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Olajuwon doesn’t think “super teams” are good for NBA

Sep 9, 2012, 10:30 AM EDT

Sacramento Kings v Houston Rockets Getty Images

We’ve heard this all before. Part of what fueled the owners during the lockout was what happened in Miami — that was well behind the financial motivations for the owners, but it was there. Owners didn’t like players controlling their own destiny to form a “super team.”

The argument is that super teams not good for the NBA — small market teams need to have a chance and be able to compete or the NBA becomes MLB with a handful of rich teams and everyone else playing catch up. That argument looks at the NFL’s parity as a model to strive for.

I don’t buy it (and we’ll get to that). But a lot of people do, a lot of people think the super teams are bad for the league.

And Hall of Famer and current big man guru Hakeem Olajuwon is one of them. Look what he told the USA Today.

“That’s the dilemma the league has to balance to make sure each team at least has the opportunity to have a superstar and has the opportunity to be a championship contender. That’s the goal of every team, but now the quality of players, true franchise players, is less than what it was…

“There are superstars and then there are franchise players,” Olajuwon said. “There are superstars in their own right, but a franchise player is a player who can carry his team to the next level. There are always very few of those in any era, true franchise players. Once you have that player, you can build your team around him. Today, the ones who are franchise players are teaming up together, which makes it more difficult for the teams without a superstar or a franchise player.

“I think in time, when you have guys coming from college who have the potential to be a superstar, they’re going to be drafted by a losing team that can then ultimately be a contender, and that’s what we need to see more of. We need to see college players who are superstars or can be franchise caliber players who can take those teams from being average teams to being a contender.”

Here are four reasons I don’t think this holds water.

First, the NBA has always been a league of super teams. What do you think the 1960s Celtics were? So the Lakers went out and had to get Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain together to compete with them. It was true in the 1980s (Boston trades for Robert Parish and pick that becomes Kevin McHale for peanuts to pair with Larry Bird). Yes, those teams were assembled differently in an era before free agency, but they were still super teams. And for the record, Olajuwon himself was part of one, his Rockets went out and got Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, they needed more star power to compete.

Second, fans love super teams. Look at the television ratings from the past couple years. Fans watch the Heat more than anyone else. It’s the same way fans were drawn to the Bulls in the 1990s and the Lakers and Celtics before them. Some NBA fans claim to want parity, but their eyeballs don’t lie and they tune in to watch these super teams in a way they do not parity.

Third, you can never have NFL style parity in the NBA anyway because great players can control the game in a way no single football player can. If you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant or even peak Olajuwon you have a player who can change the game on both ends of the floor for 80 percent of the game’s plays. Superstar basketball talent has a huge advantage and if you have one of those 10 or so guys franchise guys at any given time you are going to win a lot whether or not you pair them up.

Finally, fourth and to Olajuwon’s point directly — small market teams in the NBA do have a chance if they are smart. Oklahoma City is a small market that is smart and drafted well. San Antonio is a small market. New Orleans is a small market that just got potential franchise player Anthony Davis. Cleveland is a small market and the reason they lost LeBron James is not the bright lights of Miami but their own missteps in building a team and how they let LeBron have too much power around the organization. LeBron didn’t have to grow up in Cleveland, they enabled him in a way Pat Riley didn’t in Miami.

The same is true in Orlando — they had a chance with Dwight Howard, they lost him. The fact he went to L.A. may gall Magic fans, but the organization lost Howard long before a destination was chosen.

Small market teams in the NBA have a chance — their margin for error is smaller than for Los Angeles or New York, but they have a real and legitimate chance. Fans will tune in to watch a small market super team just like they will a big market one. So long as they have the star power in uniform.

Because the NBA is a league of stars. Not parity.

  1. cdins - Sep 9, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    I liked this story up to the point where you threw your two cents in.

    And Lebron did leave for the bright lights. Cleveland did everything possible to build around him.

    • money2long - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      yea they did everything possible to build around him..except get amare to play alongside him. that blew my mind. til this day i hope that rumor isn’t true. you know the one where they didn’t want to give up hickson in a deal for STAT?

      oo, but they were fine trading hickson for omar casspi. :-/

    • sgtmofo - Sep 9, 2012 at 7:56 PM

      I’m not sure getting a past his prime Antawn Jamison and Shaq is doing everything to build around him. Furthermore, the handling of Carlos Boozer in FA along with the subsequent smear campaign when he left for Utah is just a sign of miserable ownership.

