CLEVELAND – The line stretched around the block Friday. It wasn’t fans queuing up to buy tickets for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, or to enter Quicken Loans Arena. It was former NBA players lining up to say their old team(s), or even their former opponent(s), could beat Steve Kerr’s Warriors.
Charles Barkley was at the front of the line. He got there long before doors had opened, opining in 2015 that Michael Jordan’s Bulls “would kill this little team.” Magic Johnson was right behind the Round Mound; he stepped forward in 2016 to say his Showtime Lakers would beat that year’s 73-9 Warriors. His teammate, James Worthy, later seconded Magic’s motion.
More recently, Julius Irving (1983 76ers), and Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton (2004 Pistons) joined the line, as did Raja Bell, who nominated the 2001 Lakers as a better team.
Shows how little you know. You have been dazzled by the Warriors’ excellence over the past three years, by their scoring records, and their all-time-best regular-season mark in 2016, and by the fact that they’re on the precipice of becoming the first NBA team to go 16-0 in the postseason. Now it turns out that almost every decent basketball team of the past could have defeated them, if not swept them.
I’m looking at the line as it grows, and though my vision isn’t always perfect I’m pretty sure it now includes:
Sam Cassell, 1995 Houston Rockets
M.L. Carr, 1984 Boston Celtics
Dan Issel, 1975 Kentucky Colonels
Frank Selvy, 1958 St. Louis Hawks
Pep Saul, 1952 Minneapolis Lakers
Ivan Edeshko, 1972 Soviet Olympic gold medalists
Cynthia Cooper, 2000 Houston Comets
Bobby Hurley, 1992 Duke Blue Devils
Any random five guys from Rucker Park in the 1970s
The Professor, And1 All-Stars
Jimmy Chitwood, Hickory Huskers
Salami, Carver High School
Mr. Swackhammer, Moron Mountain
LaVar Ball, any team he ever played for
The great thing about these old-man boasts is that none of them can be proved wrong. It’s all speculation. As Stephen Curry called it this morning, “barber shop talk.”
And in case you missed it, Kerr had the perfectly sardonic response after Warriors shootaround this morning when someone asked him about the murmurs.
“They’re all right, they would all kill us,” the coach said of his team’s doubters. “The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the ’50s would’ve destroyed everybody. It’s weird how human evolution sort of like goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I can’t explain it.”
We might need a new Scopes Trial to settle the matter. Basketball evolution versus the intelligent design of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.