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One of my favorite NBA lists …Click here to read the entire trade-value trilogy finale on Grantland.
That's the 15-Year Club — the only seven NBA players who spent their entire careers with the same franchise, played at least 15 seasons AND won at least one title. You don't just stumble onto that list — all seven are Hall of Famers, with 21 rings among them. Think about what the list means: excellence, durability, longevity, loyalty, championships … it's your best-case scenario for a basketball career, basically.
And you need a little luck along the way. I don't know how Schayes and Greer played that long with all the bad sneakers, bad food, bad medical care, scary travel, second-hand smoke and everything else that should have stopped them back then. Havlicek had a Secretariat-size heart and superhuman stamina. Duncan nearly signed with Orlando. Kobe's Lakers career nearly fell apart twice. Pierce was nearly traded 935 times. Dirk lucked out with a wealthy owner who always spent enough money to compete (so he never had to pull a KG), as well as one sizable break: During the summer of '04, Dallas was the consensus favorite in the Shaq Sweepstakes when Kobe forced the Lakers to trade Shaq the Lakers decided to trade Shaq, only Mark Cuban (astutely, as it turned out) made Dirk untouchable.
At the time, that decision was a much bigger deal than anyone remembers now. A rejuvenated, pissed-off Shaq guaranteed you one title, maybe even two. We all knew it. (As it turned out, Miami won in 2006, and probably would have won the previous year had Dwyane Wade not gotten injured.) When the Lakers could only get Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant's contract for him, I ended up creating the Vengeance Scale to figure out exactly where Angry Shaq ranked among the most vengeful people ever, ultimately assigning him an 8.7 (just behind Charles Bronson in every Death Wish movie). And yeah, I ridiculed the Mavericks for keeping Dirk over dealing him for Shaq, too, even calling Dirk "the German Bob McAdoo" (not a compliment). I never thought you could build a championship team around Dirk's offense. A lot of people felt that way. Looking back, resisting that enticing Shaq trade was probably Cuban's third-greatest NBA moment, trailing the time he stared down David Stern after Game 5 of the 2006 Finals, and, of course, this picture.
What happens with Dirk going forward? Kobe, Pierce and Dirk have one thing in common: They don't have to chase a title like Karl Malone did. Dirk controls his own destiny; if he wants to retire in Dallas, Cuban would be delighted. Kobe probably controls his own destiny, even if there's increasing buzz (no, really) that the Lakers would amnesty him if it guaranteed them Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Sadly, Paul Pierce doesn't control his destiny — he's probably getting traded this summer by a team that wants to rebuild. That's the difference between being a star and being a superstar. But if you think Dallas isn't going balls-out after CP3 this summer to give their loyal superstar one last run, you're crazy. We might even see Mark Cuban skip a Shark Tank taping this time around! Don't count out Dirk Nowitzki just yet.