Requiem for Three

Last week, Glenn Robinson took another small step in the most unnoticed retirement in the history of sport . If the absence of fanfare seems unfair, it is also unsurprising. Despite being physically present for over 10 seasons, Robinson’s moral significance was exhausted in just three. His 1999-2002 seasons with the Bucks were the one and only time that Robinson’s single-minded dedication to the jump-shot was successfully translated into an effective team offense. But as historians of the millennial era will doubtlessly note, the story of the Big Dog is also a story of the larger, more mysterious animal he helped inspire: I am speaking of course of The Big Three.

The Big Three of Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell was forged in the summer of 1999, and disbanded just three years later. In their first season, they went 42-40 and lost in the first round. In their second season, they transformed into the league’s #1 offensive team, went 52-30, and came within a few baskets of making the NBA Finals. Then in their third and final year, they regressed back to .500 and failed to make the playoffs, despite adding a fourth All-Star to their roster (Anthony Mason) during the previous off-season. How should we understand the Big Three’s tumultuous tenure, and the role of the Big Dog therein?

When considered in the abstract, nothing about the Big Three makes even the slightest bit of sense. The majority of great teams have been built around 1 or 2 centers of gravity, with additional talent organized into supporting roles. The 80s Celtics are the notable exception. Yet given the particulars of the Milwaukee triumvirate, the precedent they provide is little more than numeric. Though glory and power was equally distributed among Bird, Parish and McHale, their contributions on offense were differentiated by both personality and position. In contrast, Allen, Robinson and Cassell seemed to have sprung from a single, interchangeable mold, and appeared functionally, positionally, and even stylistically indistinguishable.

Perhaps more than any team in the history of professional basketball, Milwaukee was forced to construct its identity without a single, meaningful precedent or guide. The only principle available to the team was that of “The Big Three” itself. Indeed, if any thesis should emerge from these reflections, it is that the Three-as-Spirit was no less important than the Three-as-Flesh. Whereas most teams can define success against existing objective models, the Big Three offense was sui generis. The only idea to which the Big Three could appeal was its own understanding of what the Big Three should be. Put somewhat differently: Milwaukee’s offense succeeded only when Robinson, Allen and Cassell could believe in the Big Three, and believe in themselves as part of it.

The players’ faith in the Big Three was by no means guaranteed, and was often undermined by objective and subjective pressures. Among the later were ambiguities inherent in the Big Three itself. When the nickname was first introduced, the sole rationale was that Cassell, Robinson and Allen combined for 60% of Milwaukee’s offense. But whether this was a function of actual offensive prowess, or merely a consequence of a crappy bench always remained unclear. This inherent ambiguity in the value of the Big Three was coupled with an inherent ambiguity in its boundaries. Insofar as 60% was an arbitrary cut-off point, why shouldn’t there be a Big Four (based on 75% contribution) or Big Two (43%) instead?

These inherent, subjective ambiguities – when triggered by unfavorable objective events – had the potential of undermining the Big Three’s faith in itself, and thus to derail their collective achievements. For instance, the selection of Robinson and Allen – but not Cassell – to the 2000 All-Star Game triggered a subjective crisis over the boundaries of Big Three membership. After starting the season an impressive 25-20, the Bucks spiraled into one of the worst loosing streaks in years, loosing 9 of 11 games after the All-Star announcements.

Depending on whom you talk to, Cassell sulked after he was left off the team and didn't distribute the ball, or Allen and Robinson got a little too full of themselves after their selections and never gave the ball up once they had it – The Capital Times (Madison)

The absence of any rational and objective logic underlying the Big Three’s offense meant that team chemistry lived or died with players’ faith in the Big Three itself. When the subjective coherence of this belief was undermined, the 2000 season was essentially lost. Two years later, when the Bucks signed Tim Thomas to a $65 million contract and then added Mason - a former All-Star - to Bucks’ starting lineup, the boundaries of the Big Three were once again blurred to the point that Cassell, Allen, and Robinson could no longer command it. This in addition to injuries and infighting made the third and final Big Three season even worse than the first.

The second season was the closest the Big Three would come to an unconditional faith in its own self-determination. And throughout this season, no player’s faith was as strong as Glenn Robinson. Ray Allen may have been the spark behind the Big Three, and Cassell the glue, but Robinson was its chief architect and prophet. When George Karl threatened to bench one of the three (it didn’t matter which) in order to teach them a lesson about teamwork, Robinson was defiant. Speaking in what can only be described as the 9th person, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

You can't afford to bench one of the Big Three…When he says benching one of the Big Three, I don't know why. I know the chemistry of this team is shooting jumpers. That's our identity. That's what we are”

And while Robinson often resisted sharing with Allen and Cassell as individuals, sharing with the Big Three was an entirely different story. Commenting after one game, he told reporters:

"It was one of the better games for the Big Three," he (Robinson) said. "I like the games when I see all of the Big Three with 20 points or more. When we score like that, it's hard to beat us”.

