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Sports Then and Now

Miami’s Big Three won’t mesh like 80s Lakers, Celtics

Posted on July 10, 2010 by Matt Petersen
U.S. player LeBron James (R) congratulates Dwyane Wade during their game against Puerto Rico in the first round of the world basketball championships in Sapporo in this August 19, 2006 file photo. James said Thursday he is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat next season in the hope of winning an elusive NBA championship.   REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson   (JAPAN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Will Dwyane Wade and LeBron James be able to co-exist in Miami?

LeBron. Wade. Bosh. Three superstars, one basketball.

Can they make it work? That’s one question (out of dozens) facing the newly minted super-troika in Miami. Supporters scoff at the question itself, pointing to the Lakers and Celtics of the 80s and their respective Hall of Fame trios.

Too bad there’s no similarity other than the idea of a star-studded threesome leading a team to the promised land. You can’t compare store-bought with home-grown. You can only point out how painfully different they are.

The Showtime Lakers featured Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the mid-eighties. Their counterpart Celtics boasted Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. While the names and games are impressive in and of themselves, their origins are important to remember. Abdul-Jabbar was the only player of the six to not be drafted by his respective team of the 80s. The others were selected at different points, integrated into the system gradually one piece at a time.

If you’re not old enough to remember, you need to know something else – as teammates, those players complemented each other perfectly. Kareem posted in the half-court, Worthy flew in the fast break, and Magic directed the whole operation. McHale, Bird and Parish were all capable of and willing to move without the ball in their hands. Whether it was McHale in the post or Bird from the perimeter, the ball would always find the open man.

Put all that up against what Miami’s done. Sure, the talent is there, but it hasn’t been gradually honed or developed for optimum chemistry and cohesion. The whole operation has been slapped together with a combination of mercenary mentality and budget-straining spending. There’s little wriggle room for role-playing types like Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper and Byron ScottĀ  that rounded out those 80s teams so well. It will stay that way while all three are earning near-max money.

Don’t forget the highlights you saw of Wade and LeBron last year. Almost all of them involve each player dribbling a hole in the court between the three-point and half-court lines before diving to the rim. As teammates, what will the one without the ball be doing? Neither one is a great spot-up shooter, probably because they never anticipated needing to be one.

The experiment in Miami can work. Just don’t expect to do so as seamlessly as their more naturally constructed predecessors.

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