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Shaun Powell

These three guys -- Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy and Johnson -- made a pretty good superteam in L.A.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LeBron can't win it alone? Neither could MJ, Bird or Magic

Posted Jul 27 2010 9:42AM

It seems curious how the Miami Heat in general, and LeBron James in particular, are coming under attack from some notable Hall of Famers for forming a superteam when those same Hall of Famers enhanced their careers in pretty much the same manner.

Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, to varying degrees, came down hard on the concept, as though the sanctity of the game was threatened somehow by the uniting of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. We'll get to the silly reason why these players decided to become teammates -- um, to win championships? -- a bit later. But first, let's examine those who are taking offense to it.

Magic? Didn't he have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper for much of his career?

Bird? Wasn't he part of the storied Celtics' front line with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, while also enjoying the company of Reggie Lewis, Tiny Archibald and Dennis Johnson for stretches?

Jordan? Did he tell the Bulls "no thanks" when the idea of bringing in Dennis Rodman to join him and Scottie Pippen was raised? A team that went on an epic 72-win run during their first season together? Were those three championships they won as a trio somehow tainted because, well, it just wasn't right to have that much talent in the same uniform?

Yes, we know: Bird said he wouldn't want to team with Magic; he wanted to beat Magic. Same with Jordan. But that's missing the point. Bird didn't have to team with Magic because the Celtics had All-Star talent around Bird. Both he and Magic had two members each of the NBA's 50th anniversary team as teammates (Parish, McHale, Kareem, Worthy) -- plus one 50th anniversary team member at the end of his career (Archibald) was in the mix, too. So, yeah, Magic and Bird didn't really need each other.

And Jordan? This was the same player who grew weary of carrying the Bulls to the postseason, pre-Pippen, and then complained when Pippen, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong weren't yet mature enough to help beat the Pistons.

The plain truth is that every great player wants help. That's why Kobe Bryant, after temporarily deluding himself into thinking he could win a title without Shaquille O'Neal, gave the Lakers an ultimatum: Get me a sidekick, or else. That's why Chris Paul wants answers in New Orleans. And why LeBron finally got fed up and left Cleveland, leaving money on the table.

The real issue is a lack of superstar talent in the NBA, as compared to the Golden Age of the 1980s and '90s. And the blame can be directly traced to expansion. Would Bird and Magic and Jordan be so steadfastly against joining the "enemy" if they were playing today, where only a lucky handful of teams have more than one superstar on the roster? Given their strong desire to win, my gut tells me the answer is no. They would not be against the idea of being teammates.

Before expansion, a half-dozen teams, if not more, throbbed with talent. The Sixers were loaded with Julius Erving, Moses Malone (who heard applause, not jeers, when he hooked up with Dr. J, unlike LeBron), Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones. The Bucks had Sidney Moncrief, Jack Sikma, Bob Lanier, Terry Cummings and Ricky Pierce. The Hawks: Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, Tree Rollins, Spud Webb, Doc Rivers. The Jazz: Darrell Griffith, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Eaton. The Rockets: Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. The Pistons: Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, John Salley, Bill Laimbeer, Rodman, Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson. And so on.

But the game changed once the NBA sprouted in such cities as Charlotte and Miami, Minnesota and Memphis, Toronto and New Orleans. The talent pool was diluted. Twenty years ago, nobody would view the current makeup of the Heat as a novelty. Nobody would call them a "Supreme Team" or emphasize their talent or worry about a Goliath ruining basketball, because Miami would look no different than the Lakers or Celtics or Sixers or Pistons. If anything, Miami would still trail those teams in the talent department. A notorious trash-talker, Bird would look at the Miami roster and snort: "Is that all you got?"

Miami is being sized up as a villain, a team to hate, if only because three All-Stars got together and decided to be teammates. LeBron has taken hits in the past month because of his ego, criticism justified to a degree, especially with regard to his prime-time special. But if his ego was so large, why did he decide to play in Wade's World? Why not stay in Cleveland and have a suffering city kiss his ring? And why would Wade, given his stature in Miami, share his stage with two other bold-print names?

Maybe it's because they want to win and they figure that, in a league loaded with one-star teams, uniting would be the best way.

If some people complain the Miami three weren't good enough individually to carry a team to a title, then some people have a curious double standard.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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