BOSTON — NBA dynasties share some commonalities that have helped them tip the scales from status as ordinary championship teams to those remembered for decades.
Among them: Each has had a generational player vying for Mount Rushmore in their position.
In the 1980s, Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics faced Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Los Angeles Lakers. Michael Jordan’s Bulls ruled the ’90s, then passed a wavering torch — a championship here and there, but never twice in a row — to the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant snuck in a Lakers hat-trick in the early 2000s.
And then there was…none. There were other all-time players – LeBron James, of course. And James’s Heat came one step closer to becoming champions in 2012 and 2013, but fell apart soon after.
Dynasties demand more than that.
Patience. Silver. Owners willing to spend. And above all, it seems, the ability to “break” basketball and change the way the game is played or perceived. That’s why there were no new dynasties until the union of Golden State and Stephen Curry.
Donning a white NBA championship baseball cap Thursday night, Curry beat a table with both hands in response to the first question of the night from the media.
“We have four championships,” Curry said, adding, “This one is different for sure.”
Curry repeated the phrase “different hits” four times during the media session – perhaps appropriately. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala had just won an NBA championship together for the fourth time in eight years.
“It’s amazing because none of us are the same,” Green said. “You usually bump into people when you look alike. The one thing that’s constant for us is that winning is the most important thing. That’s always the goal. »
Golden State won with ruthless, methodical efficiency, like Duncan’s Spurs. San Antonio won five championships between 1999 and 2014. Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were All-Stars, though Duncan was in a league of his own. Their championships were spread out — Parker and Ginobili weren’t in the NBA for the former — but they posed a constant threat due to their disciplined excellence.
“Steph reminds me so much of Tim Duncan,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who won two championships as Duncan’s teammate. “Totally different players. But from the point of view of humanity, talent, humility, confidence, this wonderful combination that makes everyone want to win for him.
Unlike Golden State, Duncan’s Spurs’ influence is more subtle, which suits a team not known for flash. Several of Coach Gregg Popovich’s assistants passed on the team culture they saw in San Antonio to other teams as successful head coaches, including Taylor Jenkins of Memphis, Ime Udoka of Boston and Mike Budenholzer of Milwaukee. Another former Spurs assistant, Mike Brown, has been Kerr’s assistant for the past six years. For San Antonio, sacrifice mattered above all else, whether it was splitting the ball with precision on offense or Ginobili’s willingness to accept a bench role in his prime, which likely cost him individual accolades.
Johnson’s Showtime Lakers embraced fast, creative basketball. Bryant’s Bulls and Lakers popularized the triangle offense favored by their coach, Phil Jackson. O’Neal was so dominant the league changed the rules because of him. (The NBA also changed the rules because of Jordan.)
Even so, Golden State may have changed the game more than anyone, having been at the forefront of the NBA’s 3-point revolution, Curry’s 3-point shot has become so ubiquitous that players of all levels try to be like him, much to the annoyance of the coaches.
“When I go home to Milwaukee and watch my AAU team play and practice, everyone wants to be Steph,” Golden State center Kevon Looney said. “Everyone wants to shoot 3s, and I’m like, ‘Man, you gotta work a little harder to shoot like him. ”
The defining distinction for Golden State isn’t just Curry, who has more career 3-pointers than anyone in NBA history. The team also selected Green in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft. In earlier times, he probably would have been considered too small at 6-foot-6 to play forward, and not fast enough to be a guard. . Now teams are looking to find their own version of Green – an exceptional passer who can defend all five positions. And they often fail.
Dynasties also had coaches adept at managing egos, like Jackson in Chicago and Los Angeles, and Popovich in San Antonio.
Golden State has Kerr, which by the way is a common denominator for three dynasties: he won three championships as a player with the Bulls, two with the Spurs, and now he has four more as a head coach. of Curry.
In today’s NBA, Kerr is a rarity. He coached Golden State for eight seasons, when in much of the rest of the league, coaches don’t last that long. The Lakers recently fired Frank Vogel just two seasons after he helped them win a championship. Tyronn Lue coached the Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 in his first season as head coach, and left just over two seasons later – despite reaching at least the conference final three years in a row.
Since Golden State hired Kerr in 2014, all but two teams have changed coaches: San Antonio, which still has Popovich, and Miami, led by Erik Spoelstra.
In a decade of frantic player movement, Golden State has relied on continuity to regain its status as the king of the NBA. But that continuity isn’t the result of a fairytale bond between top athletes who want to keep winning together. Not totally, anyway.
Golden State has a structural advantage that many franchises today cannot or choose not to have: an owner in Joe Lacob who is willing to spend tons of money on the team, including hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury tax to have the highest payroll in the NBA This means that Golden State has built a dynasty in part because its top stars are paid to stay together, rather than relying on tough management decisions to know who to keep.
The NBA’s salary cap system is designed to prevent that from happening. David Stern, the former NBA commissioner, said a decade ago that to achieve parity he wanted teams to ‘share players’ not hoard stars – hence the heavy luxury tax penalties for Lacob. Compare Golden State’s approach to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who in 2012 traded a young James Harden rather than pay him for an expensive contract extension. The Thunder could have had their own dynasty with Harden, Russell Westbrook and – a key part of two Golden State championships – Kevin Durant.
And there is another factor that every dynasty needs: luck.
Golden State was able to sign Durant in 2016 due to a temporary salary cap spike. Winning a championship, or even several, requires good health, often beyond the team’s control. Thompson has missed two straight years with leg injuries, but didn’t appear to suffer a setback this year after returning. Of course, Golden State has also had some bad luck, like injuries to Thompson and Durant in the 2019 Finals, which may have cost the team this streak.
The NBA legacy graveyard is full of “almost” and “might have”. Simply Golden State has – now for the fourth time. There may be more races left for Curry, Thompson and Green, but Thursday night their legacy was secure. They do not pursue other dynasties for legitimacy. Golden State is the one being sued now.
“I don’t like putting a number on things and saying, ‘Oh man, we can have five or we can have six,'” Green said. “We’ll pick them up until the wheels fall off.”