The superteam is an existential threat to the NBA — or so goes conventional wisdom.
It's understandable. 2017 was particularly fraught with the perils visited upon us by a superteam, and we love nothing more than recency bias. The Golden State Warriors added Kevin Durant and rolled through the rest of the Association, capped by a 4-1 evisceration of LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers.
Yet this grand hazard must be placed in its proper context. When Draymond Green accuses LeBron of starting the whole superteam trend, as the Warriors forward did on Thursday, he glosses over years of NBA history.
The NBA superteam is no more a modern phenomenon than the game of basketball itself. So long as there have been titles contested, there have been superteams.
Before we go too far down this road, though, we should define what a superteam actually is.
Those who point to LeBron's "Decision" as the catalyst for this situation bring up one key argument: While there were stacked rosters prior to 2010, LeBron's Miami Heat was the first superteam created by, for and through the players.
Other teams had to surrender players and picks in trades for stars; the only sacrifice in Miami was figuring out which of the Heat's Big Three would take a little less money to make the move work.
That doesn't quite encapsulate everything a superteam represents, though. We loathe superteams because of the feeling of inevitability that follows suit and the context in which they occur.
It's not about how the team came together because even the superteams since the turn of the millennium weren't all built the same way. There's a certain feeling you get when you're looking at a superteam — a creeping sensation that starts in the back of your head, works its way down your skin and sears every nerve-ending in your body as you watch the ensuing onslaught.
To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart:
"We shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material we understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps we could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.
"But we know it when we see it."
With apologies to the late Justice Stewart, we here at FOX Sports are willing to take a swing at intelligibly breaking down what a superteam really is.
There are in fact three key indicators that you're dealing with a superteam:
1.) Multiple Hall of Famers joining forces, with at least one superstar coming from an outside team;
2.) The superteam-to-be already enjoying a certain level of success before taking the leap;
3.) The newly formed superteam being seen as a juggernaut that threatens the balance of power in the NBA.
Today's superteams are the result of players going out of their way to team up, but that's not a prerequisite; it boils people's blood that much more to see players set the stage instead of teams, but a smart franchise can put together a superteam, too.
Given those parameters, LeBron's Heat are far from the first superteam in NBA history. You'd instead need to go all the way back to 1968 —and Wilt Chamberlain's move to the Los Angeles Lakers — to find the trend's genesis.
Wilt didn't set out to create a superteam; he just wanted out of Philadelphia. Yet despite the process, the result was the same as we see today in Golden State: four Hall of Famers on the same team ultimately trying to overcome an opponent that had their number.
Again, the difference is not in the "what," but the "how."
Chamberlain, who'd won a championship in 1967 but still faced questions about his desire to win, was fed up with management and the coaching staff but without any real recourse — unless he demanded a trade. The Sixers obliged, sending the Big Dipper to Los Angeles to team up with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West on the Lakers.
Los Angeles led the NBA with a 55-27 record and entered the 1969 Finals as 3-to-1 favorites over Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics, but the Lakers lost in seven games (with owner Jack Kent Cooke famously planting celebratory balloons in the rafters of the Forum, and Russell telling Chamberlain before Game 7 that those balloons were staying up there).
The next year, Chamberlain suffered a severe knee injury then came back in time for the playoffs, only to see Los Angeles lose in the Finals to the New York Knicks.
Fed up with losing with three Hall of Famers on the roster, the Lakers reacquired Gail Goodrich for the 1970-71 season. A year later, all that firepower paid off, as the Lakers needed just five games to beat the Knicks in the 1972 Finals.
The lesson is the same as it's always been in the NBA: if you go out and get the biggest stars on the planet, you'll probably win a title — eventually.
() Malcolm Emmons
Next, the superteam trend picked up steam with the Bucks and another of the greatest big men of all time.
Beyond the Lakers' reinforcements, 1970-71 also saw the creation of a Milwaukee superteam featuring Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson, whom the Cincinnati Royals traded to Milwaukee without explanation and for little in return. The 66-16 Bucks won the championship in the duo's first year together and made one more Finals before Abdul-Jabbar headed to the Lakers.
