When the Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in their primes to couple with their long-term franchise player Paul Pierce in 2007, the term “big three” became popularized amongst NBA fans around the nation. True, this was an exciting time and an exciting alignment of prime talents to witness. However, a lot of people forget that not only is this not in any way the greatest super team, it is far from the original super team. Believe it or not, the super team has existed long before the term “big three” was a thing. In the modern era though, teams have gotten more and more hungry for a big name which has lead to a lot of frankenstein rosters: players that don’t fit the culture or compliment each other... So what is a real super team then? Well, for all intents and purposes today, we are going to look at three keys:
1- Star Power - does each player in the super team individually have the ability to dismantle a typical team of their era? Are the stars on the team in or close to their primes?
2- League Impact - are teams scrambling to figure out what they’re going to do when they have to play this team? Did this team rob Hall of Famers of their own chance at a ring?
3- Rings - Bottom line. How much did this super team win and how dominant were those wins?
...of course, most educated fans know that winning isn’t just about having the most amount of All Stars on a roster, but how those players gel. So let’s take a walk down memory lane and good the bad and the ugliest super teams in NBA history.
15 Best: The “Big 3” Pioneers
Although this trio of stars only won the NBA Finals once out of two trips, Boston’s Big 3 makes the cut because they not only ushered in the era of the modern super team, but they restored glory to the league’s most stories franchise amidst some of its darkest days. Get this: from when Larry Bird retired in 1992 until the 2007-08 season when the Big 3 formed, the Celtics average seeding in the Eastern Conference was ninth. That’s more mediocrity than most could stand, let alone a disgruntled Boston fan base. The wildly thirsty Celtic believers were ready for contention, and it came in the perfect combination of Ray Allen’s poise and insane shooting, Kevin Garnett’s ferocity and determination, and the beloved do-it-all star who stuck with the Cs through their darkest days, Paul ‘The Truth’ Pierce.
14 Worst: High and Dry Lakers
This one left a bad taste in the mouths of Los Angeles Laker fans, especially faithful ones who had patiently watched their team lose in the Finals five times in the '60s alone, always to the Celtics! So this time, they went out and got one of the greatest of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, to compliment already established super-stars Elgin Baylor and Jerry West (yes, the guy who is currently the logo of the NBA). Unfortunately for those patient fans, their high hopes would come crashing down in seven games against the Celtics... again! Despite seeing some success (rightfully so, rostering three Hall of Famers all in their primes!) the trio never truly learned to co-exist, and even when they made the NBA Finals, it wasn’t enough to scoot past a declining Bill Russell and his Celtics. Talk about high and dry, this was one of the biggest let downs as far as super teams are concerned.
13 Best: A Knicks Super Team that Actually Makes Sense
After robbing the Lakers of the 1970 Championship, one could easily argue that the Knicks were already a super team. Possibly the most clutch non basketball gesture of all time, Willis Reed hobbled out on to the floor and hit the first bucket of game seven with a badly torn thigh muscle, providing the spark for his Knicks to push out an unexpected victory. Between Reed, All-Star Dave Debusschere and Knick legend Walt Frazier, the Knicks had taken their star studded squad to bonafide super team status when they added Baltimore guard Earl Monroe. The result? A second championship for the New York Knicks. Now looking back, the Knicks seem to honor their tradition of chasing stars. Too bad that habit doesn’t lead to wins these days!
12 Worst: The Rockets Chase the Dream
This one only gets uglier as time goes on and Charles Barkley forgets more and more about what happened in his own life. When Barkley criticized Kevin Durant for bolting to the Warriors last season, he must have had temporary amnesia or something. But fans from the mid-90s know all too well. Barkley had lost to Michael Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals with the Suns, then two short years later, bolted Phoenix to join Hakeem “the Dream” and Clyde Drexler in Houston for what he thought would be an easy championship ring. Boy, was he wrong. The same team that had come off of back to back championships failed to even make the Finals. Barkley is the ultimate ring-chasing culprit and even worse, he showed up to the party too late, rendering him just another poorly-timed ring-chasing NBA great living in the shadow of Michael Jordan.
11 Best: Miami Heat 2012-13
The historic Heat squads were not as great as people wanted them to be from the beginning. It took some time to get it together, first losing to the Mavs in 2011 and then beating a very inexperienced Thunder squad in 2012. Although they had their first ring, it wasn’t quite right just yet; they needed to beat a really tough challenger, a squad that has seen the trials and tribulations of a Finals run. Beating the Spurs would do just that: cement this team’s place in history. The Spurs would end up coming mighty close to deflating any chance this Heat team would have of being a success... but due to a timely rebound from Chris Bosh in game six, and an even more fortuitous three by Ray Allen, the Heat we able to nab their second Finals victory in a row and cement their place in history as one of the best super teams in the history of the league.
