The Step Back: Are superteams good for basketball?
The departure of James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday marked the end of one of the National Basketball Association’s first superteams. That being said, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and the 2021 Brooklyn Nets are just the latest iteration of what has become an ever-growing list of NBA super teams.
According to the Wiktionary, a superteam is “a team composed of three or more high-caliber players, especially one assembled by free agency or trades rather than by draft”. Over the past decade, the superteam movement has taken shape and has firmly clung to the NBA for the foreseeable future. Conglomerations of star players joining forces on the same team have become the latest and most attractive trend in professional basketball.
This trend has drawn intense praise and criticism. On the one hand, seeing the league’s best congregating on the pitch is something to behold. On the other hand, it can lead to minimal or no competition in the rest of the league. In today’s edition, I will analyze both cases and leave open the question of whether superteams are an asset or a liability for basketball.
Many consider the start of the modern super team era to be in 2010, when LeBron James announced his decision to partner Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. During his few years in Miami, the trio was nothing short of spectacular. The same can be said for the Golden State Warriors in the second half of the decade. Of course, on paper these teams were unmatched with their combinations of talent, skill and brilliance. Naturally, this raised concerns about the rest of the league and their competitiveness against these super teams. But there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching basketball for most of my life: it’s very unpredictable. With every Goliath, there is a David. There’s a certain unmistakable allure to the storyline of teams of underdogs finding a way to break in and kill the giant. Because there would be no “Star Wars” without the Galactic Empire, no “Harry Potter” without Voldemort, no “Lord of the Rings” without Sauron. The same can be said about the NBA and super teams.
When Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA title last year, Giannis always said he wanted to do it “the hard way.” While the tantalizing talent and engrossing storylines that come with superteams are fun to dream about, the harsh reality is that the overwhelming dominance of superteams almost always leads to poor, unbalanced gameplay. There’s no doubt that the Warriors’ titles in 2017 and 2018 were some of the least exciting basketball in league history. It is true that one of the main reasons the NBA was created was to create a platform for competitive basketball. Key word: competitive. There’s no doubt that as NBA fans, we’d much rather see close, biting games across the league than one team dominating the rest. Balance in the NBA is key to its success, and not knowing exactly who might win elevates the game to a whole new level of intensity.