Monday, June 13, 2011

Top 10 Failed Sports Teams, Including LeBron & the 2011 Heat

I'll discuss yesterday's game and tonight's in tomorrow morning's post.

I have to hand it to LeBron James. He did something I didn't think was possible.

He made a lot of people who ordinarily hate the city of Dallas and all its teams root for them.

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks on winning their first NBA Championship -- and, individually, to team owner Mark Cuban, to future Hall-of-Famers Dirk Nowitzki and ex-Net Jason Kidd who finally won their first titles, and to coach Rick Carlisle. Carlisle joins a select group who have won NBA Championships as both a player and as a head coach:

1. Buddy Jeannette, 1948 Baltimore Bullets, player-coach.

2. Alex Hannum, 1958 St. Louis Hawks, player-coach; also head coach of 1967 Philadelphia 76ers.

3. Bill Russell, 1957, '59, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '66, '68 and '69 Boston Celtics; player-coach of '68 and '69 Celtics.

4. Red Holzman, 1951 Rochester Royals; 1970 and '73 New York Knicks -- first to do it not as a player-coach.

5. Larry Costello, 1967 76ers; 1971 Milwaukee Bucks.

6. Bill Sharman, 1957, '59, '60 and '61 Boston Celtics; 1972 Los Angeles Lakers. Also 1971 Utah Stars, making him the only coach to win titles in the NBA and the ABA.

7. Tom Heinsohn, 1975, '57, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64 and '65 Boston Celtics; 1974 and '76 Celtics.

8. Pat Riley, 1972 Lakers; 1982, '85, '87 and '88 Lakers, 2006 Miami Heat.

9. Billy Cunningham, 1967 76ers; 1983 76ers. The Sixers have never won a title without him, unless you count their previous incarnation as the 1955 Syracuse Nationals.

10. K.C. Jones, 1960, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '66 & '68 Celtics; 1984 & '86 Celtics.

11. Phil Jackson, 1973 Knicks (was on the Knick roster in '70 but missed the whole season due to injury); 1991, '92, '93, '96, '97 and '98 Chicago Bulls, 2000, '01, '02, '09 & '10 Lakers.

12. Rick Carlisle, 1986 Celtics; 2011 Mavericks.

*

The Mavs succeeded, where they had failed in their previous 30 NBA seasons, most notably against the Heat in the 2006 Finals, winning the first 2 games before dropping the next 4. There are people who think the refs screwed the Mavs, because the League wanted to punish Cuban, their, well, maverick owner.

No indication that they tried that this time. If so, it didn't work.

Nor did the plan to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh in with 2006 titlist Dwayne Wade. LeBron abandoned his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and this is what he got in the first season in which he was "taking my talents to South Beach."

Top 10 Failed Sports Teams

Note: This includes North American teams only, not worldwide soccer teams/football clubs.

Dishonorable Mentions: 1962-73 Los Angeles Lakers, 1977-86 Philadelphia 76ers, 1984-90 New York Mets, 1988-92 Oakland Athletics, 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves, 1992-99 New York Rangers, 2008-present Pittsburgh Penguins. They don’t make this list because they did win a title. But each won only one, and with their talent (or so they told us) they should have won more.

The same could be said for the Dallas Cowboys, who made the Playoffs nearly every season from 1966 to 1985, and reached 2 pre-merger NFL Championship Games and 5 Super Bowls, but won “only” 2. Talent-wise, they were better than some of the teams that beat them. As the Dallas Mavericks just proved, you don’t have to be the better team to win, you just have to be the better team on the day. And while the 1947-56 Brooklyn Dodgers won just 1 title, I can’t include them, because they didn’t spend most of that time telling us that they were the best. Their fans, maybe; the players and management, no.

10. 2010-11 Miami Heat. I leave them at the top (or bottom) of the list for now, because it just happened, and hasn’t really had time to sink in, and, of course, it has only happened once. And, of course, if they win so much as one NBA Championship, they’re no longer a failure. As Alex Rodriguez (once a serious contender for Number 1 on this list) has learned, the difference between one title and none is gigantic. If the Yankees win another with A-Rod, he’ll see that the difference between two and one pales in significance with the difference between one and none.

