The NBA is “Big Three” crazy these days.
Teams like the Celtics, and guys like LeBron James, are synonymous with the term. But who exactly was the original “Big Three”?
LeBron James has mentioned the 2002-03 Lakers, consisting of Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (yes, that’s four), and the 1995-96 Rockets (Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon) as his idea of the first collection of stars to appear on the same team.
Though Drexler was fine with being mentioned as a building block for the recent NBA fad, he found some flaws in James’ position.
“You know, I love LeBron and anything he says is gold. But I’d really like to give you a different opinion,” Drexler said Sunday, via ESPN.com. “The Big Three was Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), (James) Worthy and Magic (Johnson), way before (Larry) Bird, (Robert) Parish, (Cedric) Maxwell and (Kevin) McHale and D.J. (Dennis Johnson). Those great teams always had four, five great players. Not only three, they had four to five great players.
“The early Celtics from the ’60s with Bill Russell, (John) Havlicek, (Bob) Cousy and Sam Jones, that was the first Big Three. So it goes further back from that.
“To LeBron, I appreciate the comment, but it went further back than Phi Slama Jama or the Houston Rockets.”
Ever since James went to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he has been a part of some sort of “Big Three”. He joined up with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, where he has led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in each of the last three seasons.
While the debate about the first “superteams” is a popular one, it comes with a lot of different variables.
On one side, Drexler was right. There were plenty of stacked teams well before James was even born. But it still feels like those teams, by all indication, came together more naturally than the current wave of loaded rosters.
The Celtics’ “Big Three” of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was among the first that set out to create a team that, on paper, could not be defeated. Allen was previously part of a “Big Three” in Milwaukee with Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson.
James’ group in Miami then copied their lead, thus creating a league that is dominated by teams trying to one-up each other by collecting stars.
It appears that trend will continue for the foreseeable future, as teams try to catch the Warriors.