  2. sgtr0c - Sep 9, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    Your strongest small market team point is oklahoma city. Yes, they looked great, but what will happen in a couple years when their young superstars bolt to form superstar teams in bigger markets? The NBA will never rise above where it is now, in ratings, due to a business model that has lasted since the 1960’s. It will always be the third/fourth major sport. If it became more equal, that all teams had a chance, it would explode more. It has a world audience, who follow NBA, and it is at best third/fourth major sport in the counrty it is from. Gotta get more parity……..

    • itsonlyaspeedbump - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      This point continues to get ignored in this discussion. Big market size has very little to do with winning in basketball. If you disagree, please explain why the Knicks have not been a force since the 70’s. Please explain why the Clippers, with all the same inherent advantages as the Lakers, have until just recently been the laughingstock not just of the NBA, but of the 4 major North American sports? Why has Chicago been unable to draw impact free-agents?

      In this same time period, both Detroit and San Antonio have been championship-level franchises. The Lakers are dominant because they TRADED for Kobe, DRAFTED Bynum, and TRADED for Pau Gasol, all of whom were instrumental in their championship runs.

      NBA success is less predicated on location, and more on the smart moves of the GM running the franchise.

      • passerby23 - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:48 AM

        Excellent points. I would also throw in the Utah Jazz (even though they fell short in two Finals). They drafted two franchise level players who were loyal for nearly two decades, and built around them. They were perennial playoff contenders and are at the top of the “would’ve won a championship if not for Jordan” category. Even post-Stockton and Malone era, the Jazz have still been competitive despite being one of the least attractive NBA cities for players.

        You can win in a small market, but it takes good ownership.

      • 00maltliquor - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:36 AM


      • dal24la - Sep 13, 2012 at 5:57 PM

        Brilliant point dude.

        Also, props to Kurt. We all make fun of you for spelling a 5th grader, but this was great article.

  3. shaab23 - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Hakeem was on a super team?

    • passerby23 - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:49 AM

      Hakeem, Drexler, and Barkley lost.

      Hakeem, Barkley, and Pippen lost.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:42 AM

      Yeah, Hakeem, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, AND Charles Barkley ALL played together for the Rockets when they had those ugly navy blue pinstripe jerseys.

  4. dls612 - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    It wasn’t a problem til Miami got Bosh and LeBron to team up with Wade! This is not new! Teams have done it in the pass!

    • dls612 - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      And in fairness I don’t care if other teams do the same because my team did it! And further more, teams like that make other teams play harder and make the GMs ,players and coaching staff earn their money! It’s chess not checkers!

  5. papichulo55 - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Does Adidas sign Derrick Rose to a quarter of a BILLION dollar contract if he plays for Sacramento? The players have he right to maximize thier income, just like any other American. I cant think of any scheme that the NBA can implement that will make the economics of playing in Memphis equal to Los Angeles. To those small market fans? It aint personal, its just business.

    • itsonlyaspeedbump - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:44 PM

      Hmm…so Lebron James got his contract from Nike AFTER he left Cleveland? Makes sense, Miami is the biggest market in the U.S.?

      That Kevin Durant guy, yeah he doesn’t get any endorsements either. And he’s not featured in any movies this summer.

      Too bad he plays in OKC, otherwise he’d get these opportunities.

      Wait a minute…

      • 00maltliquor - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:47 AM

        2 for 2. Checkmate!

  6. jagwar73 - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    With a lack of competitive balance, only 5 teams have a chance at a title. More likely only 3 though: LAL, Mia, and OKC. So in this league, you’re home town team has no shot. Who are you pulling for?

    • jason9696 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      I’m not a basketball fan. But my home team is the Toronto Raptors and they have definitely no shot times 1,000,000.

      • dls612 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:53 PM


      • passerby23 - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:52 AM

        Once upon a time, Toronto traded for Vince Carter, who became a pretty damn good player at one point. They attracted good free agents who wanted to play with him. They had a bright future and almost beat a Philly team that got to the Finals in 2001.

        If not that, there will be a great player who will take the money available in free agency. All it takes is one great player and build around him (they already have the supporting pieces now). Toronto will be a competitive team again in the future.

      • 00maltliquor - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:51 AM

        1,000,000 sorry!

