 4-1 Los Angeles Lakers Michael Jordan
1990 Detroit Pistons 4-1 Portland Trail Blazers Isiah Thomas
1989 Detroit Pistons 4-0 Los Angeles Lakers Joe Dumars
1988 Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 Detroit Pistons James Worthy
1987 Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 Boston Celtics Magic Johnson
1986 Boston Celtics 4-2 Houston Rockets Larry Bird
1985 Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 Boston Celtics Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

By looking at this list, despite a few exceptions that I’ll discuss later, there is a clear superstar in the team that helped win the title. From Jordan to Lebron, Kobe to Magic, there is always one guy standing above the rest. This is not surprising to most of us. The norm for building a team seems quite simple: hope to end with a high lottery pick and pick a franchise cornerstone. Surround him with another all-star (or a really good player), have solid depth and voilà you have a contender. Despite sounding like a fairy tale it happens a lot: MJ and Pippen, Kobe and Shaq, Duncan and Robinson, and so on. Throughout history we usually remember the so called franchise player that lead the team to a title: Jordan, Kobe, Lebron, Magic and so on. Star power seems to be crucial to win a title. A star who can create something out of nothing. The Jordans, Kobes, Birds and others do just that.

There is also the issue of the “superstar calls”, commonly referred as the “OMG that was a FLOP ref!” calls, these are not uncommon. We can see when Lebron drives to the rim, he can easily get a foul late in games if someone stands in his path. When the refs see a player of a certain statue driving and there is contact on the play, when the said player is shooting, they will make the call because they don’t want to risk missing a call like that on that player. Let’s be honest, if Wesley Johnson got fouled driving on a potential game winner and there wasn’t a call we would forget it in a day or two. Lebron or Harden getting fouled? Good luck getting any news that doesn’t make a reference to it. The referees are human, like us, they make mistakes, and they do not want to get bashed by the media for not giving the call to a certain player.

Notable exceptions:

The 04 Pistons, built on astonishing defense, seem to deviate from the norm. They don’t seem to have a big superstar like most championship teams. What they had, was a TEAM with a tough mentality, filled with capable players that were willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Detroit still had a top point guard in Chauncey Billups and All NBA 2nd Team Rasheed Wallace. They also followed the typical moto: “Defense wins Championships” and took it to an extreme, only allowing 84.3 ppg (2nd in the league) with a defensive rating of 95.4 (2nd in the league) per basketball-reference.com. They seem to be the team that probably best defines what it means to win without a superstar. They are probably one the few to do so in the past 30 years. Other cases:

  • Detroit Pistons: Bad Boys (’89 and ’90 finals) – When you have a defensive player of the year (Dennis Rodman), All-nba and all-defensive team player (Joe Dumars) and arguably a top 50 all-time great in Isiah Thomas you aren’t exactly short on star talent.
  • Dallas Mavericks (’11 finals) – Despite facing a team that was on paper far superior in Miami, it doesn´t mean these Mavs didn’t have a quality team. A MVP performance by Dirk (with 26 ppg, 9.7 rrp and 2.0 aspg) and solid contributions by Tyson Chandler (9.7ppg/8.8rpg/1.2blk), Jason Terry (18ppg/3.2asp/1.3stls) and an all-around effort by a team of veterans made this possible.
  • San Antonio Spurs (’14 finals) – Again, outnumbered on paper in terms of starting five, but they annihilated the Miami Heat. People were quick to refer to the importance of team ball and selfless basketball. Even though that is, in fact, the main reason they won, we can not forget that having arguably the best power forward to play the game in Tim Duncan (with 15 and 10 in 33 minutes), a rising star in Leonard (17.8 ppg in 61% from the field and 57% from 3 point range) and a veteran orchestrated point guard in Tony Parker (18 ppg and 4.6 aspg) is having just a “little bit” of star power.

Verdict:

With that said, obviously star power only doesn’t win you games. The Miami Heat, the epitome of this, played team ball. Their biggest wins, more often than not, resulted from an all-around effort (despite the lead of the big 3). When they simply relied on LeBron (as Cleveland back in the ’07 finals) they lost. What this tells us is that, when a team is able to combine star power with selfless play the results are very positive. Take a look at this year finals. Golden State VS LeBron would be an accurate way to describe it, and we all know how that ended. Combining star power (Curry and Klay) with selfless effective players (Draymond, Iggy and Barnes) was the key for Golden State to winning the championship.

On the other hand, the star power and “superstar calls” where what the Hawks were missing. Sure, in regular season days the effect isn’t as big, but come playoff time, when the game slows down, and you need someone to take over in close games and you don’t have it, you are going to be in trouble. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the Hawks style of play a lot, but I wished they had made it further and proved that TEAM ball wins. Unfortunately, Atlanta did not, and in this game (like in any other sport), only winners are remembered for eternity. .

By: Step-Back J

Edited By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17

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