That Robertson is linked with one of the earliest superteams is a striking coincidence. Player movement was limited by archaic rules that put owners and teams first for much of the NBA's existence. Robertson's legal challenge of the Association in the 1970 antitrust suit Robertson vs. National Basketball Ass'n paved the way for restricted free agency in 1976, which slowly evolved into the modern free-agent structure we know today.
Robertson changed all that at the same time he was playing on a superteam of his own.
Now, where Draymond Green is almost correct with his LeBron comments is the matter of superteam scale. We can expect at least one superteam to exist in any given season in 2017 and beyond, and that squad will be extraordinarily super.
Over the first 30 years of the NBA's existence, however, we saw just three such squads — Wilt's stacked Lakers, the early-'70s Bucks, and the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers.
Like the Bucks, the 65-17 Sixers don't get much mention as a superteam because they had just two Hall of Famers in Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone (along with one of the Hall's biggest snubs, Maurice Cheeks).
A 27-year-old Malone came to Philly in the summer of 1982 via restricted free agency — thanks, Big O! — with the Sixers coming off of a 4-2 Finals defeat at the hands of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in the 1982 Finals.*
*It's quite the coincidence that all these superteams feed off of defeats at the hands of the game's greats — almost as if the creation of a superteam is a reaction to a larger event, not an isolated occurrence.
Philly lost one game in the 1983 playoffs, exacting revenge on the Lakers with a 4-0 Finals sweep that proved its superiority as a superteam.
NBAE via Getty ImagesNBA Photos
The history of the NBA superteam enters murky water after 1983.
Unrestricted free agency was in full swing by the mid-'90s, but no star had the audacity to shout, "If you can't beat them, join them."
Then, 34-year-old Charles Barkley left the Phoenix Suns to join Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon with the two-time champion Houston Rockets. Although Barkley wasn't quite in his prime in 1996, he was just four years removed from an MVP season and averaged 19.2 points and 13.5 rebounds for the Rockets.
Indeed, the Barkley Rockets — and the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers featuring Karl Malone and Gary Payton — serve as a bridge between the historical superteams and today's era.
Both squads straddle the line between superteams built on the backs of Hall of Famers and your run-of-the-mill ring-chasing.
For that, we should blame Michael Jordan.
Before His Airness locked up a perfect 6-for-6 Finals record, NBA greatness was an open discussion. Jordan changed all that. In his wake, retiring without a ring meant you were borderline worthless no matter what other success you had.
We'd put that pressure on great players before, sure, but Jordan's success amplified the criticism — paving the way for the Boston Celtics to unleash the full force of the superteam model.
Boston's trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen constituted the first truly modern superteam, as they joined Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo to take the Eastern Conference by storm — and to earn that oh-so-coveted ring.
That Eastern dominance in turn gave rise to LeBron's frustrations in Cleveland, so he and Chris Bosh took the trend to another level by sacrificing a little bit of money to build an unstoppable force alongside Dwyane Wade in Miami.
(Shoutout to the "This is going to be fun!" Lakers team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash while we're here — the ultimate proof that sometimes, your superteam plans are destined for disaster.)
Once the floodgates opened, there was no stopping the trend, but that's the thing. LeBron didn't start the NBA's love affair with superteams; he merely made it acceptable.
The Heat's subsequent denouement enabled LeBron to form another superteam in Cleveland, which fostered Kevin Durant's decision to join the Golden State Warriors ... and here we are today with no end in sight.
The more the NBA empowered its players, the more they looked around and decided the best approach was to team up to win rings.
You can hold that against this generation, but ask yourself — are you really sure we wouldn't have had far more superteams across the ages had free agency existed from the dawn of the Association? Or did the fact that those players had no other option stoke the hatred that defined the old-school NBA?
Therein lies the real essence of this discussion. It's not that superteams are a recent phenomenon, it's just that the execution has changed over the years.
We've gone from a rare superstar looking for greener pastures once a decade or so to Hall of Famers trying to preserve their legacies, to the game's best players taking the easy way out at their peaks, all in the unending pursuit of rings — to hell with the cost.
And you know what? If your entire worth as a human being in the eyes of others boiled down to whether you'd earned a piece of gaudy jewelry, you'd probably make the same decision.