James not first to join stars in search of title
MIAMI — When LeBron James arrived in Miami before
last season, Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo had a presentation of show and
McAdoo is one of the few guys on the planet who at least has somewhat walked in
similar shoes as James. Likes James, he has won an NBA MVP and a scoring title
(actually, three). Like James, he had toiled for many years without winning a
title. And, like James, he joined forces with superstars on another team in
pursuit of that ring.
"When he first got here, I kind of showed him our Lakers pictures and I
said, 'I understand what you did,'" McAdoo, who joined the Lakers in 1981-82
and won a championship that season as well as one in 1984-85, said in an
interview Monday with FOX Sports Florida. "I had to get with a team of
other stars and people didn't make a big deal out of it."
Yes, there are differences. While James was 25 and the top player in the game
when he bolted from Cleveland to the Heat as a free agent, McAdoo was 30 and on
the decline when he became a free agent and ended up being traded from New
Jersey to the Lakers due to compensation rules that were in place at the time.
But the thinking of the two was similar. James, trying to win his first title
on a Miami team that leads Oklahoma City 2-1 in the NBA Finals, wasn't able to
win a ring in his seven seasons with weak Cavaliers supporting casts. McAdoo
couldn't get one in nine seasons on also-ran teams, most notably Buffalo and
"I said (to James that) those (top) teams of the '80s had a lot of stars
on the team," McAdoo, a Hall of Fame forward-center, said of his 2010 talk
with James. "The 76ers had Moses (Malone), Julius (Erving), Maurice
Cheeks, Bobby Jones. The Celtics had (Larry) Bird, (Kevin) McHale, (Robert)
Parish. You needed those types of players to win.
"You weren't going to be a lone wolf out there like LeBron kind of was in
Cleveland to win a championship. He was kind of stuck out there like I was in
Buffalo or New York, and we just didn't have enough talent. I showed (James)
and I told him, 'You got to be teamed with other stars to even have a chance
(at a title) because the teams that are winning are the teams that got all the
James got ample criticism for abandoning his home-state Cavaliers to join
fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Plenty of it had to do with
the way he handled it, announcing his plans on the ill-fated "The
Nevertheless, James hardly is the first established star to bolt a team in
search of a better place to win a championship. Wilt Chamberlain forced trades
twice in the 1960s, and won titles with star-laden teams Philadelphia in 1967
and the Lakers in 1972.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade from Milwaukee to the Lakers in 1975,
although it would be four years before Magic Johnson showed up and there was a
star pairing that led to a title.
After the 1981-82 season, Malone, who had led an undermanned Houston team to
the Finals the previous season, became a free agent and a trade was worked out
with Philadelphia. It immediately resulted in a championship.
When it became apparent he wasn't going to win a title in Portland, Clyde
Drexler forced a trade in February 1995 to Houston. Four months later, he
paired with Hakeem Olajuwon to win a crown.
Orlando center Shaquille O'Neal left Orlando as a free agent in the summer of
1996 to join a Lakers team that didn't then have any other stars but had a
history of excellence and an intriguing rookie in Kobe Bryant. Eventually, the
pair won the first three championships of the last decade.
In the summer of 2008, Kevin Garnett maneuvered his way in a trade from
Minnesota to Boston to join forces with fellow stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
That instantly produced a title.
"I think it was a great move," Drexler said in an interview with FOX
Sports Florida about James' decision to go to the Heat. "Because, if you
look at the team he left, would you want to stay with that team? . . . If you
keep playing 48 minutes and scoring 40 points, it's going to take years off
your career, and you still may not win. But if he's going to go play with some
other (top) players, one, he's got some help, which means a lot. Two, he's got
a better chance to win. And living in Miami is not really a bad place. It's a
no-brainer (James going to Miami).
"If I had not gone to Houston, I would not have a ring . . . You need
multiple stars (to win a championship). You always have . . . When I was in
Portland, we had players good enough to get to the Finals but the super teams
are going to get us."
Drexler's Trail Blazers lost in the Finals to Detroit in 1990 and to Chicago in
1992. When the team went into a rebuilding mode, Drexler wanted out and a trade
was put together for him to go to the Rockets.
At 32, Drexler was seven years older than was James when James joined his new
team. But the guard still averaged 21.4 points in 35 1994-95 regular-season
games for the Rockets and 20.5 during their playoff title run. He then averaged
more than 18 points in each of his final three Houston seasons before ending
his Hall of Fame career.
Malone leaving Houston as a free agent after an MVP season to join star-laden
Philadelphia is perhaps the situation in NBA history most similar to James
bolting the Cavaliers after winning two straight MVPs. Some of the other big
names were traded rather than having become free agents, some were at least
slightly past their prime and Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal didn't immediately join
other stars with their new teams.
But however and whenever it happens, history shows multiple stars are need to
win championships. And it was apparent James, who technically left the Cavaliers
in a sign-and-trade, didn't feel confident about a big-time player ever joining
him in Cleveland.
"I know the history of the game," said James, who this season won his
third MVP and was the scoring champion with the Cavaliers in 2007-08.
"You've got to have superstars and stars to win a championship.
You've got to have a great coaching staff and a great organization. But
as many as (Michael) Jordan won (six), he had a great supporting cast around
him. As many as Bird won (three), he had a supporting cast. As many
as Magic won (five), he had a supporting cast, same with (Tim) Duncan (a San
Antonio big man with four titles). I understand that you can't do it by
McAdoo figured that out early in his career with Buffalo. He won the scoring
title in his second season of 1973-74, and then won it again each of the next
two seasons. He won his MVP in 1974-75, when he averaged 34.5 points and 14.1
rebounds. But the Braves never could advance farther than the Eastern
When McAdoo had a chance to join Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar with the Lakers, he
jumped at even if it meant a reduced role. McAdoo agreed to come off the bench,
and he still averaged as many as 15.0 points in 1982-83. He played in the
Finals during each of his four Lakers seasons.
"The biggest thing is he made a sacrifice to join that team," James
said. "You look at Doo's resume before he joined the Lakers . . . He could
score with the best of them. But I think he knew that if he was going to
be joining the Lakers, he wasn't going to be that same player. So he had
to make sacrifices.
"Now, I'm not saying that's me because I still have to play at a high
level and Doo came off the bench for that Laker team, but I think sacrifice is
the word I'm trying to say. He had to make a sacrifice for the better of the
team to win a championship."
If James in the next week finally wins his first championship, there's going to
be talk by some it is cheapened because he had to leave Cleveland for Miami to
get it done.
But none of that talk will come from Drexler. He even had no problem with the
ESPN-aired "The Decision."
"I think it's crazy as great as he is," Drexler said when asked if he
believes James still gets undue criticism for having gone from the Cavaliers to
the Heat. "The guy is phenomenal. He's underrated. As good as he is, he's
"How many players got traded and found out about it on the radio on the
way home? How many times did that happen? A million. He at least had ("The
Decision") to let (the Cavaliers) know, 'I enjoyed it, but I'm going to
take my talents to South Florida because I think I have a better chance (to win
That chance soon might become reality. If it does, James hardly would be the
first star who needed to team up with other stars to win a title.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @christomasson