In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Lakers’ game 7 defeat of the Boston Celtics, sportswriters coast to coast are picking apart the statistics, momentum shifts, and all the “if onlys” that led to the win.
As team and city move past the inevitable emotion that has ensued, steadier minds will be asking the longer-range questions: How big a moment is this – really – for the Lakers in their own grand tradition and in the history of sports dynasties? How does this round of Lakers championships stack up against others in sports history?
Steve Aschburner, who has covered the NBA for almost 30 years (now with NBA.com) says the Lakers’ 16 championships come with the asterisk that five of those wins were when the team was based in Minneapolis.
“Los Angeles has every right to be duly proud,” he says. “Even though Boston stayed in one place and got 17," the Lakers are now within one championship of equal boasting rights with Boston.
The Lakers' recent success, however, is not equal to the great sports dynasties of all time, which Mr. Aschburner and others say include the New York Yankees, the UCLA Bruins under John Wooden (who won 9 national championships in 10 years), or even the mid-20th century Boston Celtics of the 1960s, who brought home 11 championships in 13 years.
“The Lakers championships are more the result of different eras – Magic Johnson and Kareem [Abdul Jabbar] in the 1980s, Kobe Bryant and [Shaquille O’Neill] from 2000-2002, and now this Kobe-dominated team,” says Aschburner. “Even the Chicago Bulls won six of eight with Michael Jordan, and might have won two more had he not left to play baseball.”
American culture has changed to focus on individual stars rather than team efforts, say media observers, and therefore the definition – and occurrence – of a “dynasty” may be a thing of the past.
“The mythical dynasties of yesteryear were built around the collective power of the team, whereas today the focus is more on individual heroics and personality,” says Adam Hanft, founder and CEO of Hanft Projects, a branding and advertising company.
Part of this grew from the intentions of NBA Commissioner David Stern, he says, and part from ad campaigns featuring superstars such as Jordan. “It’s harder to build and keep a dynasty today because the big stars are following the money and teams are just vessels for individuals,” says Mr. Hanft.
But that doesn't mean sports fans are any less engaged, says Dave Czesniuk of the Center for the Study of Sports in Society.
Thursday night's interest – the best TV ratings for the NBA in 12 years – speak to the growth that the sports industry has been building for years. It now pulls in $400 billion annually – more than the auto and the motion picture industries, he says.
“The sheer power of sports in the American psyche has become enormous,” says Mr. Czesniuk, noting the key moment of Bill Russell coming to congratulate Kobe Bryant after Thursday's game. That exchange moved beyond just victory or defeat, into “the old world coming to meet the new world," says Czesniuk, which "is a human narrative that really attracts and drives people.”