In our discussion of the best same-team player trios of all time, you’ll notice that only one of the five trios reached its zenith within a relatively short time frame.
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were around long enough to win three titles, but not to build anything beyond that. The Bulls — the players and Phil Jackson on one hand, management on the other — were sick of each other after the 1998 season and felt the need to go in separate directions. One can only wonder what would have happened in 2000, had the Bulls still been intact and had faced the Kobe-Shaq Lakers in the Finals. (NBC executives would have floated into the clouds in ecstasy, we know that much; which team would have won? We never got to find out.)
The other trios mentioned in that list include groups that played together for at least six seasons if not more. As an important added detail, the three inactive trios watched their relationships end not because one member left for another team, but because the oldest or most tired member of the triumvirate retired.
Bill Russell called it a career, leaving behind John Havlicek and Sam Jones in 1969.
When Larry Bird retired in 1992, his on-court relationship with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish ended. Parish did go to other teams, but not until 1994 (Charlotte). McHale retired as a player in 1993.
Magic Johnson and James Worthy took the Los Angeles Lakers to one more NBA Finals appearance in 1991. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 at age 42 — that’s the only reason the greatest Laker trio of all time was broken up.
A more specific note is worth mentioning from the Bird-McHale-Parish and Kareem-Magic-Worthy partnerships: One of the three players in each trio did play for other teams, but that player:
A) spent 14 seasons with the team where he successfully paired with his two running mates;
B) spent more seasons with his main team than the other two members of his trio did.
That’s right: Both Robert Parish and Kareem spent 14 seasons with the teams where they made the most memories (1980′-81 through 1993-’94 for Parish, 1975-’76 through 1988-’89 for Kareem), eclipsing the careers of their similarly famous teammates. Magic spent 13 seasons in Los Angeles as a Laker, Worthy 12. McHale spent 13 seasons in Boston as a Celtic, as did Bird.
It’s true that Parish spent a few seasons with Golden State (before becoming a Celtic) and Charlotte (after leaving Boston). It’s true that Kareem played several seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks before going back to Southern California, where he played his college ball at UCLA. Nevertheless, both men provided stability and longevity to the Celtics and Lakers. Their trios endure, as does the living trio (in basketball terms) of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili with the San Antonio Spurs.
Yes, Ginobili played internationally for a few seasons, but his only NBA team has been the Spurs. Parker and Duncan haven’t played anywhere else. The result? A trio that has been together for more than a full decade, and will make perhaps its last run at the brass ring this upcoming season.
Evangelists will tell you that “The family that prays together stays together.”
Basketball evangelists will tell you that “The trio that plays together wins together.”
This discussion of great NBA trios doesn’t mean that a summer from now — in about 10.5 months — it will automatically be in the best interests of Kevin Durant and other high-profile free agents to leave their current ballclubs. If the right fit exists elsewhere, we’ve certainly seen players flock to other destinations — 2011 Miami Heat, anyone? — and thrive.
Yet, those other places — those roads not traveled — invite plenty of uncertainties. The talent, the coaching fit, the larger environment — they need to fall in place if a move is going to provide championships and on-court riches, not just dollars.
Keep that in mind now.
Keep that in mind next June.