Even Wilt Chamberlain, a player who prioritized individual glory for team success for most of his career, had to accept a simple fact to win his two titles – basketball is a team sport. If you want to win, you have to excel in the position that maximizes team success, even if it won’t maximize your glory.
In ’67, Wilt was the fifth-best scorer on the 76ers – Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Wali Jones, and Billy Cummingham all took more shots and scored more points per game than Wilt. He dominated where the team needed him – 28.5 rebounds per game in the finals. Similar story on the Lakers in ’72 – Gail Goodrich and Jerry West took more shots and scored more points; Wilt once again dominated the boards with 23.2 rebounds per game. No matter how great he is, no man wins alone in the NBA.
Up until the 90s, if you were from Boston, you were a Celtics fan first. You went to watch the Celtics, not Russell, Cousy, and Heinson, or Bird, McHale, and Parish. Nowadays, people are LeBron fans and Westbrook fans. Our allegiance moved from team to player. It all started to change with His Airness.
With MJ, the NBA started to embrace the individual. He signed a revolutionary deal with Nike that got him a percentage of every Jordan shoe that sold. That was a huge incentive to promote Jordan – the bigger the myth, the higher the profits. It was great for his bank account, not so much for his teammate’s confidence.
“I remember talking to Pippen and somebody asked, “What do you think the legacy of this team is going to be?” The smile that was on his face just totally disappeared. He said, “All they’re going to remember is that Michael won.” None of them ever really felt like they got their proper due.”David Aldrige
This is where the way NBA fans think the game started to change. The main narrative was that MJ and the Bulls won six titles, not that the Bulls with Jordan and Pippen won six. They were slowly metastasizing from a team into backup singers.
Champions have a certain edge that’s crucial in clutch situations. Their hand doesn’t tremble when the game-winner is on the line. They are best when all eyes are on them, and history is being written. Players like that are hardest to find, so they get most of the glory. But for them to get to that situation, they need a great team behind them. A Pippen, Grant, Rodman, Kukoč, Kerr who all could’ve had more prominent roles and got more glory if they played somewhere else.
In the end, those guys understood the trade-off they were making. They sacrificed glory, and maybe a few spots in historical rankings for the joy of winning a title. Players like that are much harder to find. Why?
The NBA’s never had more fans, and yet, TV ratings are declining. All most fans do is watch highlights and
So we shouldn’t be surprised when Kyrie asks for a trade to get away from LeBron. We live in a time when self-promotion is at an all-time high, and appreciating substance is rapidly declining. Generations that are about to rule the NBA grew up counting likes and followers, and they’re going to think the same way about their NBA careers.