The rant developing deep in my soul continues to take shape. It now has some words, but no sentences yet. Lots of numbers, though. Lots and lots of numbers.
For starters, some numbers about the Miami Heat… The Heat were were well positioned to compete for a championship before LeBron signed. Last year, they finished 47-35, good for 5th in the East, carried almost entirely by Dwyane Wade. Their second-leading scorer was – I kid you not – Michael Beasley, at 14.8 ppg. Their third-leading scorer was – I couldn’t make this up if I tried – Jermaine O’Neal, at 13.6 ppg. (Complete stats here, in case you’re interested.)
Yes, Jermaine O’Neal. The same Jermaine O’Neal, who, as the 5th guy in the Celtics starting 5, constituted their weakest link. He was the third leading scorer on the Heat last year. Yet, they were 47-35, because Dwyane Wade is Just That Damn Good.
The Heat team of last year, though, is not the team that LeBron joined. No. He joined a significantly better version. See, before LeBron signed with the Heat, they had already signed Chris Bosh. Bosh had just completed five straight seasons of averaging more than 22 ppg, and two straight seasons of averaging more than 10 rpg. (Stats here.)
In other words, a team that was 47-35 had retained its superstar, Wade, and had upgraded from Michael Beasley to Chris Bosh – a legitimate star (I’ve knocked him before, but he’s probably one of the top 30 players in the game, and is, unquestionably, significantly better than Michael Beasley). They were clearly on their way to a 50-win season. That’s before LeBron came on board.
Generally, this point of a discussion about LeBron is about the time when LeBron defenders say something like “Well, all championship teams have multiple great players. Magic had Kareem and Worthy, Bird had McHale and Dennis Johnson. Michael had Scottie. LeBron isn’t getting more help than those guys got.”
This is line of thinking is, um… what’s the word???? Oh, yeah… ASSININE. That’s the one.
Let’s get specific. We’ll start with Magic, and the notion that the help he got from Kareem and Worthy was the same as the help LeBron is getting from Wade and Bosh. Kareem, whose greatness is undeniable, was injured during the 1979-80 Finals, and Magic, then a rookie, turned in one of the legendary performances in NBA history, going for 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. (Details here, in case you want them.) I’m not saying that Magic carried the team that season, I’m just pointing out that one of his defining games came without Kareem. By the time Magic won his fifth title in the ’87-88 season, the tall dude lumbering around the court in a jersey that said “Abdul-Jabbar” on the back averaged less than 15 points and played less than 29 minutes per game. (Kareem’s stats here.)
As for Worthy, Magic had already won two titles before Worthy got drafted. You’re familiar with the legendary North Carolina team that won the ’82 NCAA Championship with Jordan, Perkins, and Worthy, right? Well, that was the season Magic won his second NBA title. So don’t waste my time with the “Magic had Worthy” nonsense.
Now let’s talk about Bird. Yes, he had McHale. You know how many points and rebounds McHale averaged in 1980-81, the year of Bird’s first championship? Guess. What do you think, 15 and 8? Lower. 12 and 6? Lower. 10 and 4? Yup. (Check here, if you want details.) On the ’83-’84 championship team, Bird averaged more than 5 points per game more than the next highest scorer on the team (Robert Parish), AND he had 182 assists more than the next best passer on the team (Dennis Johnson). (Go look here, if you want.)
Translation, for those who aren’t interested in numbers: Bird carried a much larger share of the burden for the Celtics than LeBron carries for the Heat. It’s not even close.
That brings us to Michael. Actually, we’ll save that for tomorrow. The contrast between what Michael did and what LeBron is doing is so stark that it deserves its own post.
For now, to close this portion of the statistical analysis, I simply note that, while it’s true that Magic and Larry had multiple great teammates, it’s also true that there were fewer teams back then, diluting the talent in the league. The talent around Magic and Larry only seems comparable to the talent around LeBron if someone looks at them all in a vacuum. But when one looks at the talent around those guys relative to the talent on the other best teams, it becomes clear that the Celtics and Lakers were not ready to compete for a title without Larry and Magic.
Back then, Raptors were an extinct species of dinosaur, not a mediocre team in Toronto. Wolves, Grizzlies, and Bobcats were running around the jungle, but they weren’t diluting the talent pool in the NBA. The Hornets, Magic, and Heat weren’t around yet, either.
In today’s game, where Dwayne Wade and a bunch of spare parts is good enough to win 47 games, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together is a championship contender, and, with the right role players, possibly even one of the top favorites. Without LeBron.
No more for now. Tomorrow, MJ.
Great post- really enjoyed the information, compares & contrasts to the old greats- especially ShowTime Magic. The extra link of Laker history was the best I’ve ever read.