Friday, June 22, 2012

Are the Heat a dynasty?

I'm not in the habit of answering every stupid question that ESPN asks, because that would take all day, and frankly entire sites have been devoted to such things, but they are easier to run if you are, say, professional screenwriters and can afford to spend hours making fun of Joe Morganstupid sports people.

But this one caught my eye, mostly because it was simultaneously beyond the normal level of stupid and yet entirely representative of modern sports "reporting", which consists mostly of high-visibility sites breathlessly exclaiming that what you have just seen is the BEST EVAR and well-written, lower-traffic sites devouring that conclusion and spitting it out in well-fisked paragraphs. (OK, technically the paragraphs would be fisking, and the original article would be fisked.)

Besides, one of your dumber friends is either going to ask you if it's true, or he's going to tell you that it's true. (Given that women have been rudely excluded from many parts of sports, including fandom, over the last century or two, let's assume that as they catch up, they skip over the more obviously idiotic ideas.) So let's consider the question.


OK, really, let's think about it. They're obviously not, but why not? Well, let's define what a dynasty is, and when I say "us" I mean "me". Write about it on your own blog if you disagree, or include it in your podcast or whatever.
  • Championships. It's cool that you make the playoffs 21 seasons in a row (always say "seasons" when referring to the NHL or that damn lockout will trip you up) or make the conference championship 6 straight years (and after what's happened to the Pistons, I can hardly believe this actually happened recently) or make the championship game 4 straight years (which we may never see again), but really, that's trivial stuff, the kind of thing you need to know in bars and nowhere else. We're talking last-team-standing stuff here. 
  • Consecutive titles. Not that it has to be an uninterrupted streak, but you do need to demonstrate that you can put the targets on your back on Opening Day, wear them the entire season, and still hoist the trophy at the end of the season. 
  • Lack of droughts. Sure, lots of great teams caught bad breaks, but we're not talking about just great teams here ... if you use that as motivation to come back and win the next season, that's fine. If you fall on your face again, you make your fans sound like Cowboys fans insisting that their team is just one player away from a Super Bowl run. Yeah, yeah, of course they are. (Hint: you need more than one player, and no, none of them are QBs.)
  • A period of dominance. Two in a row? You earned one and lucked into one. Three in a row? Yeah, that's harder to argue against. Four straight? Unless you're in a six-team league, that should end the discussion right there.
 So, here are the rules:
  1. A dynasty starts and ends with championships. Extending it for losing in the finals doesn't make sense, does it? Because I know you weren't trying to argue that your favorite team's run includes that season where they lost in the conference quarters because blah blah blah and if only and you should have seen them.
  2. A dynasty includes at least two consecutive titles. See above: if you can't defend your title, what kind of dynasty are you? Look, in the old days, dynasties were defined by rulers who fought off all challengers ... literally. The least you can do is be defending champs and actually defend once.
  3. A dynasty does not include two consecutive seasons without a title. You can slip up once, OK, but if that isn't motivation to come back and win the whole darn thing next season, then you're just like everyone else who blew a big chance and then gave up ever asking out any woman quite like ... wait, where was I? 
  4. A dynasty includes at least three titles. Consecutive or not, doesn't matter (as long as you obey the rules above), but you've got to win enough that people actually dislike talking about your chances to win again. You need to create an anti-bandwagon, teams that root against you just to see you lose. 
That's it. Too many rules and then it becomes some kind of drinking game, except it's kind of hard to play a drinking game when it takes a full season to resolve a turn. (But if you're simming seasons at home ...)

Got it? OK, let's look at some examples.


  • Men's basketball: UCLA, 1964-75. Ten titles, twelve seasons, seven in a row, only missed out twice. (Clem Haskins and Texas Western, 1966 – you know that one – and Norm Sloan's 1974 NC State squad.) Quality of the dynasty is for another article entirely; here, I'm just listing ones that qualify.
  • Women's soccer: North Carolina, 1982-2000. Sixteen titles, nineteen seasons, nine in a row, and they actually missed the championship game twice. (Note that Wooden's Bruins also missed the title game both seasons above.) Again, not rating them, just pointing out that this is the kind of thing we're talking about. If you played UNC in women's soccer back then, you knew what you were getting. They still have a strong program today, but, like, sometimes, they don't even win their conference.
  • Baseball: New York Yankees, 1947-53. Six titles, seven seasons, five in a row. (You may have read about the 1948 Cleveland Indians, and you probably thought they were the 1954 Indians. The latter won 111 games; the former won the Series.)
  • Hockey: Edmonton Oilers, 1985-90. Five titles, seven seasons, only two in a row (twice). (Interestingly, the other two Finals involved Montreal and Calgary, with each team winning once.) Doesn't matter that Gretzky was gone in 1990 ... if anything, it enhances the Oilers' reputation. They got rid of the greatest player in hockey and still won a title.

Not dynasties

  • NBA: Miami Heat, 2006-12. Two titles, seven seasons. So? The Pistons won two straight titles after losing a seven-game series to an actual dynasty, and we know Detroit wasn't a dynasty, right? Those two Heat teams are barely even related. Get back on the court, LeBron, take your talents to the Finals a couple more times, bring back the trophy again, and then we can talk. Until then, go sit over there with Isiah and Hakeem.
  • Baseball: New York Yankees, any period from 1954 to the current day except 1996-2000. This is why Yankees fans enjoy shouting the number of titles they've won at you: it galls them that they can't win a World Series every year, and frankly, most of them can't imagine reliving 1963-76 or 1979-95, during which they won NONE. HA HA.
  • Men's basketball: Duke, any time period. It's great that Coach K has won four titles. It took him 20 seasons. I know the game is different, but you know what? That's how the game works. Not a dynasty. Too bad.
  • NFL: Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, 1950-57. Yes, these two teams dominated the league, winning six of eight titles and taking 11 of 16 spots in the finals (the Rams made it three times, going 1-2 against Cleveland, and the Giants and Bears played in '56). Both teams won consecutive titles, but neither could wedge a third close enough to the other two to establish dominance.
  • NBA: Boston Celtics, Bird era. Yeah, they were always a contender, but they "only" won three titles, and never won back-to-back titles. (To this day, Bird probably obsesses over things like this in his spare time.)
Yeah, these rules draw some interesting lines, or exclude some teams you would include otherwise. Michael's Bulls? Two separate dynasties, 1991-93 and 1996-98. But in retrospect, that makes sense, right? He was gone in 1994 and only played part of 1995 ... the Bulls didn't scare anyone those years the way they did in the years around them. Bradshaw's Steelers? Back-to-back Super Bowls twice, but there were two seasons in between those, and they didn't even win the AFC either year. It's quite an accomplishment, but sorry, not a dynasty. 24 months with no title means 24 months of people worrying about other teams more than yours.

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