Given how closely Robinson identified with the Three, it makes sense that his post-Three fortunes would be the dimmest. Interestingly, all three players went on to form Big Threes with their subsequent teams (as defined by 60% offensive contribution). Yet while the recent era has seem its share of imitators, none can rival the original Big Three, or the Man who once inspired it. And if the owl of minerva flies only at dusk, our understanding of both has only just begun.


At 4/04/2006 11:21 AM, Blogger T. said...

doesn't the modern day big 3 have it's roots in the Dale Ellis/Tom Chambers/Xavier McDaniel teams of the late 80s when all three players scored over 20ppg? and then hand down it's lineage to the JKidd/JimJax/Jamal Mashburn Triple J Dallas Mavs teams of the mid 90s?

I only bring these two teams up because 1. I loved that Sonics team. From Tom Chambers dunking over Mark Jackson in 1988, to the X-Man having his own brand of shoes and choking-out Wes Matthews to Michael Cage's jheri-curls, that was a team of style. 2. Toni Braxton done wrong, breaking up that Dallas team.*

*unsubtantiated rumor, but still fun to believe.

At 4/04/2006 11:49 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

I hadn't thought about that Sonics team, but its a great example. Still, the fact that any one of them was remembered for their dunking makes it hard to compare with that Bucks team. i doubt there will ever be a Big Three so exclusively reliant on a single offensive weapon, though that Mavs team comes pretty close. I also loved the later Three of Dirk/Nash/Finley.

At 4/04/2006 12:00 PM, Blogger Ian said...

I'll forever love the rumor that Toni was getting smashed by all of the Dallas Big Three because I'm pretty sure she also was doing Babyface and at least two members of Tony Toni Tone at the time as well.

At 4/04/2006 12:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think what silverbird has discovered at the heart of the big three is their sheer unlikliness and reciprocal spiritual magnitude. this wasn't just a big three, it was The Big Three. and yet has any trio of stars been less deserving of archetypal status, or more insistent on thinking of themselves as having the same close-knit power as a duo? or, in all basically playing the same game, been able to really conceive of themselves as faces of an essential unity?

At 4/04/2006 12:15 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

What about the tragically brief, yet brilliant trio known as RunTMC? Golden State had that badass combo of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin in the early 90's. Two high-scoring wing men getting the feed from the UTEP-Two-Steppin'little man? Priceless. Hardaway's crossover was legend in the early 90s; that dude was the best thing to come out of that program since the "Glory Road" days when it was Texas Western.

At 4/04/2006 12:25 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

"The majority of great teams have been built around 1 or 2 centers of gravity, with additional talent organized into supporting roles."

I was curious about this statement, so I started going through the stats of champions on basketball-reference.com. I won't bore you by going through every champion since 1957, but what I find is that this is a fairly recent model. The '60s, '70s, and '80s often featured teams with 3 or more great players, or featured really balanced teams (though some teams, such as the '71 Bucks, clearly fit the model).

Then, beginning in the 1990s, the Bulls, Rockets (in '94, at least), Lakers, and Spurs won titles building around 2 great players with a lot of supporting players. The Pistons broke this trend in '04.

I think this is a factor of expansion. When there were 8, or 14, or 23 teams in the league, you could be lucky or smart enough to have 3 or 4 great players, or you could build with a balanced team featuring a lot of very good players. In a league with 27-30 teams, the great and very good players are stretched out, so you build a champion around 2 great players, with a lot of supporting pieces.

This is not even a comment on the gist of your post, I realize, but a footnote.

At 4/04/2006 12:41 PM, Blogger T. said...



Now that was fun basketball. Throw in Manute Bol chucking up 3 pointers, Rod Higgins (then he looked really odd, nowadays, we'd say he was really long), Chris Gatling, Alton Lister (mainly remembered for being dunked on by Shawn Kemp) and that's entertainment.

At 4/04/2006 12:42 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

Not to get too bogged down in stats, but in the 90-91 season, Run TMC averaged 72.5 ppg, with each member scoring over 22ppg. Did the Sonics, Bucks or the Triple J Mavs ever have 3 20ppg scorers? Granted, RunTMC was even more brief (basically two seasons together, and one season of statistical dominance) than Milwaukee's Big Three, but hell, even the Holy Trinity couldn't put up numbers like that. Not with the Father's need to have the ball in his hands all the time.

At 4/04/2006 1:05 PM, Blogger Gregg said...

I don't think Silverbird's thesis is that The Big Three scored an unprecedented percentage of the Bucks' points. It's that they all scored the same way: jump shots, nothing but jump shots.

This team drove me nuts (especially Cassell)- they could lose to anyone if the shots weren't falling. And somehow they were only an open Big Dog jump shot away from the Finals in 2001. I still don't know how they did it. I still don't know how Big Dog missed the shot, either.

At 4/04/2006 1:09 PM, Anonymous TZ said...

The most recent version of The Big Three would have to be The Nucleus, Sacramento's failed Peja, Bibby, Miller trio. They were pretty focused on shooting jumpers off screens, maybe as much as The Big Three relied on the jump shot. Too bad a) Peja couldn't handle the pressure of it being a contract year and b) Rick Adelman was in hibernation until roughly January 15.

