Who is to blame for the super team era?

Jun 12, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates after winning the NBA Fianls MVP in game five of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates after winning the NBA Fianls MVP in game five of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Last summer, 2014 NBA MVP, Kevin Durant, rocked the basketball world when he bolted the Thunder and signed with the defending Western Conference Champion Warriors to create the greatest super team in the history of the NBA.

Let’s all jump back in time to the Western Conference Finals in 2016 where the Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves up 3-1 on the reigning NBA Champion, Golden State Warriors, and were knocking on the door of the city’s second NBA Finals appearance and rematch against the self-anointed King LeBron James. The Thunder went on to lose the next three games and conceded to the Golden State Warriors, who went on to do the same thing against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Following their 2012 Finals loss against the Miami Heat, many basketball pundits questioned whether Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could share the floor and succeed together. James Harden got moved to Houston following botched contract extension negotiations, and since leaving the Thunder has grown into a perennial MVP candidate. Following the heartbreaking 2016 loss, Kevin Durant decided to take his talents to the Bay Area and join the very team that defeated him that summer.

Durant’s decision was met with harsh criticism as the Golden State Warriors were already the greatest regular season team without arguably the second best player in the league. Durant was seen as a coward by some, and a ring-chaser by many. However, can we fault a man for chasing titles at the expense of personal accolades and loyalty to one city?

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In today’s NBA, ring-chasing isn’t uncommon. In fact, even our self-anointed King James is guilty of it when he made “The Decision” in 2011 to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Many would argue that LeBron’s legacy became cemented when he won his first title, and he may not have won it if he hadn’t taken his talents to South Beach.

This very desire to win a championship is what drives star players in today’s NBA to join previously established powerhouse teams, to create a “super team” and improve their chances of winning the ever elusive NBA championship. Players are willing to sacrifice individual and sometimes financial success to win an otherwise meaningless championship ring, but who’s to blame for this addiction to jewelry?

It’s us. The fans.

Fans in today’s NBA have placed such a high value on championships that it is often considered an individual accolade, even though it really takes a full team effort. It’s used to define the legacy of all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and now LeBron James. Those who never win the title are never in the same echelon as the three aforementioned greats, and some are even ridiculed for never winning such a meaningless award (e.g. Charles Barkley).

Where did this begin? During the Michael Jordan era, Bill Russell was never considered the best to ever play the game because of the eleven titles he won in thirteen seasons. It was only after Michael Jordan’s perfect Finals record of 6-0 that from that point forward players were measured by primarily their championship count.

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After Jordan’s era was complete, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal formed the first “super team” featuring two of the best players in the NBA at the time. Together, they went on to win three straight titles only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, who featured a budding “super team” of their own with future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli.

The Detroit Pistons in 2004 were seen as massive underdogs in the NBA Finals because for the first time in NBA history, they didn’t have a single star player. Chauncey Billups was the unquestioned team leader and Ben Wallace was an anchor in the paint, but neither were considered the same caliber player as Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal. Winning the 2004 title predicated on team basketball made the 2004 Detroit Pistons a very likeable squad and may have signaled the end of the “super team” era. The 2004 Detroit Pistons run was shortlived, however, with the Spurs winning in seven games and prompting the continuation of the “super team” era.

The Spurs went on to win another championship in 2007 following a 2006 title by the new “super team” Miami Heat with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade. The “super team” era evolved to three stars when the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join all-star, Paul Pierce, and nascent young point guard, Rajon Rondo. The Celtics went on to win the title in 2008, cementing the legacies of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.

The recharged Lakers won in 2009 and 2010 with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol spearheading the group. Where was LeBron James throughout all this? James was drafted in 2003 and anointed himself the next “King” of the NBA. His individual accolades were stunning and he consistently brought a motley crew of individuals to the playoffs and even the Finals in 2007, only to get sent home without a title and without confirmation of his greatness in the eyes of basketball fans.

So in the summer of 2010, LeBron James announced his decision to leave his home state of Ohio for the sunny shores of Miami, Florida as he took his talents to South Beach and joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the most formidable “super team” of our generation.

James went on to win his first and second titles with the Heat and removed the proverbial monkey from his back, cementing his legacy as one of the two best players to ever play the sport. If he never made that move and continued to find little success in Cleveland, would we hold him to such a high regard as we do today? Maybe not, but we do and that’s largely because of his controversial and cowardly decision to create a “super team.”

How can we, as fans, fault Kevin Durant for wanting to capture his first NBA championship?

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Maybe if the Detroit Pistons had won a few more titles in the 2000s, we would view success a little differently today, but until then, we will see more and more stars reach for the ultimate goal of winning a title by any means necessary.