A Tale of Two Cities
A major difference between professional and college sports is the need for college teams to constantly re-invent themselves. This is one reason many people believe John Wooden's string of NCAA championships is more impressive than the Celtics dynasty. Wooden won with the go-go teams of Goodrich and Hazzard, the Lew Alcindor centered teams, the powerful forward combo of Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, the Bill Walton teams, and finally the Richard Washington and Marques Johnson team as Coach Wooden's swan song. The Celtics? They had Bill Russell throughout, and were coached by Red Auerbach for all except the last championship. Similarly, the Bulls 6 championships all had the same core - Jordan and Pippen, coached by Phil Jackson.
That does not mean that NBA dynasties are easy. Indeed, maintaining that core is exceedingly difficult - which brings us to the Lakers and Spurs, who meet tonight in Los Angeles. In Thursday's L.A. Times, Kobe Bryant talked about the Spurs, and how his contemporaries have had a different and more stable path:
"I am extremely jealous of that. I don't know if I can express to you how jealous I am of the fact that Tim, Tony, Manu and Pop have been together all those years."
Unlike the Spurs, Kobe's Lakers have cycled through numerous cores, coaches, and owners. Even the two Laker three-peats had different core groups - the first keyed by Kobe, Shaq, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry, the second keyed by Kobe, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Despite the success Kobe has enjoyed in his long career, he has good reason to be jealous of the Spurs' stability, especially with his present group of teammates -- the teammates he will likely finish his remarkable career with.
Compare that to the Spurs, who despite not having a pick in the top 20 since they got TD, have kept the same successful core together over the years (Kawhi Leonard was a top 20 pick, but technically came via trade). Part of that is the type of personality that the Spurs core represents. Dare I say that TD, Tony and Manu are easier to play with than Kobe? Also crucial to the Spurs' stability is the acumen of the front office in filling the other 12 spots on the roster.
As a result, the Spurs' fan base are invested in monitoring the top of the standings: Will the Spurs have the best record in the West? Did the Cavs win last night? Every loss by Cleveland helps when looking ahead to the potential of home court advantage in the Finals.
What do Laker fans look at now? If they are smart (and want the Lakers' top-5 protected pick to stay in L.A. instead of going to Phoenix) they watch the dregs of the league. Laker fans should cheer every time another lottery bound teams win a game. True Laker fans now root for the 76ers, the Magic, the Nuggets and the Jazz.
As Dickens said: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". As a Laker fan at heart, and a converted Spurs fans in my soul, I'm sure that Dickens had it exactly right.