What does it take to be an NBA superstar? Out of this world numbers, a significant impact on winning, coming up big when it matters the most? That’s the most common criterion. But winning it all propels you to a whole other tier of NBA stardom, and it’s the ultimate validation of a player’s greatness.
However, there’s another hidden criterion, and it’s used for the best of the best. It’s like a whole different league of NBA superstardom. There isn’t a formal way of getting there—no tangible proof of being in that tier of players. But keep reading; you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Every now and then, a player shows up that takes the NBA by storm. It’s not your typical dominance, the type you see from multiple players in the league at the same time. No, these guys are different. They require the whole NBA to adjust to them.
Current and former NBA players can testify to it. Some guys require a different approach and not just over 48 minutes playing against them. So teams cater their whole roster to stopping them.
“Shaq made you carry two if not three bigs on your roster because you needed those fouls, you needed those big bodies because he was so dominant. So then what does that do? It shortens your ability to play small ball”
Richard Jefferson, The Jump
A guy like Shaq is the prime example of that type of dominance. As Richard Jefferson said, NBA teams would use few roster spots just for guys who could match up with him – let’s be honest, rarely anyone could. But that’s what you had to do to have any chance. You had to have guys like that just for the off chance of slowing him down from time to time.
Teams would even have guys on the roster solely to commit fouls on guys like that. The official description of their role would probably be something like ‘energy guy off the bench.’ But let’s face it, they were mostly there to foul out.
Another example is LeBron James. Say what you want about the guy, but the fact of the matter is the whole Eastern Conference had to adjust to his dominance. Teams were drafting differently and signing players differently, just for having a slight chance of beating him in a playoff series. Think of how many wing defenders teams have signed to have someone who can match up with him. The first that comes to mind is the Raptors signing James Johnson, who at the time was referred to as a ‘LeBron stopper.’
Kevin Durant is another one. Remember the Cavs signing DeAndre Liggins in the 2016-17 season. Trust me, it wasn’t for his offensive skill, as he was a liability on that side of the floor. Instead, it was to slow down KD in a potential Finals matchup.
I can go on and on, solidifying the thesis even more. But you get my point by now. Some superstars are just different, and it’s primarily because of their physical dominance. There’s a limited pool of players who can match up with out-of-this-world athletes mentioned, and teams were doing everything they could to bring them to their organization to have any chance in a potential post-season series against them.
The one who has the potential to be the next matchup nightmare is Zion Williamson. Again, I’m not jumping to any conclusions, but he has the unique combination of physical gifts for teams to have problems matching up with him.
We’ll see where his career will take him, and he does become that type of superstar - and good luck to the rest of the league if he does further evolve as a player.
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