Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bill Simmons Has Good Memory, Part III

Bill Simmons’ latest column is a prediction of who will win the NBA title this year. Here are some excerpts:

If you aren't picking the Spurs to take the 2008 NBA title, your reasoning is simple: They won last year.

You don't care that the Spurs have the best player, best coach and most experience. You don't care that they play so beautifully together, that they didn't lose anyone who matters from last season's team, that they went basically unchallenged last spring except for a brief moment in their series with the Suns. You don't care that no other potential contenders improved except Houston, Boston and maybe Chicago. The Spurs won last season, which means they can't win this season. That's the logic.

Who’s Logic? Since (and including) the 1987-88 Lakers, there have been 6 repeat champions (3 of them were three-peats). I could see that logic in baseball, maybe, but no one carries that thinking into the NBA. I haven't heard of anyone not picking the Spurs because they won last year.

So the Spurs are the only logical pick ... unless you're banking on history, the third -- and best -- approach to choosing an NBA champ. For years now, it has been nearly impossible to repeat without a player like MJ or Magic leading the way.

History suggests that it’s unlikely for the Spurs to repeat? What??? Sure you need Jordan or Magic…..or Isiah Thomas (1989-1990) or Hakeem Olajuwon (1994-1995) or Shaquille O’Neal (2000-2002). Are you saying that Tim Duncan isn’t in that class? I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, but you’re not making sense. Are you saying that the rest of us don’t think he is, and that's why we're not picking them to repeat? I mean, they clearly are not a one and done champion, historically, because they've won a bunch of championships lately.

Even in a diluted league, the Spurs have won only in alternate years -- 2003, 2005 and 2007, although they came damned close in 2004, the year of Derek Fisher's miracle shot, and 2006, the year of Dirk's three-point play. You need to stay healthy and hungry, need a little luck, need your dominant player to be just that, need to avoid the pitfalls that come with success.

So it sounds like you’re saying they were sort of unlucky not to repeat. Why are you saying that “the logic” of so many is that they can’t repeat? This all makes zero sense.

In his book "Showtime," Pat Riley unveiled "the disease of more" and argued that "success is often the first step toward disaster." According to Riley, after the 1980 Lakers won, everyone shifted into a more selfish mode. They had sublimated their respective games to win as a group; now they wanted to reap the rewards as individuals, even if those rewards meant having to spend way too much time at Jack Nicholson's house. Everyone wanted more money, playing time and recognition. Eventually they lost perspective and stopped doing the little things that make teams win and keep winning, eventually imploding in the first round of the postseason. So much for defending the title.

And here is where his memory fails. After the 80’s Lakers last championship, a repeat in 1988, these were their playoff exits:

1989 – Lost in Finals
1990 (Kareem now retired) – Lost in Conference Semi-Finals
1991 (Mike Dunleavy now coach) – Lost in Finals
1992 (Magic Johnson now retired) – Lost in first round

So yes, Riley’s Lakers really showed their loss of perspective and lack of doing the little things by losing in the first round…..after Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had retired and while Pat Riley wasn’t coaching the team anymore. The Lakers top 3 scorers in 1991-92 were James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and Sedale Threatt. Of course we all know it was always more more more with Sedale Threatt.

Update: I read this wrong, see comments.

Which makes me wonder how TD and the Spurs get psyched for another 100-game grind. How do they keep tapping into that hunger when it's already been sated? The Bulls never let up because MJ wouldn't let them. Boston never let up because Russell wouldn't let them. What's driving the Spurs? Duncan and Popovich love winning, but they aren't puking before big games like Russell did, and they certainly aren't suffering from Jordan's severe competitive disorder (we learned this for sure in 2004 and 2006).

True, they don’t have Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. But I don’t know, maybe they do it the same way that Magic’s Lakers, Isiah’s Pistons, Hakeem’s Rockets and Shaq’s Lakers did it?

I realize Simmons didn’t forget about all these repeat championships, but he’s acting like his readers must have. He tells us why we’re not picking the Spurs because we think they can’t repeat, and that this particular line of thinking is wrong. Then he's telling us why it will be so hard for them to repeat. Ignoring the fact that repeat champions in the NBA has been fairly common for the last 20 years.


Matt said...

This had me confused for awhile: "According to Riley, after the 1980 Lakers won, everyone shifted into a more selfish mode." My first though was "if selfish mode is what led to win titles in '82, '85, '87, and '88, more teams should give selfish a try." Then I realized it was supposed to be "1980s Lakers," which makes a hell of a lot more sense. Clearly a typo by either Riley, Simmons, or the Good Guy - it gets confusing when you start citing a source that is citing someone else.

Jeff said...

Ok. My mistake. He must mean the 1981 Lakers, who did lose in the first round. Riley took the team over in 1982, and apparently made them want to win again.

Simmons memory wasn't off on this one, but him picking the Spurs to repeat and then saying that other people aren't picking the Spurs to repeat because repeating is so hard still makes no sense.