I think a Bonzi, Ron-Ron, Kenny Thomas trio is also singularly minded in a) taking bad perimeter shots when they don't really need to score and b) driving inside at will when they do need to score. Also, one will punch you, one will spit at you, and one will scowl at you. I call them The Nasty Boys. (Corliss Williamson is, of course, their Bobby "The Brain" Heenan like manager.) Free The Nasty Boys!

At 4/04/2006 1:11 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

What I think you might be saying is that Cassell may have nominally been a 1, Big Dog may have nominally been a 3... but all three of them wanted to be a 2-guard. And the miracle of the Big Three was that they managed to win, and moreover they managed to form an identity and a team chemistry, despite this inherent tension in the system originating from their desire to all play the 2.

I don't think any of your other Big Threes can say the same thing. Timmy and JKidd and Nash are recognizably point guards.

At 4/04/2006 1:11 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

I never knew how the Big 3 felt about the Big 3, but I'm glad I do now. For better or worse, you've made Big Dog a more sympathetic character than I ever thought he could be.

The funny thing is, to this day I still think those Bucks teams provided the best template for beating the Spurs. During the 3 seasons Silverbird highlights (1999-2002) the Bucks went a shocking 6-0 against the Spurs. I personally attended at least one of these losses, and remember most of them vividly. I was living with my freshman roommate during 2000, an uptight neo-con from rural Wisconsin, and was regularly demoralized by my team's inability to crush his team.

The Bucks collection of shooters, specifically shooters with deadly mid-range games, was kryptonite for the Spurs defense. The Spurs defense is founded on 2 key principles:
1) Deny the three and force the player to make a dribble.
2) Funnel the player toward the waiting arms of Duncan/Robinson/Rasho/etc., preferably using the baseline as another defender.

If there is any truth to the "lost art of the mid-range jumpshot," Popovich exploited it for titles.

But the Bucks were the perfect counter. They'd step past the close-out guy and bury an 18-footer before Duncan could get there. To this day, I'm shocked that teams like the Suns and Mavs haven't tried to use this when making making off-season moves. They've both fallen under the mistaken notion that they need to get bigger and more defensive to counter the Spurs, when really they need mid-range gunners.

It's not surprising that the biggest pre-Finals challenge the Spurs faced last season came from Seattle, a team that featured one of the Big Three, as well as guys like Flip Murray, Antonio Daniels, Luke Ridnour, and Damien Wilkens.

At 4/04/2006 1:15 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/04/2006 1:24 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Maybe Isiah Thomas is looking to replicate something similar to the "Big Three" identity in New York.

I still can't fucking believe Glen fucking Robinson has a fucking ring.


At 4/04/2006 1:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm going to once again stick up for silverbird, since i think he's asleep.

psychologically, run-tmc didn't need each other the way The Big Three did. and on the court, they played far better basketball together than those bucks teams. hardaway, mullin, and richmond played together well and all could hit you with something different. as an ensemble, they were to their era what the celtics front line was to their peak--a rap GROUP, as opposed to a rock band where everyone ends up famous on their instrument. The Big Three, on the other hand, were a metaphysical concept; there was no attempt ever made to explain their dynamic in terms of any basketball-ready metaphor.

on the other hand, does anyone remember just how remarkable The Big Three were? they were one of the absolute low points of 90's basketball!!!

At 4/04/2006 1:34 PM, Blogger Gregg said...

Dammit, Glenn Robinson has a career scoring average of 20.7 ppg. He may have backed into a ring, but he was a good player.

Even though he didn't play defense.

At 4/04/2006 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you commenters for the mentions of RunTMC, the last golden era for Golden State. I have an apocryphal story to tell about that: In the summer after the Warriors knocked the Spurs out in the first round--and then gave the Lakers a run for their money in the second--I was sitting in the Paradise Lounge in SF when who should walk in but Don Nelson and Gary St. Jean plus others. They paused by my table and I drunkenly stood and shook big Don's hand thanking him for an incredible season. (Side note: My wife actually passed out screaming for the Warrious in the clinching game against the Spurs. Oh yes, we were there.) I said to Nelson, "Don't trade RunTMC, Don, please don't trade any of them." Opening day of next season, Richmond goes to Sacto for Billy (cough, cough) Owens. Thus began the ending of the Warriors, the casting out into the Clipper-like wilderness they've been wandering in, ever since. There's a Shakespearean-like tinge to the tragedy that is Golden State.... But that's a story for another time.

At 4/04/2006 1:50 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

RunTMC = King Lear perhaps? With Nelson as Old Lear himself and TMC as his 3 daughters? Too much of a stretch? The endings are the same.

At 4/04/2006 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice--now we have to find roles for Owens, Sprewell, and--a pox upon him--C-Webb, who is, of course, Edmund...

At 4/04/2006 2:24 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

anon, you said that story was "apocryphal". does that mean you made it up? or were you just really drunk?

At 4/04/2006 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, it's real enough--it's just become hard to dredge up when I consider all the horror that's followed. In our Shakespeare rendering, I'd be the blind bedraggled and toothless fool whose rantings turn prophetic...

Also, I've been trying so hard to banish it from my brain after all these years that I'm starting to doubt it ever happened.

