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When Super Teams were cool in the NBA: The Mid-80s

Super Teams used to be cool!
Publish Date: 01/28/2024
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Nowadays, the term “Superteam” carries extremely negative connotations. Though one website claims super teams are those which have at least “3 or more all-stars”, I beg to differ. Anyway, is there anyone from the illustrious history of the NBA able to offer any resolution to this question? Indeed, there may be. So let’s, in this writing, reintroduce him to the general public.

Another man named Red
The most famous “Red” in NBA history, of course, is Mr. Arnold Jacob Auerbach. But this is another “Red,” Mr. William Holzman of the New York Knickerbockers. He coached for 15 years, with his tenure finally ending in 1982. He set such a standard of excellence that New Yorkers(to the present) have obsessed, scrutinized, and vilified coaches to no end in sight. When he finally left the sidelines, the Knicks would retain him as a scout more or less until his 1998 passing. By then, the “system coach” was all the rage of the day. Basically, to build themselves up away from personal failure or accountability, the best-known coaches all had a “system.” Holzman’s Knicks, for example, would hire Hubert Jude “Hubie” Brown. Brown was the perfect example of a “system coach.” He preached walk-it-up basketball and called every single play from the sideline. He convinced the press(and players) that his way was the only path to true greatness. Holzman, looking from afar, thought it all as nonsense. He felt that the best teams didn’t need any ballyhooed “system.” Though every team had obvious real strengths, a truly great team could beat you with any style of play. Was the mentor of Phil Jackson correct? Let’s see.
The great Champions of the era: A Review

By the mid- 80s (circa 1985), there were three truly elite teams in the NBA. They were the Philadelphia 76ers, the L.A. Lakers, and the defending champion Boston Celtics. One more team(the Detroit Pistons) would emerge, but their time would be in a few more years. So, for now, let us see how the top teams fared according to the Holzman standard.

Philadelphia 76ers– This was the starting 5 for the 76ers in 1985.
PG(Point Guard) – Maurice Cheeks
SG (Shooting Guard)- Andrew Toney
SF ( Small Forward)- Julius Erving
PF(Power Forward)- Charles Barkley
C(Center) – Moses Malone
This team was very diverse. It could dump the ball inside to Malone. It could also get a defensive rebound, outlet, and execute a fast break. In short, it still had a strong transition game and a dominant inside game. They were also very good at getting defensive stops.

What were the weaknesses of this team? Injuries and age. By the time they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, both would rear their ugly head. Nevertheless, this team had 5 Hall of Famers and 3 league MVPs at various points in their career.

Impressive game: Game 1 Eastern Semifinals, against Milwaukee(127-105).
L.A. Lakers – This is the starting 5 for the Lakers in 1985.
PG- Earvin “Magic” Johnson
SG- Byron Scott
SF- James Worthy
PF- Kurt Rambis
C- Kareem Abdul Jabbar
With Johnson at point, he was like a maestro for a virtuoso transition game featuring Worthy, Scott, Rambis, and Michael Cooper(a Super-sub). Yet, in Abdul Jabbar, they had the game’s ultimate weapon, and Worthy’s post moves were the best in the league along with Kevin McHale(more on him later). The Lakers, of course, wanted to play a high-powered game, but they were also more than capable of getting defensive stops. Nevertheless, this core had two bonafide top 5 players ever and are the only team to feature 3 Final MVPs on their roster for the same franchise—weaknesses: Occasional boredom and a reluctance to play physical basketball when the situation demanded it. Also, at 38, Abdul – Jabbar would have mental lapses, but he more than made up for it after game 2 of the Finals.

Impressive Game: Several, but this writing will go with the final one. That would be game 6, 1985 NBA Finals, as the Lakers would become the only team to capture an NBA title in the Boston Garden. This would create even the Magic-Bird Final rivalry, reverse 25 years of tragedy, and serve as a redemptive triumph for Abdul Jabbar and his teammates.

Boston Celtics: This is the Celtic starting 5 in 1985.
PG- Dennis Johnson
SG- Danny Ainge
SF- Larry Bird(Cedric Maxwell)
PF- Kevin McHale (Larry Bird)
C- Robert Parish
With Bird capturing his second straight MVP, he was at the absolute peak of his power. He was the game’s greatest clutch player, while McHale was now unstoppable and seasoned. Parish was the best running center in the league, and Ainge had finally developed into a reliable sharpshooter with the departure of Gerald Henderson. Without Henderson(and a post-February subpar Maxwell), this edition of the Celtics was less speedy but deadly efficient. This would not impact them against any team save the Lakers, and not even a late-season injury to their MVP could slow down the Celtics. In March, Bird and McHale would have a scoring contest, as both men were essentially toying with the Eastern Conference.

Weaknesses: Well, the Celts did not play their bench enough. Despite Scott Wedman, Quinn Buckner, Maxwell, and Ray Williams, K.C. Jones decided to play his great starting 5 too many minutes. This took Boston’s deep bench out of their rhythm, and the starters were literally worn out by the time of the season-ending loss to the Lakers. This trend would get worse later, but it was an issue in 1985.

Impressive game: This hurts, but the Memorial Day Massacre. The Celtics couldn’t miss that day, and they delivered the most lopsided victory in team history over the Lakers(until 2008). Wedman would establish a mark for shooting(11-11) that was amazing. Meanwhile, Ainge would hit 15 in the first quarter, including a fantastic buzzer-beater.

This writer’s opinion is that the term Superteam stayed confined to the greatest era in the history of the NBA. The three teams above meet the criteria of Holzman’s logic. Too many people get this confused with the AAU NBA, which is the subject safe for another writing. To be continued.
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