      • texxxasmade - Sep 11, 2012 at 3:19 PM

        Toronto got Hakeem from Houston, you had a superteam! lol

  7. smurk88 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    Jordan never teamed up with bird,magic,or charles barkley so all these stars joining each other are wack they not really struggling to win jordan struggled to win. its basically the same thing as the western all stars vs the kings..who’s gonna win??…the eastern all stars vs the knicks..who’s gonna win??..theyre all scared of competition and want to score easy rings thats garbage thats some real scared lame ish…

    • Kurt Helin - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:21 PM

      LeBron didn’t struggle to win? MJ didn’t win until he both got enough talent around him and his game matured to include teammates more.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:57 AM

      No? So Barkley didn’t team up with Hakeem? Drexler? Pippen? All at the same time?

      There were “super teams” before, “super teams” now and there will be “super teams” after. Get over it.

  8. lakerluver - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I’m just glad MY fave team is a SUPER TEAM!! Sincerely yours, Smiling from ear to ear. :-)

  9. jason9696 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    Unless you’re a fan of the Heat, Lakers, Thunder and maybe the Bulls. What’s the point of watching the the upcoming NBA season? What a joke of a league.

    At least in the NHL, MLB and the NFL the majority of the teams at least have a chance. More so in the NHL and NFL but you get my point.

    • dls612 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      All that and you’ll still watch the up coming NBA season!

    • itsonlyaspeedbump - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:55 PM

      Fine. Don’t watch the NBA. Don’t read blogs like this one. Don’t post on blogs like this one.

    • daddyghi - Sep 9, 2012 at 8:26 PM

      huh? excuse me please… dallas mavericks… 2011 NBA champs… hellllooowww??

    • paleihe - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:25 AM

      If you truly like basketball, and aren’t just a fan of a particular team, it doesn’t matter what team you’re watching. You just wanna see good basketball.

      The point is to grow the sport, and “super teams” help bring in the casual fans. From the perspective of trying to make the game bigger, that’s probably a good thing.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 10, 2012 at 3:01 AM

      Dumbest post I’ve ever read here in my life. And there’s PLENTY of those so that’s saying a lot.

  10. raider2124 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    All the owners have money, they all can out a better product on the court if they wanted to dip into there money. They choose not to and the product on the court suffers. The NBA should never have put a team in Charlotte, Memphis and new Orleans. Carolina is college basketball and new Orleans is football 1-2-3rd choices. The NBA failed once before in those cities. Then they put another team there dnd think it will be successful. The NBA needs to disband at least three teams to make it a better product. The union will never go for it because it means 36 less players making millions. That supports the high union salaries, benefits and retirement packages. And the union is the one of reason that the NBA is the third sport in this country. Nobody cares.

  11. technodadistheman - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    The problem is the max salaries. If nba removed this someone would offer lebron and other true franchise guys $40 million per year, thus making them too expensive to form super teams. Greedy players would take the money over buddying up. Lebron and wade took a couple million less to play together in miami, they would not have taken 20 million per year less

  12. haterhurter937 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    the nba straight sucks anyway. star players run down the lane throw up an ugly shot then get bailed out with a foul 95% of the time.

  13. camnellum12 - Sep 9, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    I agree with Kurt all the way with this one.

    When fans today try to downplay the era of the 1960’s by saying “It was no competition, it’s only 8 teams”, they don’t realize that those 8 teams were STACKED with talent and in today’s NBA, it’s about 8 teams or less with a chance of winning a ring. 1960’s Celtics, 1960’s Lakers, 1960’s 76ers,1970’s Knicks, (early) 1970’s Bucks, 1980’s Lakers, 1980’s Celtics, 1980’s Pistons, (early) 1980’s 76ers all had stacked squads that won it all or competed. These owners know what they’re doing, and if you want parity, watch the NFL.

  14. dysraw1 - Sep 9, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    its funny because just yesterday while watching the HOF. i was reminded of the 75 Warriors, throughout the history of the league, their have been teams who were not picked to win it all and yet manage to get there. i love it when a underdog gets in the big show and makes good, so build your teams as best as you can an let the chips fall were they will.

  15. alexb64 - Sep 9, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Seriously? Drexler was in the twilight of his career when he went to Houston. That was just a well built team with role players spilling over, how many of those guys went on to become valuable players for years to come? I give you credit for not referencing Barkley & Pippen as his “super team”, but I still don’t buy Drexler.

