I’m tired of “Big 3’s”. Not just the concept, but also the term. Making it part of our basketball vernacular has created an environment where it’s become completely acceptable and normal for three superstars from different cities to create and force situations that result in teaming up and playing together… something which would have never happened in your father’s NBA.
Yes, the Big Three concept is overrated. Let me take a step back though, and analyze the concept itself. We’re sold on the fact that it’s three “superstars”, but it never really is. There’s probably only about 10 “superstars” in the entire league, but exaggeration has become commonplace (and nowhere more so than in my columns). It’s usually one superstar, one star, and one guy capable of making the bottom of the All-Star roster a few times in his career.
In the modern game, the “Big 3” that kicked off this whole phenomenon was the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. They won the title that first year and a new philosophy was shoved down our collective throats. Was this was going to be a dynasty that reckoned back to the days of Bill Russell? Well, they didn’t win more titles – the Lakers did. And then the Lakers did again. And then the Dallas Mavericks did. So what did the analysts do? They scrambled to force the concept of a Big 3 on each winning team.
Another wrench: Rajon Rondo became the best player on the Boston Celtics. Were they a “Big 4” now? Or did they just have a very good roster?
Either way, the trend was on. By this point of course, Miami acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh, forming the best Big 3 in the league with incumbent Dwayne Wade. Or so we thought, until they didn’t win the NBA Championship when it was deemed a foregone conclusion.
This year, with Wade out, LeBron James is playing some of the best basketball of his career – the same can’t be said when D. Wade is on the floor. Even Chris Bosh’s best game that I’ve seen in a long time came when both of Miami’s leading men were sidelined. People are finally starting to wonder about the strategy of throwing great individual players together and expecting it to work.
Take a look at the New York Knicks, who have now dropped five in a row – including giving the Milwaukee Bucks their first road win of the season the evening before this writing. They touted Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups as their “Big 3”. Well, Billups isn’t even on the roster anymore, and the other two are not delivering on team expectations.
The most successful Big 3 in recent NBA history was never really considered a “Big 3” until the buzzword became hot: the Spurs trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. Until then, they were one superstar (Tim Duncan) and a pretty darn good backcourt.
In researching this column, you wouldn’t believe some of the trio’s that were classified as “Big 3’s” – by reputable websites too. Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol? Nice trio of players, but a big stretch. LaMarcus Aldridge, Ray Felton, and Brandon Roy? Michael Jordan could come out of retirement to replace Brandon Roy and that wouldn’t be a “Big 3”. Generally speaking, if my girlfriend hasn’t heard of one of the players in your “Big 3”, you’re not a Big 3.
So even though I’m against the term and think the concept is a little flimsy, as far as modern-era “Big 3’s” – I’m only counting K.G., Pierce, Allen Celtics and Miami’s James, Wade, and Bosh, and that’s it. The closest additional Big 3 we have is the gang of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden – but it’s still too early to make that call on Harden.
Big 3’s are bad for the NBA. It’s fine to have one team be the New York Yankees, but once all of the first and second tier talent in the league is consolidated on five or six teams, no one is going to be interested in the other markets. It’s already beginning to happen. A handful of great franchises and 20-something mediocre teams will lead to lack of ticket and merchandise sales, and eventually, contraction. The NBA has to get a hold of this. The Chris Paul trade veto was a desperate reaction to the bigger problem.
I’m not sure what the solution is – there’s already a salary cap in place. But with the smallest roster in all the major sports, it’s easier to manipulate those dollars. Trying to convince the stars to man-up and carry their own team, create their own identity will only work if the Big 3 concept fails. Guys want to win titles, but they want to do it with a shortcut.
That’s part of the selfish nature of today’s NBA players. LeBron wants to be one of the greatest of all time – but he doesn’t want to work for it. He’d rather hitch his wagon to D. Wade, hang out with his boys in South Beach and wait for the rings to pile up. That wouldn’t happen in a true team sport like football – but let’s face it, modern basketball is an individual sport more along the lines of baseball.
Most historical championship teams had A guy, and then another All-Star. Jordan had Pippen, Bird had McHale or Parish or DJ or whoever was hot that year, Magic had Kareem, Russell had Cousey, and so on. But really, these teams were centered by THE guy, who in turn made the next guy much better. In Pippen’s case, it was how hard he saw Jordan work. In the case of everyone who played with Magic, it was how he ran the offense and put the ball in their hands better than anyone else ever did it. In Bird’s case, it was because you could never leave him open. In Russell’s case, it was because you’d better double-team that guy.
We don’t need Big 3’s. We need superstars who become the one face of the franchise, that guy that a young Miami Heat fan pretends he is in his driveway. We need guys who carry their team, who always get the last play drawn up for them. We need men who are accountable, who are proud. We need individuals who raise the bar for everyone around them, and who put entire cities on their backs. We need leaders. We don’t need Big 3’s.