Still, LeBron and Chris Bosh joining Dwayne Wade in Miami was one of those Patrick Ewing acquisitions: The question was not supposed to be IF the team would win a championship, but HOW MANY would it win.

9. 2001 Seattle Mariners. Like the 1986 Mets, their fans were printing up T-shirts in June declaring their team to be that season’s World Champions. Unlike the ’86 Mets, the ’01 M’s fans had the Internet available to them, and, surprisingly for a team that had never won a Pennant (and a city which has won only 2 World Championships ever, the 1917 Stanley Cup and the 1979 NBA Title), they were talking smack as if there was no tomorrow.

But in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees embarrassed them. Despite breaking the ’98 Yanks’ AL record and tying the 1906 Cubs’ record of 116 wins (I thought about putting those Cubs on this list, but decided against it because they did win the Series in 1907 and 1908 after losing in 1906), the M’s could only win 1 ALCS game against the Yanks.

After Game 4 put the Yanks 1 win away, M’s manager Lou Piniella – himself a pretty good postseason player for the Yanks in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so he should have known better than to rile the ghosts of the old Yankee Stadium – declared in his postgame press conference, “We’re going back home for Game 6.” But the Yanks pounded the M’s in Game 5, and the M’s haven’t played a postseason game since. The chants of “One-sixteen!” and “O-ver-RA-ted!” that went up in The Stadium will live forever, even if the Mariners do, someday, win a Pennant. They still haven’t, and Seattle is still looking for its first World Championship in any sport since Jimmy Carter was President.

8. 1911-13 New York Giants. Along with the 1907-09 Detroit Tigers, this is the only team ever to lose 3 straight World Series. Unlike the Tigers, who only pushed to a Game 6 once, losing in Game 7 in 1909 but not in particularly gut-wrenching fashion, John McGraw’s Giants had it in the bag in Game 8 (in this pre-lights era, Game 2 was called due to darkness when tied), leading 7-6 in the bottom of the 10th, when it all fell apart, and the Giants let the Boston Red Sox win, 8-7. They lost the other 2 World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. McGraw and the Giants would also lose the Series in 1917. They had won the Series in 1905, and would do so again in 1921 and ’22, although each of those was a very different team from the 1911, ’12 and ’13 squads.

I could also include the 1958-71 San Francisco edition of the Giants, who only won 1 Pennant (losing the Series in a painful Game 7), won 1 Division Title, and just missed 3 other Pennants in the pre-divisional play years. Long-term failure is a reason to put a team up here. But their failure isn’t as glaring as those of McGraw’s Giants, who were the greatest team ever. Just ask them. (Oh, that’s right you can’t ask them, because they’re all dead.)

7. 1986 Boston Red Sox. There has to be a place on this list for the team that came closer than any other to winning a World Championship and didn’t. There were 13 separate pitches that could have resulted in them getting the last out they needed to win Game 6 and thus the World Series. That last out never came, and they lost Game 6, and blew a lead in Game 7, too. So even if you were a sports fan arriving from another planet, and knew nothing about the history of sports on Earth, you can still see that this is a very bad thing, without my even mentioning the names of the players and the manager involved.

But what, you say, about the 2004 Yankees, against whom (and then, in the World Series, against the St. Louis Cardinals) the Red Sox finally slew the ghosts of 1986 and all their other failures? A, A lot of those players had already won a World Series, and most of those had done so as Yankees – or, in the case of Alex Rodriguez, would go on to do so. B, As we now know, the Red Sox cheated. So even if the ’04 Yanks also “cheated,” they can’t be on this list.

6. 2007-08 New England Patriots. I can’t rank them any higher than this because a lot of these players were also on the 2001-02, 2003-04 and 2004-05 editions that did win Super Bowls.

Still, with Randy Moss added to Bill Belichick’s team quarterbacked by Tom Brady, they were SUPPOSED to go 19-0. They were supposed to be the greatest single-season team of all time. Whether you think that team was the 1962 Green Bay Packers (14-1), the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins (17-0), the 1984-84 San Francisco 49ers (18-1) or the 1985-86 Chicago Bears (18-1), one thing each of those did was win the NFL Championship. Whereas the 1934 and 1942 Bears, which also went into the NFL Championship Game (they didn’t call ‘em “Super Bowls” until the 1966-67 season) undefeated and heavily favored, lost. They are not in the conversation. Neither are the ’07 Pats.

