By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—Now that the San Antonio Spurs have emphatically captured the 2014 NBA Finals in five games over a proud, but outgunned Miami Heat squad, I hope fans will realize that the better TEAM won.
The emphasis on team with all caps goes out to all those on social media, sports talk radio and in various sports bars throughout the country who are under the impression that winning championships come down to the individual efforts of one superstar by himself.
In this series, fans were in one of two camps those who adore and worship LeBron James and those people who want to see him fall on his ass every time he steps out on the court.
To a generation of fans weaned on 24-hour cable sports networks, sports talk radio and social media, James not getting “his” third ring will somehow invalidate his greatness as a player. That’s the cult of personality among NBA fans today.
LBJ detractors are out in full-force saying that he choked and is overrated, etc. Some are saying that it is proof positive that he is not as good as Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six titles and current Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant who has five championship rings.
Of course, that’s total nonsense because seemingly lost somewhere between the rants of those two guys on ESPN’s First Take and some of the silly arguments I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter is one obvious and simple thing: basketball is still a team game.
Always has been, always will be—whether you’re talking Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls winning six titles or Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics winning 11 titles in 13 years. Contrary to popular belief, Jordan and Russell had other guys around them to help win those crowns.
One little detail that folks seem to forget—The Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics names are on the trophy—not Jordan’s or Russell’s.
If wasn’t for the collective efforts of players like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, Jordan and the Bulls would not have won those titles. If Russell didn’t have Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek or Don Nelson, the Celtics would not have won.
In the case of the Spurs, you had a core group of three great players Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker that’s won championships together as a unit along with a solid supporting cast and a coach in Greg Popovich, who molded that team into playing as a singular unit.
The 2014 edition of the Spurs got a tremendous contribution from an unexpected source from Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who slowed down James on defense and was a huge contributor on offense, especially in the last three games when he averaged 23 points and nine rebounds per game.
The former San Diego State star gave the Spurs that stop on defense, a key rebound, a big dunk or a big three-point bucket among all the Spurs Hall-of- Fame stars. Under Popovich’s system, everybody can be great because everybody can contribute.
Explaining that there is a team concept in basketball to NBA fans caught up in the cult of personality is the equivalent of your mom telling you to eat your greens because they’re good for you when you’d rather have ice cream.
On one hand, I do believe that all great teams need that one superstar, that go-to guy in the clutch when the game is on the line. That superstar also needs a solid group of teammates behind him to play specific roles. He can’t do it all by himself—everybody has to play defense and everybody has to contribute whether it’s setting the pick to get a teammate open or making a key offensive rebound.
James played well for the Heat and he did everything he could to help his team in the 2014 Finals. He averaged 28 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, four assists while shooting 57 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three-point range. Arguably, those are Finals MVP numbers.
Unfortunately, the rest of his team didn’t play well enough when he needed them. That’s because the Spurs exposed, as they did in last year’s Finals, the Heat’s weakness at the point guard position and a thin bench.
At the end of the day, the best TEAM won.