I was at the gym a couple days ago, and rather than stare at the digital readout that was mocking me on the stationary bike, I switched on the TV and tuned to one of the ESPN channels. I think the show was called “NBA Coast to Coast.”
The resident laureates were debating who, exactly, composes the Warriors’ Big Three. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, of course; they own NBA most valuable player trophies. But who puts the “Three” in “Big Three”? Is it Klay Thompson or Draymond Green? The earnest ESPNers went so far as to discuss “If you had to get rid of one of these guys…”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard talk of a Warriors’ Big Three this season. The phrase has crept into Bay Area newspaper headlines and game stories. And it’s bizarre.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of fun to debate the identity of Golden State’s third-best player. Is it Thompson, considered by some the best two-way guard in the NBA, a guy who can lock down the opposition’s point guard at one end and, potentially, score 60 points in 29 minutes at the other? Or is it Green, the Warriors’ emotional turbine, a triple-double machine who can guard any position on the court?
But here’s a better question: Why a Big Three? Why always a damn Big Three?
Coming up after the break: Who are the Big Three of the U.S. Supreme Court? Naming the Big Three Everly Brothers. And which crayons make the Crayola Super-Pack Big Three; does burnt umber have a shot?
I blame the Celtics of 2007-08 to 2011-12. That team, an NBA champion in 2008 and the East representative two years later, was ruled by the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. People loved the nickname, maybe because of its association with the Big Three automakers and the Big Three networks, a couple of other 21st Century anachronisms.
The nickname was so durable in Boston that we continued to use it even in the trio’s final year together, by which time Rajon Rondo was clearly Allen’s equal in the backcourt.
Did people call the Celtics’ Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish the Big Three in the 1980s? How about the Bulls’ Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in the 1990s? Was “Big Three” ever an alternate name for the Warriors’ “Run-TMC”? I don’t know, but the phrase didn’t seem like an earworm until Garnett-Pierce-Allen came together in Boston.
And then it wouldn’t go away. As those Celts were winding down, a new Big Three emerged in Miami. The Heat version always struck me as forced. You had LeBron James, one of the greatest basketball players of all time; Dwyane Wade, a true superstar; and Chris Bosh, who was, shall we say, a good player. A legitimate All-Star, someone you’d love to have on your team. But a “Big Whatever”? Chris Bosh? I don’t know, man.
And now in Oakland we have four square pegs being hammered into three round holes. Why? No idea. Let’s hire a linguist to figure out the appeal of “Big Three,” maybe the guy I heard on a podcast explaining how Donald Trump never would have been elected if his name were Donald Twimp. We love our catchy names, even when they make no sense. Even when we’re watching a revolutionary basketball team with four undeniable stars.