Why do great NBA teams always have Big 3 star trios?
June 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
Magic, Kareem and Worthy.
Bird, McHale and Parish.
Jordan, Scottie and Horace. Or Jordan, Scottie and Rodman.
Pierce, Allen and Garnett.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh.
And of course, Tim, Tony and Manu, who became the winningest trio in playoff history this postseason and now have 115 playoff victories together after the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 3 victory against the Miami Heat.
As much as outstanding individuals, the past three decades of the NBA have been distinguished by the dominance of star trios and the championships those Big 3 groups have accumulated.
Since 1981, Big 3s have played a part in 18 championships, including the past two and six of the past 11. Another Big 3 — whether it’s the Spurs, who are up 2-1, or the Heat — will win the title this season.
It’s such a popular and effective strategy that teams plot to form a Big 3. It doesn’t always work. The Houston Rockets tried in 1998-99 with Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon — all past their primes in Hall of Fame careers. They lost to 3-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
The Oklahoma City Thunder recently tried to make it work with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They lost to the Miami Heat in the 2012 Finals but financial decisions prevented the Thunder from keeping Harden, who was traded to the Houston Rockets just before the start of the 2012-13 season.
Coincidentally, the Rockets might be the next team to push for a Big 3. With Harden and Dwight Howard, the Rockets believe another All-Star — perhaps Carmelo Anthony — could push them to a championship. Who knows what the Heat’s front office is scheming for next season or the one after.
“You can’t call yourself a Big 3 unless you win championships,” Horace Grant said.
When Grant and Parish played, the phrase Big 3 wasn’t en vogue.
“We didn’t think of ourselves as a Big 3,” Grant said. “In hindsight, yes, we were a Big 3, from the mere fact that winning championships. … Big 3s carry their teams as a collective.”
Parish said he knew the Celtics were headed in the right direction on the first day of training camp in 1980-81. Parish and McHale, then a rookie, were acquired in a trade at the 1980 draft. Bird was starting his second season.
“I knew from the first day we had the makings and the ingredient of something special,” Parish said. “I didn’t know it would turn into a championship season. I knew that we were going to make a lot of noise.
“We clicked off the court from a people standpoint and that relationship carried over onto the court. From our first practices, you would’ve sworn we were on the court for five or six years.”
Bird-McHale-Parish and Magic-Kareem-Worthy dominated much of the 1980s.
“The one thing I have always respected about our Big 3 and the Lakers Big 3, it was very rare that all three were playing bad at the same time,” Parish said. “There was always one, and if not two, carrying the load, and god help the other team if all three were playing well at the same time because it would be a long night for opponent.”
Then the Bulls’ different versions of a Big 3 ruled a portion of the 1990s, and the Spurs took it from there, setting a path for the 2008 Celtics and the current version of the Heat.
The Spurs Big 3 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — won three championships (2003, 2005, 2007) and are two victories against the Heat from a fourth.
“That Big 3 is just as good as any Big 3 you have named,” Grant said.
It’s been a remarkable run, noted not only for its success but for its longevity. In this era, how many teams keep a core like that together for 12 seasons?
“It’s very unique,” Ginobili said. “I don’t think it’s happened many teams in history where three players have played together for so long and in a successful manner like this where no one is egotistical and trying to demand things. I’m very happy and proud being part of this group.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t view Duncan, Parker and Ginobili as a Big 3. But it’s obvious he appreciates his experience with them.
Asked what has enjoys most about coaching that trio, he said, “Oh my.”
But he had an answer.
“They’ve gotten over themselves. (That) is what we always talk about,” Popovich said. “It’s absolutely not about any one of them, and they know that. If you have three people on your team that lead the way in that manner, it’s to be enjoyed on a daily basis. So that’s probably the first thing I’ve enjoyed about them. It makes my job so much easier.”