10 Worst: Miami's Big 3 Gets Smashed
Hold up, Heat fans. This is coming fresh off of LeBron’s loathsome “Decision” and although the newly formed trio of James, Bosh and Wade took some time to gel, once they got it going they were a force to be reckoned with. After taking it all the way to the NBA Finals vs. the Dallas Mavericks, one couldn’t help but hear the words echoing from the celebration of the big three formation... “not one, not two, not three, not four....” Rule: Never promise championships - anything can happen. Another Rule: Never promise championships for half a decade with no evidence that you can deliver on that. LeBron learned the hard way when this famed super team crumbled to the charismatic Dallas Maverick squad. Led by Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs upset of the dominant regular season Heat proved that the super team era was going to have some ugly flaws sooner than later, hence landing them on the list of worst super teams.
9 Best: 1980s Celtics Dynasty
It should not be forgotten just how awesome this trio was as far as super teams is concerned, although it often is... these days when the “Greatest of All Time” conversation heats up, a lot of people are leapfrogging LeBron past Larry Bird. Tsk tsk! Stat for stat this guy not only beats out LeBron, but he has a more respectable 3-2 Finals record. In addition, Kevin McHale is one of the least talked about and greatest power forwards of all time. Couple those guys with Robert Parrish, a nine-time All Star and four time NBA champ, and you would be hard-pressed to find a more consistent and dominant super team throughout the 1980s (with the exception of the LA Lakers). A true tell that they were so great is that their three banners during that time is a bit of a disappointment to those who were watching closely.
8 Worst: 2015-16 Warriors Crumbling
Depending on who you were rooting for, this was either the most glorious or most cringe-worthy moment in recent sports history. How can something so good also be so bad? Exactly how most feel about double stuffed Oreos. The truth is, the team is still due huge credit for making such a ridiculous 73-win season look easy, all after winning the championship the summer before. Not only does that take insane focus, but it is physically trying. Even better, the team at that point was essentially entirely home-grown, each of their big three were drafted by the Warriors: Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. However, after having said all of that, it’s pretty tough to excuse how badly they broke down versus the Cavs in 2016. Perhaps one of the worst number combinations you can utter in that locker room are 3-1: the lead that they blew in the Finals to eventually lose amidst the most dominant run since Jordan’s Bulls. Regular season is great, but finishing the job is all that matters. For that reason, they get slammed into this list as one of the worst (and most disappointing) super teams of all time.
7 Best: Spurs Dynasty
Despite being the most understated and modest trio of stars perhaps ever, it would be insane to not give a huge nod to the Spurs dynasty that took five championship over the course of fifteen years, and four rings with the three dudes listed above over an impressive eleven year span. The Spurs have been in contention for so long that a lot of current NBA players can’t remember the last time they weren’t. When you have a guy like Tim Duncan at the epicenter of your franchise plans, it’s expected. But with the genius drafting of unexpected star talents Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs truly put the rest of the league on notice. With a combined thirty three All Star appearances between the three of them, it would be tough to call them anything but a super team... and a really successful one at that!
6 Worst: A Roster for Ice Cube’s “BIG3” League, or the Lakers?
Look: I love me some Shaq and Kobe, especially coming off a championship three-peat just two seasons before. And especially at only 26 and 32 years old respectively. Don’t get it twisted, this team went to the Finals and, despite losing in five games, was a really talented roster. But as far as super teams goes, it was one of the worst ever. Here’s where the mentality comes from that got this team to where it was: Lakers restored their glory in the early 2000s, and weren’t ready to let go after missing the Finals altogether in 2003. They did what LA does, bring in the stars! Only problem? They were just so so so old. Gary Payton at 36, when he clearly had lost his best attribute which was his lightning quickness, does not sound appealing. And as much as Karl Malone was an iron man through his career, at 41 years old, he belongs on the sidelines commentating, not starting games, especially in a deep playoff run. Altogether, it was a joke of an attempt, and the fact that they made the Finals alone is a testament to how amazing Shaq and Kobe were together.
5 Best: The Fab Four
Haters are going to hate, and this can’t possibly be well-received by the deeply divided basketball world, but when Durant ditched OKC for the Warriors last summer, it actually was an excellent culture fit. And the proof of that really came once they started gelling. It especially showed once they defeated LeBron’s Cavs this year with relative ease. Yes, it’s a lot of talent on one team, but to be fair the Warriors only could afford Durant because they had other stars on team-friendly contracts because they drafted those players. They had the foresight to acquire most of their core, and they earned the right to pay Durant to play for them. Bottom line, no matter what the haters say, this squad was poetry in motion. They had a need for a wing player to score more consistently than Harrison Barnes, and to play better defense. Not only did Durant do what he does offensively, but he stepped up in a huge way on defense, utilizing his near-seven foot frame to help protect the rim and alter shots. Together, there is no telling how much this team can accomplish. Look out!