    • passerby23 - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:59 AM

      I don’t know about that. Drexler averaged 21/7/4.4 the year Houston won it in ’95. That’s on par with or better than his career averages. He was still a force. He did dip a little his last couple seasons, but that was also incorporating Barkley into the mix.

      The “super team” with Barkley and Pippen WAS with Barkley and Olajuwon being at the end of their careers, while Pippen had a few miles too. They were too old to call that a super team. And evidence? They weren’t close to winning a championship.

  16. alexb64 - Sep 9, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    If you like The Lakers, Heat, Knicks, or Celtics you probably think super teams are a good idea like how obviously Yankee fans think not having a salary cap is good for baseball.

  17. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Sep 9, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I always enjoyed Hajeem and agree with him.

  18. usm418 - Sep 9, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    I don’t agree with Hakeem but it makes for an interesting debate. Teams with poor front offices (Orlando,Charlotte,Golden State,etc) are their own worst enemies.

  19. eugenesaxe - Sep 9, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    Fans don’t like superteams unless it’s THEIR team. Just pointing that out.

  20. bknowledge - Sep 9, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    Sketch of Plan for Parity:

    After NBA Finals, these things happen in order:

    1) Each team gets to frachise tag 5 players…these recieve good raises…

    2) Veterans with more than 10 years may sign with whichever teams they chose for any size contract…

    3) NBA Lottery/Draft…all rookies receive 1 year guaranteed contracts…

    4) NBA Veteran’s draft…all players unsigned at this point…3 rounds for this draft…1rst round players get slight raise…2nd round salary same as last year…3rd round slightly less than last year…

    5) All remaining players now sign for any team for league minimum deals…

  21. sgtmofo - Sep 9, 2012 at 8:04 PM

    Olajuwon, Drexler, AND Barkley. Barkley was in his later years at that point, but he most certainly wasn’t washed up or a scrub. A direct parallel can be drawn between Lebron and Barkley’s motivations for choosing their destinations. They wanted to win a championship and went to the team they thought would give’em the best chance.

    If Lebron was all about the bright lights or endorsement money, the New York market would’ve provided an infinitely greater opportunity than Miami (even now).

  22. papichulo55 - Sep 9, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    Its all about The Money. Big market teams dont have to win to make money. And newly rich twenty-something ballers want a big market nightlife. Dudes like Duncan, God bless him, are extremly rare. And OKC? They wont be together long enough to get a ring. Dont hate the business. Besides, with the Internet and cable packages, you can watch and root for whatever team, or player, that you choose.

  23. papichulo55 - Sep 9, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    @itsonlyaspeedbump Knicks haven’t won but they continue to make a boat load of money, and put asses in the seats. Nobody wants to sign with Chicago? You dont think it has anything to do with the endorsement dollars being already spoken-for? Forget all of that not wanting to play in Jordans shadow. They simply dont want his Sloppy Seconds from Nike. Dont underestimate the power of the agents.

  24. nycalldayz - Sep 9, 2012 at 11:34 PM

    Usually don’t agree with Kurt Helin on much, but he does point out some good arguments. People that have knowledge or history of the NBA knows “Super-teams” have been around for decades. Teams loaded with duos and trio is not new, but just a different generation with new talent.

    I would say during the early 2000’s to 2007, the so-called “super-teams” were phased out and mostly small market teams thrived. Small market teams like the Spurs, Nets, Pistons, Pacers, Kings, Mavs, Blazers, Suns, T-Wolves, Sixers, Rockets and Bucks were very much competitive during the early millennium. But that all changed in the summer of 2007, when the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to pair with another superstar in Paul Pierce.

    I think many around saw what the Celtics did with three accomplished superstars and decided that was the only way in win a championship. The Heat followed by signing James and Bosh to pair with another superstar, Wade. Now more teams are trying to follow. But the difference between teams like the Celtics, Heat, Lakers or Spurs and others is stark.

    It’s very hard to compete when you have players like Garnett, Lebron, Kobe, Nash, Pierce, Duncan, Parker, Ginobli, Allen, Wade, Bosh, Rondo or Westbrook and Durant. These are great players with high IQ for the game.

  25. prestigious1 - Sep 10, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Coming from a guy who played on a super team….oh the irony.

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