5. 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers. While the 1968-69 edition of the Lakers, the first L.A. squad to include Wilt Chamberlain, had a memorable home-court choke in Game 7 of the Finals, and then lost again in 7 in the 1970 Finals to make themselves 0-7 in Finals since they moved (0-8 counting their last one in Minneapolis), they (minus the retired Elgin Baylor) did win it all in 1972, in the process setting an NBA record with 69 regular-season wins and a major league sports record that still stands with a 33-game winning streak. That was pretty much the same team, so they cannot be included.

The same cannot be said of the ’04 Fakers, my pick for the biggest one-season bust ever, even more so than the current Heat. By the time they won again, in 2009, it was a very different team, with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher the only holdovers. With Kobe, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, they were supposed to break the NBA record for wins in a season (the ’96 Bulls surpassed the ’72 Lakers with 72) and sweep through the Playoffs.

Instead, the collection of individuals met a TEAM, the Detroit Pistons, none of whose players may end up in the Basketball Hall of Fame but several of whom were really good players (and some are still, 7 years later, making valuable contributions to their current teams). All this while Kobe faced dramas legal and domestic, of his own making. Few athletes have crashed and burned in a season the way he did. Even LeBron looks good in comparison.

Interestingly, 3 of the big 4 subsequently won a title: Shaq with the ’06 Heat, Payton with the ’08 Celtics (beating Kobe and the Fakers in the Finals, leading to Shaq’s memorable rap, “Hey, Kobe, tell me how my ass taste!”), and Kobe with the ’09 and ’10 Lakers (which gave him 1 more ring than Shaq but still didn’t vindicate him). Only Malone did not win one before retiring, finishing 0-3 in NBA Finals in his career. And yet, he is now more respected than either Kobe or LeBron.

4. 1988-2000 Buffalo Bills. Four straight trips to the world championship game of American-style professional football has been done only 3 times: The 1940-43 Chicago Bears won 3 out of 4, the 1950-55 Cleveland Browns won 3 out of 6, and then there’s the 1990-93 Buffalo Bills, who lost all 4. And they had a few other Playoff runs in their glory days, but they never quite went all the way.

Except for Thurman Thomas strutting onto the field during pregame introductions for Super Bowl XXVI with his helmet, and then not being able to get into the game because he’d somehow lost his helmet, these Bills didn’t act like braggarts or fools and bring deserved defeat upon their heads and permanent records. They just got beat, and it’s hard to say the better team lost any of those 4 Super Bowls.

3. 1961-2010 Minnesota Vikings. From the 1969-70 season to the 1976-77, the Purple People Eaters reached 4 Super Bowls in 8 years. If they had won so much as one of them, they wouldn’t be here. But the closest they game was a 10-point defeat. Okay, to be fair, they lost to the 1960s Kansas City Chiefs, and the 1970s editions of the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. No shame there – although until the Raiders beat the Vikes in Super Bowl XI in 1977, they, too, would have been on this list.

But it didn’t stop there; in fact, it hasn’t stopped at all. Since that last Super Bowl, in the last 34 seasons the Vikings have been to 4 NFC Championship Games, and lost them all, including 2 in overtime at home. Outdoors or indoors; on real grass or artificial turf; quarterbacked by Joe Kapp, Fran Tarkenton, Tommy Kramer, Randall Cunningham or Brett Favre, it doesn’t seem to matter.

And the worst part is, Viking fans can’t even identify a source for a “curse.” They can’t say, “Oh, look, we traded So-and-So in the 19-whatever,” or, “Coach Such-and-Such was fired and he said they’d never win again,” or, “They built the stadium on a burial ground and it angered the souls of those buried there,” or, “We got our team when it was stolen from another city and their former fans placed a curse on us,” or, “We moved out of the stadium where we won championships and now the ghosts of our old-time players are angry at us.” There’s no curse, they’ve just failed. Time and time again. For half a century.

