*Although if “heart” or “mental toughness” were an NBA Jam stat, he’d rank about a two.
And that’s all fine. My problem comes down to the evidence that I’ve most heard trotted out that the Heat aren’t a great team. “They only have one championship. The NBA is so watered down now, you need to win championships like Jordan did to be great.” That just absurd to me. If you want to throw out that this team has nothing resembling depth and puts all it’s eggs in one or two baskets, fine. That’s the tact I would use. But to say you can’t be great unless you’re winning ring after ring? I don’t buy it.
It is hard to win a championship, most especially at the professional level. Even with “too many teams,” as people like to say, the difference the worst players and best players is pretty tiny. Especially when compared to the same gap in the college ranks or minor leagues. When you start comparing your “league-average” guys? Yeah, teams are balanced. That’s why you need a superstar to win, that’s what gives you your advantage over “average” teams. And when you have this sort of relative parity, it becomes exceedingly hard to win a championship, let alone multiple. And, in many ways, it’s harder to win a Stanley Cup or NBA Final than any other sport, just because there are so many rounds.
You could argue this should give a more true result, and in some ways it does. Rather than “any team can win on any given day,” like the NFL has, you have to prove your worth in a best of seven. Four times. Even if you sweep every round, you have to win 16 games. That’s a lot. And if teams were more spread out talent-wise, yes, you would have the same team winning all the time.* But, no, this is an age of parity. Every good team, every playoff-caliber team, has at least one star, most have at least two. There are a lot of games in the playoffs. When teams are evenly matched, you’re going to get relatively evenly distributed results.
*If you stopped the argument there, then yes, because the Heat haven’t won every year with LeBron, maybe they aren’t a great team yet. But, you’re going to have to forget about the Heat in particular here. Like I said, I don’t think the Heat are a great team, just not for this reason. This is my argument why this reason doesn’t make sense.
And that’s just the straight statistics. That’s not even accounting for all the crazy stuff that can and does throw the math off when you play so many games. Somebody gets hurt or suspended. A key player happens to get into foul trouble for a couple games. For whatever reason, a typically good free throw shooting team goes cold. All those things that leave you saying “That’s why you don’t play it on paper.” More games equals more chance for that crap to happen. For example, the Pacers had already played more games than an NFL team would have had to play to win the championship when George Hill was concussed last round. The Pacers should have sealed that series in New York without him anyway. There is no doubt in seemingly anybody’s mind having Hill would have made the Pacers winners in that game. If that concussion had turned out to be more serious, who knows how that series plays out.
Even in the very recent past, teams did not have to play this many games. I can easily remember the best of five opening rounds and would argue we need to go back to that. You don’t have to dig too far to get back to best of three. Throughout the Bill Russell years, when you had “great” Celtic teams and a league that wasn’t “watered down,” you only had to win three rounds, and the first one was truncated. Less games, less chance for something to go randomly wrong.
Same idea in baseball. For a very long time (until 1969), you just had to win your league. Hard to argue the regular season being meaningless when your record put you directly to the World Series. That sure seems like the purest way to do things, but I understand there are simply too many teams to let the schedule allow for that any more. So, starting in 1969 and lasting until 1994, you had a league championship series before the World Series.* Then things were split into three division, necessitating a wild card. Then, starting last year, there was a second wild card added. And what did you see through history? The Yankees won a shit-ton of World Series, and the ones they didn’t win, they typically were the runner up.
*I’ve long argued there was never any reason (other than owner’s greed) to go away from this set up and would actively campaign for a return to it if I were commissioner. Or sports czar, as Bill Simmons likes to say.
And that’s just getting into the set up of the post season. If you really want to go back as far as Russell and DiMaggio, there simply weren’t as many teams to go through. This is the most obvious reason it was easier to win a championship and easily explained, which is why I put it last. I mean, what’s easier: be the best of eight or the best of thirty? No brainer, right?
So, yes, the Heat are likely not a great team. At least, not yet. But with so many teams to beat, many more teams than Bill Russell ever dreamed of dealing with at the professional level, winning two or three championships is enough to be deemed “great” in my book these days.