At 4/04/2006 2:52 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


about your statement regarding stars-per-team pre-expansion: this has a lot to do with the somewhat subjective term "centers of gravity." in the celtics' case, it is simply indisputable that having three HOF'ers on one team makes them all centers of gravity. i started to look at some of the championship teams from seventies and eighties, and noticed one thing: there were generally two stars who overshadowed the third, or one that shone above all else. The Big Three, though, had no hierachy, for if any were installed, the farce would be revealed and their sense of existential entitlement would come crasing down. i.e. they all sucked then.

At 4/04/2006 2:59 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

Great discussion so far.
First off, let me just say that I don't think there's a right and wrong when it comes to what is/is not the arctypical Big Three. Maybe there's a standard of comparison out there (total points? total %), but if there is, I'm not that interested in it. My choice of the Bucks was motivated by 1) what i take to be the unique inscrutability of their particular fortunes, and 2) the fact that I was in Philly for the 2001 Finals, heard the name "Big Three" spoken of as it it were the most feaful basketball force on earth, and have ever since wondered how such an absurd rep was cultivated. That said, ever Big Three has secrets all its own, and each sheds its own light on the rest. So by all means, keep the comparisons coming.

Also, thanks to Aaron, Gregg and Shoals for all stating my argument in far clearer terms than I ever could. To wit, "the miracle of the Big Three was that they managed to win, and moreover they managed to form an identity and a team chemistry, despite this inherent tension in the system originating from their desire to all play the 2. I couldn't agree more.

At 4/04/2006 3:05 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

As for King Lear....
I think Isiah is a plausible candidate: drafts well, trades terribly, and will probaly end up crazy in the end. Or maybe its some weird Isiah/Brown combination. I don't know.
Shoefly has been threatening to write a post comparing Kobe to Richard the III. I've been trying to think of other Shakespeare-NBA analogies, but unfortunately, they almost all come back to Kobe.
Except this one:
Steve Kerr & Robert Horry = Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
that's straight gold.

At 4/04/2006 3:15 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

No mention of the current Nets as yet? (The closest thing to a redo of TMC, insofar as you have one trigger and two gunners on the wings. Can we talk about how bad Mitch Richmond was back in the day?)

It seems to me that 3 is the important number, because a good team can take away one guy, or two guys, but that third guy, he'll end up being guarded by Damon Jones, and average 42-8-7 for a series.

At 4/04/2006 3:16 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...


Thank you for the Horry & Kerr analogy, which couldn't possibly be more right, except that Horry and Kerr had dumb luck in the end, not like the way R&G met their fate.

While now it may be too soon to tell, but a Kings championship would make Ron-Ron the ideal Prince Hal: reckless youth filled with diversions (his hip-hop producing, brawling, brooding) spent waiting to inherit the throne (no.1 offensive option for the Sacramento . . . too easy).

At 4/04/2006 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a few errors in this blog that I'd like to address. I'm a Buck fan and fan of Glenn Robinson. First, Tim Thomas was signed to his 65 million dollar deal after the '99 season. Second, the big three fell apart after the All Star game in the 2001-2002 season, not the 2000 season like the blog mentioned.

The 2001-2002 season started great for the Bucks, they opened 9-1, yet George Karl felt that wasn't good enough and called them out to the media. I guess George wanted 10-0. Eventually egos hit the fan and they performced a magical transformation. The team was leading the Central division in January and managed to miss the playoffs entirely.

As for Robinson, I don't believe the concept that he backed into a ring. San Antonio went after him and Glenn's mother died during his brief stay with San Antonio. Glenn wasn't expected to play in the finals; yet he did and he played quite well. He was a big contributor in the first game of the series with, and this may surprise you, defense.

Link to the gameblock to game 1 of the Spurs/Pistons series.


At 4/04/2006 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the fond memories of RUN TMC. I'm not surprised that Nellie broke up that team. He just simply can't stay put with a roster. No surprise at all that Dallas is becoming a more stable/defensive oriented franchise now that Nellie is gone. Turns out that it's not Cuban's impatience after all.

At 4/04/2006 3:27 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Anon, TMC was never a playoff threat. See Kemp, Shawn for reasons why. Hence the need to try to get bigger (and who knew Billy Owens would turn out to be a stiff?)

At 4/04/2006 3:32 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...


Thanks for correcting me on the Thomas contract.

As for the ASG collapse...
The first time it happened was definitely the 1999-2000 season - the first time Cassell was snubbed. The Bucks went from like 25-20 to 27-29 after that. or at least thats what basketball reference tells me. That's also the game that is referred to in the newspaper quote. Maybe it happened again in 2002, but the first time was 2000.

At 4/04/2006 3:38 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

Good call on Ron-Ron = Hal. I feel like there's a lot to work with there, but i should probably go back and read the Henries first.
also, a free box of crackers and/or tums (the only things on my desk) to anyone who can figure out a good Iago or Lady Macbeth.

At 4/04/2006 3:58 PM, Blogger T. said...

(and who knew Billy Owens would turn out to be a stiff?)

Not me. I was convinced he was going to change the world of basketball. Magic . . .but like from the STREETS!