4 Worst: Lakers History Repeats Itself
This team will give you a headache. Honestly. It’s like the team was constructed to impress the casual fan and had almost no reality based chance of succeeding. This should sound vaguely familiar... Lakers three-peat, fear getting ousted out of contention, acquire aging stars way past their prime as a band-aid, fail to win anything. Yup. That’s right. They did it again. Steve Nash was 39 years old when he signed with the Lakers. Who doesn’t love Steve Nash, but at that age? Really? Just stop. Meanwhile, Kobe is Kobe. Prime isn’t a word for him so no one is going to beat up on that. But Pau Gasol? He is a great player but was clearly declining at this point. Ron Artest had faded into irrelevancy long before this season, but once again, this team was built to market to casual fans, perhaps sell a few more jerseys, but ultimately it didn’t have to make sense. It just needed to look like a super team. Finally, to be fair, Dwight Howard at the time had not yet revealed his true self as a guy who simply can’t fit in no matter where he goes. So the Lakers get a pass there. And for that reason, plus the fact that the team had Kobe and a still-relevant Pau Gasol rostered, they are saved from being labeled the absolute worst super team of all. Whew!
3 Best: Bulls Dynasty
Yes, it needs to be called for what it is... a super team. All of the Jordan obsessors can take a chill pill, this isn’t going to turn into a MJ-bash fest. Of course, Air Jordan is singlehandedly the greatest, and no doubt the reason for the dominant six for six championship record for the Bulls of the '90s. What needs to be pointed out however, is the fact that Dennis Rodman, who nearly average seventeen rebounds a game during their dynasty’s peak, and Scottie Pippen, a top fifty all time player, and for my money a top ten defender of all time, made the competition as hopelessly and impossibly lost as they were all of those years. There is a reason such great players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, etc... have no rings. And as much as it is Michael, it’s also the unstoppable combination of these three that allowed MJ to not only be his dominant self, but to maintain the unflinching absolute certain confidence that he flashed all throughout that epoch. It’s like the difference between all the times LeBron had to do everything just to make it to the Finals and lose, and when the Heat blew out the Thunder in 2012... except for Pippen and Rodman are better than Wade and Bosh. Oh, and of course: Jordan will always be better than LeBron!
2 Worst: 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets
Yeah... it was that bad. This is not only the worst super team of all time, but it is also immediately connected to the worst trade of all time. The same trade that gave the Celtics an unreal amount of 1st round Nets picks... for a trade that was as ill-advised and picks that were as unprotected as a college one-night stand, what did the Nets get in return... a 36 and 37 year old Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who, get ready for a big surprise, took a nose-dive in productivity that year. Couple this with a injury plagued Deron Williams who looked like the Monstars stole his talent, and an even more injury plagued Brook Lopez, and it was simply a recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, the newly acquired Joe Johnson also output a steady decrease in productivity starting with that season. It was the worst combination of stupidity, short-sightedness and bad luck. This is truly the worst super team to ever be assembled.
1 Best: The Celtic Juggernaut
Brace yourself because the following is flat out true: if you combined all of the rings individually won by Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, you would only be matching the amount of rings attributed to Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek. Let’s get an education here: in case you are too young, in the late '50s and straight through the '60s, the Boston Celtics were in the Finals almost every single year, and won it almost every single year. It was like talking politics at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner: it’s not a lock but basically you can guarantee it is going to happen every year. Yeah, they were that good. Bill Russell was player-coach half the time, and yes it was a different era. Athleticism wasn’t what it was today. The game was not yet on a global platform, nor was world-wide talent being sent to the league. But one thing is for sure, these guys knew how to ball... and they won it all. A lot. Hail to the chiefs. They were simply the greatest.
Look: As long as professional basketball has been a marketable product, there have been general managers and team owners looking to create talent concoctions that will pave the way to championship banners, and they have been wildly successful! Perhaps one of the reasons the term “super team” has been so popular in the modern era is that individual talents after the Michael Jordan-era have become romanticized in the media, treated like saviors that can single handedly save a team or bring them a banner. The irony of all of this is of course, is that the perception of a big three, that is, bringing together individual talents to create a perfect recipe for winning, is not novel or ground breaking at all... it’s what basketball is supposed to be about to begin with!