2. 1992-2000 Philadelphia Flyers. You don’t want to get higher on this list, then you don’t want long-term and multiple failure. When the situation of who was supposed to get Eric Lindros, who refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques who had drafted him, was settled in favor of the Philadelphia Flyers, it didn’t seem to matter than the Flyers had thus given up several players, including Peter Forsberg, who turned out to be one of the most talented and most accomplished (if also most injury-prone) players ever. The Philly media and the fans of the Delaware Valley were already imagining Stanley Cup after Stanley Cup with Number 88 leading the way.

The Flyers got to the NHL Eastern Conference Finals in 1995 (losing to the New Jersey Devils) and 1996 (losing to the Florida Panthers), but looked like they were on track as they beat the New York Rangers to win the 1997 Eastern Conference title and the Prince of Wales Trophy. At this point, it could still have been said of the Lindros Era in Philadelphia, “So far, so good.” But they got swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Detroit Red Wings. Well, getting swept is bad, but losing to those Red Wings was no disgrace. And Lindros was only 24: There was plenty of time, right?

But that was it: Only once more with Lindros did they even reach the Conference Finals. That was in 2000, a season in which a feud developed between Lindros and the team’s greatest player ever, by then its general manager, Bobby Clarke. Clarke (as an executive he preferred to be called “Bob”) even stripped Clarke of the team captaincy for being a whiny little brat. (To be fair, he gave it to Eric Desjardins, who not only won a Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 but was a key cog in that win and was still one of the top 3 defensemen in the game in 2000.)

The Flyers got to the Conference Finals against the Devils, but blew a 3-games-to-1 lead, losing Games 5 and 7 on home ice, with the symbol of this defeat being Devils captain Scott Stevens introducing Lindros to Mr. Shoulder, resulting in his 5th concussion in the Orange & Black. (A hit so devastating that Flyer fans, who love such violence but know the game cold despite their frequent seeming troglodytism, have hailed this hit and called it clean; indeed, no penalty was given for it.)

Lindros never played for the Flyers again, sitting out the next season and getting traded to the Rangers, where, while showing flashes of his immense talent, he still failed and ended up with more concussions. Somehow, he held on until the 2007 season, retiring at age 34 with 372 goals and 865 points – excellent totals, but perhaps half of what he should have had. Somebody (I forget who) remarked, “This wasn’t the next Gretzky. This wasn’t even the first Lindros.” In other words, this wasn’t the player Lindros was supposed to become.

And the Flyers are still looking for their first Stanley Cup since Gerald Ford was President. I could also have included the 1979-80 Flyers: 26 wins, 9 ties, no losses marks the longest unbeaten streak in North American major league sports history, but they lost the Finals in 6 games. However, a lot of those players were on the 1974 & ’75 Champions, and losing to the dynasty-starting New York Islanders (who, from 1975 to 1979, would have been on this list) is a lot less shameful than losing to the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who came close to winning another title but didn’t.

1. 1985-2000 New York Knicks. Okay, it’s the New York media machine that raised this group to Number 1. Still, the fuss over the drafting of Patrick Ewing with the Number 1 overall pick, the long-term hype, the repeated predictions of victory by both the NYC media and by Ewing himself, and the whining when they lost to opponents like the Michael Jordan Bulls, the Reggie Miller Pacers, and of course the Heat led by turncoat coach Pat Riley, marks this as the biggest flop in sports history.

They did reach the NBA Finals twice with Ewing, in 1994 and ’99. Actually, that’s not quite true: Ewing was hurt for much of the ’99 Playoffs, and the Knicks reached the Finals without him. That’s what noted basketball fan Arsenio Hall would call one of those things that make you go, “Hmmmm... ”

Speaking of Arsenio, he’s a native of the Cleveland suburbs. What do you suppose he’s thinking about what’s happened to LeBron?

2 comments:

nutballgazette said...

I hate doing this but I think there has to be some mention of the 2004-2007 New York Yankees led by A-Rod.

Otherwise this is a great post.

capt paul said...

I think I would add to the list (or at least an honorable mention) the 1995-2001 Cleveland Indians and the 1987-93 Boston Bruins. Pains me to say that maybe in a few year's time we could see the Jets teams dating back to 2008 or 09...