That Sonics team we're glossing over (Ellis, X, and Chambers) I think was the first team to have 3 guys average above 20ppg.

At 4/04/2006 4:12 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...


Thanks. They did that for four straight years! 1987 - 1990. Wow. Maybe that type of tripartite dominance excludes the rest of the team from getting involved. On paper you'd think no team in the league could match up with them. Perhaps when it comes to a winning formula for pro hoops, three 20ppg scorers really is a crowd.

re: The Bard, Charles Barkley was the most Falstaffian player to ever play in the league. His autobiograpy (a great read) is full of great epicurean tales of excess and outlandishness -- his 20lb weight gain before draft weigh-in, his razzing of Bobby Knight at the '84 Olympic tryouts . . . hell, everything he's done on this earth.

At 4/04/2006 4:23 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

(side conversation on NBA champion history)

In the 60s, every champion had at least 3 players later voted as the NBA 50 Greatest (granted, 9 of those were the Celtics, but the Sixers also had 3 on of the 50).

In the 1970s, some teams followed a model of building around 1-2 stars (71 Bucks, 75 Warriors, 74 and 76 Celtics for the most part, 78 Bullets). But in the 70s, you also have some of those champions now regarded for their balance and team play (70 and 73 Knicks, 77 Blazers, 79 Sonics).

Then you had the 72 Lakers, a team that featured Wilt Chamberlain PLUS two 25 ppg guards.

In the 80s, the Lakers may have featured two true superstars, but they also featured legitimate star players (Wilkes, Worthy, Scott) as its first-tier supporting castmembers, then second-tier players like Cooper and McAdoo. Of course, it could be argued that by the late 80s Kareem had been relegated to supporting role.

I think it is largely because of expansion that you'll likely never see supporting castmembers of the quality of Wilkes, Worthy, or Scott.

At 4/04/2006 4:28 PM, Anonymous illwafer said...

i just wanted to take a moment to say glenn robinson was the best college basketball player i've ever seen. i'm not talking about people before 1985...

he would just toy with people. there was no one that could stop him. if he was bored, he would just jack up deeper and deeper 3 pointers.

remember in the tourney when he dunked on ostertag? ostertag could do nothing but clap after getting facialed.

At 4/04/2006 4:35 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

illwafer, you are right: Robinson absolutely tortured the Big Ten his last year at Purdue.

That's what makes his NBA career, which is actually solid, a disappointment.

At 4/04/2006 4:43 PM, Blogger T. said...

then second-tier players like Cooper and McAdoo.

You do know, that "second-tier player" Bob McAdoo was actually an NBA MVP, dontcha?

(And Coop was the DPOY once).

Their real 'second tier' players were guys like Mark Landsburger, Jim Chones, Mike Smrek, Wes Matthews, Milt Wagner, Mark McNamara, Jeff Lamp, Frank Brickowski, Petur Gudmandsson, etc. etc.

All this proves is those 1980s Lakers and Celtics teams were STACKED.

At 4/04/2006 4:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

re: side argument.

i do think the celtics dynasty skews that number. i mean, couldn't that have been the reason they were so unstoppable for so long?

enjoy this while you can, as this will probably be the only time i have a sem-rigorous argument about basketball history and numbers.

also, being regarded for balance and team play is not the same as having 3 stars. or else the pistons this year would be The Big Four for the ages.

i'll admit again, though, that a lot of what i'm saying is ultimately highly subjective. but looking at the language used to described them--other people's subjectivity--would probably be a relatively sound way to weigh this.

At 4/04/2006 4:46 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

those lakers teams, though. . . magic and kareem were the undisputed kings. but worthy's being in the hall would refute that theory, if that's my logic for ranking the eighties celts frontline as coequals

At 4/04/2006 4:54 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

re: NBA Champs side argument, I think the problem with referencing how many HOFers were on those teams is a major problem in making comparative analyses with todays teams or even other historical teams. The Hall of Fame bestows greatness on players who, if they had played on lesser teams, may not have made the Hall at all. The Hall of Fame loves to give the nod to good players on excellent teams. While I'm not disputing that those players don't deserve to be honored, being in the Hall says something about the place and moment in time that you played in addition to the quality of your play. The HOF could be seen as sort of a Valhalla for individuals who played for NBA champions (exaggeration, I know, but to emphasize how history is written by the winners).

At 4/04/2006 5:00 PM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...

In reading the comments, I was trying to figure out why I have absolutely no recollection of RUN TMC. i think it's beacuse in the early 1990's nearly all of my basketball knowledge came from NBA Jam, which imposed a limit on my basketball world of two players per team. The idea of three coequal stars not stuggled to fit within our preconceived mental paradigms, but crashed against the very boundaries of technological possibility. truly ill-fated.

At 4/04/2006 5:31 PM, Blogger Kaiser said...

