Neil Young gets credit for the “Better to burn out than fade” line, but Kurt Cobain made it infamous. That dichotomy stayed with me, and it’s impossible not to see it at sports.
The Shaq O’Neal and Kobe Bryant Lakers are one of the best examples of a team that burned so hot it was impossible to play as a San Antonio Spurs dynasty. The Heatles predicted seven titles, but the run, Dwyane Wade’s body and Chris Bosh’s career were all spent in four years.
Thanks to Golden State for being able to return to their pre-Kevin Durant championship form, but the Warriors will never be as good or interesting as they were with him. Those Michael Jordan Bulls teams were a shooting star, screaming through the night sky along the lines of The Beatles, Nirvana, Biggie or Tupac. Jordan retired twice because it’s exhausting to maintain that level of greatness. See how tired Baby Yoda is when he uses the Force.
The argument against this very important take that is sure to ruin your day is what about Tom Brady or Nick Saban and Alabama or those San Antonio Spurs? The consistency makes them great. However, I would argue that the most entertaining version of the Patriots – the one with Randy Moss – didn’t last very long.
You can’t disappear in college football due to eligibility restrictions, but what was the most fun replay of those Bama teams? I’d say the one with Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonota Smith and Henry Ruggs. Tagovailoa won a national title in his first year and it looked like he would walk away from a few more, but injuries caught up with him.
Kawhi Leonard would be the next cornerstone of the Spurs, until he wasn’t. We thought the Clippers would be sauntering to a title when they got him and Paul George the way we thought the Nets would go a season ago.
Brooklyn looked like an indomitable inferno at the start of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and they were extinguished faster than a load of charcoal lumps if you spent four hours trying to build smoke on a few ribs. (I was going to use the briquette/chunk analogy to start the column, but not everyone is aware that lump charcoal burns hotter and faster, and briquettes burn lower and slower. See? You learn something every day , and you even have to piss off your girlfriend because dinner wasn’t ready until 9pm to find out.)
Durant was a big toe away from knocking out the eventual champion, and now they’re 30-27, facing a play-in-game and a first…round series with Miami or Chicago… if they make it. The team with James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Durant won more games in NBA 2K than in real life. I don’t compare them to squads that have won titles; I liken them to examples of ungodly pools of talent that went off like a fireworks finale on July 4, with onlookers saying, “This is great, but it can’t possibly go on.”
Ben Simmons is really good, but Steve Nash and Co. will have to deploy him in the attack. That short stretch when Harden, Irving and Durant all took turns sitting on the Barclays Center track as if it were Rucker Park isn’t going to happen with Simmons, because you can double him up and sink. When Durant returns, the distance won’t be as open as when Harden was one of his spot-up outlets. Also, they may not even reach their full potential because Irving’s availability issues and Durant’s health are bigger obligations than Simmons’ jumpshot.
The modern concept of a super team – a bunch of All-Stars coming together through trade or free agency – can win titles, but we have yet to see one that will stand the test of time. Organizational stability is now secondary. You have to risk everything to compete for a title as most of the contenders are in the win now mode.
The first version of this, the one that led LeBron to bring his talents to South Beach, won just one championship. While James didn’t wait until the twilight of his career to join forces, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen proved that you can get a title if you have the right players. They have also proven that injuries, personalities and increased competition/spotlight can put an end to the expectations that have come with it.
James and Anthony Davis took the Bubble title and a few years later they are under .500 five games and are ahead of a few play-in games. It seems that if you want to be good enough to achieve dynasty status in this highly competitive era of the NBA, you have to be prepared to burn your resources, players, and staff.
Every once in a while it pays off – Toronto, the KD Warriors and Bubble Lakers have all scorched the competition. If not, you have situations like the Nets, the Leonard-George Clippers, and the Chris Paul/Russell Westbrook-Harden Rockets.
The Bucks spent a ton to acquire Jrue Holiday, and they still needed luck to get ahead. Phoenix has to cash in this year, as Deandre Ayton will be cashing elsewhere if he becomes a free agent. The only option in this era of the NBA is to cook with Neapolitan pizza levels of heat.
So good luck to the few remaining organizations trying to be successful without embracing the flames, because if you’re not one of the teams playing with fire, chances are you’ll die.