|Tuesday, July 9
You can't compare a Granny Smith with a Navel
By Greg Garber
The phone message in the Encino, Calif., apartment kicks in on the fourth ring and, sure enough, it is the wizardly voice of John Wooden. Just as his distinctive tenor voice asks the caller to speak slowly and concisely, the man himself picks up.
"When the North Carolina women's soccer team won, what, 80-something straight games? Everybody wanted to know, 'How do they compare to you?' My answer was, you can't compare those two teams with any validity. Establishing dominance over a period of time, regardless of who does it, is a tremendous accomplishment."
For the record, Wooden's UCLA men's basketball teams won 10 NCAA titles from 1964-75, including seven straight. There were also 88 consecutive victories and 38 straight NCAA Tournament wins.
Scotty Bowman, whose Detroit Red Wings won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, gets the same thing -- all the time. Which team was better, these Red Wings or Bowman's old Canadiens, the ones who won five Cups in the 1970s, including four straight, from 1976-79?
"It's hard to make the comparison," Bowman said, "because there's different eras. The Montreal team had a strong run, especially the last four years. You had to win 12 games back then, but now you have to win 16. The first year (1976), they lost one game, the second year they lost two, then it was three in the third year and four in the fourth year. That's 48-10 -- it's pretty hard to compare anybody to that. The percentage is so high.
"This year, with the Wings, we lost seven (playoff) games. If you are going on straight stats, that's going to be hard to beat for anybody. But I don't know how many real contenders there were in those years. The competition is a lot different."
Magic Johnson, the former Lakers point guard, would beg to differ. He has a single requirement for a dynasty.
"It takes three straight championships to make a dynasty," he said last month after the Lakers swept to their third consecutive title.
It's a nice round number, three. That would make for five NBA dynasties: the 1952-54 Minneapolis Lakers, the 1959-66 Boston Celtics, the 1991-93 and 1996-98 Chicago Bulls and the 2000-02 Lakers.
But, then Magic hedged. "It's hard to compare the last three three-peaters," he said, "because they were all different teams."
In today's age, some draw the line at two straight championships.
"Two is a good number," said Geno Auriemma, the Connecticut women's basketball coach, who has yet to put together back-to-back titles. "It says something about a team that got to the top and then came back and did it again."
The Detroit Pistons won the NBA title in 1989 and 1990, but history sees them as the turnstile through which the Bulls passed on their way to those two three-peats. Ditto for the Houston Rockets, who leaped into the Jordanless void and won in 1994 and 1995. The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 1997 and 1998, but no one is rushing to place them in the rarified air of history's three-time champions.
"You can make almost any argument here," Auriemma said. "Dynasties last for, what, hundreds of years? The guy who started those dynasties, the guy who had his name on it -- that's the guy people remember. I can't say I remember the name of the second family who didn't quite get there. Ming was the guy who won.
"It's unfortunate that our society only recognizes the winner. The team that finishes second 10 years in a row, people don't talk about that team."
1) The hard-line, old-school, cold-war approach: "A dynasty is winning it and then having the ability to sustain it, to continue winning. That's the name of the game, to win. Second? That's bulls---," says Red Auerbach, whose Celtics won eight straight NBA titles from 1958-66.
2) The moderate, down-the-middle approach: Consistency is the hallmark of sports' greatest teams, says Bill Walsh, the architect of four Super Bowl championships with the San Francisco 49ers.
3) Glasnost: Everyone is a winner: "Establishing dominance over a period of time, regardless of who does it, is a tremendous accomplishment," says John Wooden, who led UCLA to 10 NCAA titles.