While running the risk of sounding a bit provincial, I wanted to point out an analogy between the Big 3 and what was (oh so briefly) referred to as MV3 here in Mpls. While KG, Spree, and Sammy C didn't all play guard, they did shoot their fare share of jump shots together. Locally, KG has always been criticized for doing too much of that. The best point of comparison to be made, however, is how MV3's (oh so brief) success was sustained in such a (methaphysically?) tenuous balance. Like the Milwaukee bit, with the common Cassell denominator, it required all three members buying into it. Cassell complimented KG well because he was so willing to display his marbles to the world in the 4th quarter, which KG has been reluctant to do in his career, while the Choker's slashiness complimented both equally well. It got them all the way to the Western Conference Finals and a Tim Legler boot-licking or two at the beginning of the subsequent season before collapsing. Mostly due to Sam and Spree's needing to feed their families, and management not duly recognizing. But it wasn't until this (player percieved) snub that the trios' effectivness slipped.

At 4/04/2006 5:32 PM, Blogger T. said...

Wasn't the Warriors NBA Jam team Sprewell, Hardaway and Mullin?

Yes, two players played at once, but you could choose 2 from 3 for a lineup advantage. The best team, of course, was the Charlotte Hornets with Larry Johnson, Zo and Muggsy Bogues (or was it Dell Curry?).

At 4/04/2006 5:34 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

Re: Lady MacBeth... for some reason Pat Riley pops into my head. I cannot defend this at all, but maybe somebody else can, or else refute the notion?

Also I agree with WPDK about NBA Jam's influence on the paradigm of 2 stars. Though each team did have three players, I think, and you could theoretically sub out one of your guys. Nobody ever did, though.

At 4/04/2006 5:37 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

I can visualize Riley uttering "Will these hands ne'er be clean?" after Stan Van Gundy left Miami for "family reasons."

At 4/04/2006 5:47 PM, Blogger Gregg said...

Nah, Golden State was definitely the best team in NBA Jam. Mullin would not miss on 3-pointers. Charlotte was near the top, though, as were the Bulls (Grant & Pippen) and the Sonics (Kemp & Schrempf). I think this is all accurate, anyway- it's been a while.

At 4/04/2006 5:51 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

T., I'm well aware of who Bob McAdoo is (with his 3 straight scoring titles and 1975 MVP, I think he's one of the all-time superstars that doesn't get enough credit today) but by the time he was contributing to the Lakers, he was what, the 5th or 6th best player on the team?

Shoals, balance and having 3+ stars are two different things, but the point I'm making is that in the 60s and 70s, teams won championships with those models. In the 80s, the Celtics and the Lakers were, as T. says, stacked. But from 1991-2003, most teams built with 2 stars and a lot of supporting castmembers, and I think that's a result of expansion.

Kaiser, the other element that made MV3 work for a year was that Spree didn't seem to care about succeeding in the regular season, so he happily deferred to KG and Sam. But then he took over against the Kings in the playoffs. I sat in a bar watching and cried after Game 7--I thought the team had finally arrived where I'd always dreamed. Now I just sort of feel sick thinking about it.

At 4/04/2006 6:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Shoals, balance and having 3+ stars are two different things, but the point I'm making is that in the 60s and 70s, teams won championships with those models. In the 80s, the Celtics and the Lakers were, as T. says, stacked. But from 1991-2003, most teams built with 2 stars and a lot of supporting castmembers, and I think that's a result of expansion

oh, i thought you were pointing at those "balanced" teams as multi-star teams

but it is worth pointing out that it's a lot easier to count as a star in a dilluted league. pre-expansions, you basically had to be (in retrospect) a HOF'er to earn that distinction. now, there are plenty of multi-time all-stars who don't have a fucking shot at the hall.

At 4/04/2006 6:02 PM, Blogger T. said...

PV - I didn't mean to impuge your knowledge of the association (it's just that so many people have mentioned their personal knowledge doesn't extend pre-Jordan).

I think on that 82 team, you could say he was . . . what, 4th best behind Kareem, Mag and Wilkes?

At 4/04/2006 6:15 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Shoals--that's a true point. Likewise, if there had been 30 teams in the 70s and 80s, some of the players I'm calling "second-tier contributors" would have been scoring 25 ppg on a 20 win team.

T.--Looking at the 82 Lakers on basketball-reference.com, he was the team's 7th leading scorer regular season, and 5th leading scorer in the playoffs. But I guess it's hard to know how important he was to the team without following them during that year.

At 4/04/2006 6:25 PM, Anonymous dagger said...

I'm not saying this necessarily has any kind of larger resonance, but last year's Arenas/Hughes/Jamison was actually called The Big Three, at least by the Wizards' PR dept. I think Abe Pollin even gave them an actual cake saying so.

At 4/04/2006 7:49 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

Pacifist Viking -

Sorry I'm a little late in responding. First, thanks for the comments. I completely agree that the dynamics of league expansion have a lot to do with how stars are/were distributed across teams. In an earlier draft of the post, I tried to make a point of the temporal distinction between the Bulls/Lakers 90s era and the Celtics/Lakers of long ago, so your point is well taken.

That said, I'm not sure whether you're methodology - reviewing past champions to see how many stars were on their roster - can adaquetely adress the problem of Bigness. One of the things I was trying to get at with all that "centers of gravity" talk is that Big players possess something more (or perhaps just something different) than the talents and statistics that define an All-Star or HOFer. And that is that on any given night, they can take on an almost-gravitational force vis-a-vis both their team and opponent. To give an example...

When I first wrote about teams "built around 1 center of gravity", the team I had in mind was the 90s Bulls. I've changed my mind a few times on this, but I think my first inuition was right. Yes, by any measure, Pippen was one of the All-Time greats - better than all three of the Bucks combined. But because he played on the same floor as The One, he was never the center of the team. Its a crude measure, but if a 30+ point night is a good indicator for a player "taking over a game", Pippen's game-by-game results from 1992 (randomly chosen) are telling. There were only 3 games where Pippen scored 30+. In two of those games, Jordan still scored more than Pippen. In the other game, Jordan didn't play.
Compare this with the 2001 Bucks. Robinson and Allen each had at least 6 games with 30+, and at least 1 game with 40+. Cassell had 3 games with 30+ and one with 40+. Similarly, the Big Two of Kobe and Shaq probably averaged over 10 games of 30+ a piece, as well as several 40+ games.

The point of all this simply to emphasize that Stars (i.e. Pippen) are not always "Big", just as Big players (i.e. Robinson) are not always Stars. I'm sure I could do better with this distinction - something about Star vs. Big as individual vs. team-level predicates - but i'll leave that for another day.

At 4/04/2006 8:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

by this standard, last season's wizards wasn't a proper big three. statistically, jamison may have had some big games, and nearly broken twenty for the season. but that offense was a guard-driven bonanza, with jamison playing high-tech garbarge man.

At 4/04/2006 8:14 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Somehow, I feel that "Identity" needs to make it's way into this conversation. Though I'm not sure if I can equate "Bigness" with team identity because is someone ever a Star without being part of the team's indentity (with the obvious exception of Pippen, but I don't think we should worry overly about working $ into the framework. He's an outlier, move along)

What I mean is this, for "BIG" players the mental image of that team has to be that/those guy(s). Those Bucks = Glenn/Ray/Sam. Run-TMC was of course "Tim, Mitch and Chris" in your minds eye (and Sarunas, let's not forget Sarunas.)

Or I could be full of it, just spitballing here.

At 4/04/2006 8:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that might be a better way of saying what i was trying to say about the wizards. . .the mental image from that year is arenas and hughes on the rampage, forgetting it's a five-man sport.

At 4/04/2006 8:30 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

SilverBird5000--I understand your point. I suppose it's fair to say there's something qualitatively different from a "big" player to a star or HOF player, that it's not simply a matter of quantitative degree. And as far as 1991-2003 goes, I agree with you.

I think in the 1980s and before, teams had more "big" players, i.e., players who could take over games and become the best player on the team on a given night, particularly during the playoffs. This is simply a fact of talent being more concentrated--a team's third and fourth and fifth best players were more talented, and more capable of taking over a game (think about this--in the early 60s, the Celts would win a championship then get the 8th pick in the draft). For the Lakers, Wilkes or Worthy or Nixon or Scott were allowed to dominate at times; it wasn't all left to Kareem and Magic. In today's NBA, your third, fourth, and fifth players simply aren't going to be as good; you MUST rely on your big 1, or big 2, to win a game, because you can't rely on your third, fourth or fifth very often.

The '83 Sixers had a big 2 of Dr. J and Moses, but from what I've read, Andrew Toney could destroy you on any given night. Today, Andrew Toney would be an All-Star on the Raptors or something. Is Toney "big"? Or is that status exclusively for Erving and Moses?

I'm not sure how the most recent champs fit in here. The current Pistons team basically has 5 starters that can be big on any given night. I suppose it's subjective whether the Spurs have a big 1, or 2, or 3.

I should note that I'm probably in the minority here as a stathead. I'm more equipped to discuss players I never saw play than to debate the merits of contemporary players.

At 4/04/2006 8:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the point is, though, that some players did dominate more than others—at the very least in, as pooh says, the team's identity. living in philly, i heard nothing but sunlight and grain about toney. but never once did anyone suggest that he was on doc or moses's level. that might what goes on with silverbird's take on the bulls--pippen is an all-timer, but he's no jordan.

word verification: "zoltbok"

At 4/04/2006 10:28 PM, Blogger T. said...

but never once did anyone suggest that he was on doc or moses's level.

Ask some Boston fans from that era who they feared the most? I'd wager it was Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney. Charles Barkley actually puts him on his "all-time I played against/with" team ahead of one bald-headed #23.

At 4/04/2006 10:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

point taken. i guess it is hard to argue that a guy who terrified everyone and made the all-star game alongside doc and moses was a third wheel. maybe the statement "he wasn't on their level" should actually read "he isn't on their level historically."

or, doc and moses were basking in their legacies, toney was just starting to write his.

At 4/05/2006 12:32 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i hate to resort to this, but i am feeling sort of embarrassed by what i posted. so some simmons on the subject:

Was Reggie Miller a great player? Absolutely. Did he have a great career? No question about it. Was he terrifying at the end of games? You betcha.

Then again, so was Andrew Toney ... and he wasn't a superstar, either.

he also incessantly compares ben gordon to toney, which might not be all that unprobable.

At 4/05/2006 12:46 AM, Blogger T. said...

Shoals, not to one-up your quotes, but as we all know, Simmons is, much like us, an NBA observer. So let's just go to someone who played with him:

[he] went on to say in the book, "I thought he (Toney) was the best player on the team when I got here. We had Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, and Julius Erving but the only one I was in awe of was Andrew."

I'll see your Bill Simmons and with a Charles Barkely . . .and raise you one Larry Joe Bird

Do I remember Andrew Toney? The Boston Strangler? Yeah, I remember him. I wish we would've had him. He was a killer. We called him the Boston Strangler because every time he got a hold of the ball we knew he was going to score. He was the absolute best I've ever seen at shooting the ball at crucial times. We had nobody who could come close to stopping him. Nobody.

Larry Bird.

At 4/05/2006 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

coming from a bucks fan of about 20 years ...

The big 3 was plagued by selfishnes ( no suprise there ) . Reports of Ray Allen demanding he gets his food before anyone else on the plan . Ray Allens house in mequen , wi was filled with literally hundreds of pictures of .... himself . In all of my lifetime ive yet to see a human being with an ego this size ..

It was clear as I watched Rays "growth " what exactally his motives were . He came to the city with a moderete amount of humility , was chosen to shoot a movie for spike lee in the offseason and his ego shot straight to the roof . His attempt to capitlize on the movie was apparent with his change in style .. his shot selection became increasingly suspect and more aggressive . Chris Ford had to stop running ANY plays where Ray was the primary ball handler and a pass might be required .. Etc etc .. it only became worse as time went on ..

It was clear that Robinson did not appreciate this , as Glenn once said " that was my rookie " when refering to Ray ... In all of my time watching the bucks , i found glenn to be by far the least selfish out of the 3 .. THe times when he wouldnt give effort , or refused to pass seemed to be more out of spite of Rays non stop pursuit of Nike dollars , and Mcdonalds commercials .

To break it down ...

Ray was extremelly selfish...

Sam just had a "bottom line" on what he wanted ..


Glenn Robinson , just wanted to play ball .. If i had a dime for everytime i saw Glenn shout at Ray on the court when Ray would shoot a 22fter with 17 seconds left to run the offense , id have enough to buy the sonics and cut that "barbie doll " ( his buck nickname due to his lack of toughness )...Of course this became the cycle ..that seemed to ALWAYS be intiated by Ray . When the ball wouldnt move , all of the big 3 would go into the " screw the team " roll ...and who could really blame them . What the point of trying to run an offense when a player like Allen will break the play at any point with an ill-advised 3 ..

Hey Glenn ..some people did get it .. I watched you wait for shots behind blackhole vin baker .. I watched you commit to playing solid defense in youre " prime " while the local and national media ripped you .. I watched Ray Allen build his carrer at the team * and your ) expense . I watched you make good decisions in the mid-post ( even though u could never get the ball there enough )...and of course ..i watched you shoot the most unguardable shot in the game for 10 years ..

props to glenn robinson ..you were a hell of a player .

At 4/05/2006 12:18 PM, Blogger Tigero is my Afro-Asian said...

As a Bucks seson ticket holder from '99-'01 (dated an ugly chick with Bucks & Packer season tickets, well worth it), Anthony Fucking Mason was Lucifer in gym shorts. He demanded (and George abliged) that the ball must be pushed through Mase's paws on any half court possesion. This team was built for the 60's. The shot clock shouldn't have been a threat, just play a two man game with no pick and roll. Come down, dump it to one of the Big Three, and let them jack up shots.
I'm too pissed off to write decent prose, Anthony Mason shoots the blood pressure up and I can't concentrate.
OK, happier thought, Mason wasn't the only downfall. Karl can only help a team for 3 years, then he self destructs, think Jim Fassel. Also, Tyra Banks during her prime single handedly ruined Ray-Ray's 2nd half. Following the sucess of He Got Game, he got Tyra (putting down the rumors of swinging the other way). Durin the all star break, He Got Dump, Tyra started showing up at Arco and being with C-Webb. (Quick story break, my workout facility was under renovation, got a one week pass to another one, Tyra's doing Tie-bo along with Hale Barry, who was married to Milwaukee native Eric Benet at that time, Milwaukee was world class, albeit for a short time).
To end with, Sam Cassel was by far the best player on that team, it was a slap in the face that he wasn't declared the leader, Glenn's team still.

At 4/05/2006 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the bulls were a three, both times. yes, mike was king. but horace and scottie were almost co-equal, just as dennis and scottie were almost co-equal. think of the nike poster from the time with the headshot of all three, scottie in the middle ("no bull" -- still one of my favorite posters of any kind). in retrospect, i think MJ gets more props then he did at the time. some of those later championships, it didn't escape notice that it was (e.g.) dennis who made the critical free throws, etc. not to overstate the case, just pointing out that, at least for me and (it seemed) many others watching at the time, the bulls didn't seem so unbalanced as these comments indicate.

At 4/06/2006 12:34 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

I believe Rodman was the greatest rebounder ever (the numbers don't match Wilt or Russell, but the % over the other league leaders is astronomical). But Horace wasn't in Scottie's league.

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