When it looks too easy, sometimes we think it is.
This fortunate problem, I believe, can be attributed to the original Boston Celtic dynasty, captained by the groundbreaking defense of Bill Russell. Boston absolutely dominated the league, and won eight consecutive titles before losing to Philadelphia in 1967. That they won so much is often cited as an argument for Russell’s greatness, but that they won so much also makes people believe it was easy.
Mike Tyson suffered from this binding circularity as well: He was so good because he was so dominant…but maybe he was so dominant because the others guys weren’t so good.
Russell and Co. face this praise-criticism dichotomy when people discuss their spoils. Certainly, there were fewer teams to defeat, making the run more possible. Certainly, there were fewer playoff rounds in which to be upset, making the run more possible. But what strikes me about the Celtic dynasty is not necessarily what happened at the beginning of it, but at the end of it.
From 1967-1986, there wasn’t a single repeat champion in the NBA…except for Bill Russell‘s Boston Celtics. As the league ushered in an era of competitive parity, the Old Center still prevailed.
1967 is not an entirely arbitrary cutoff point, because it was the beginning of an expansion boom over the following decade with the introduction of a 10th team, the Chicago Bulls, then an 11th and 12th in 1968 (Seattle and San Diego). 13 and 14 would follow in 1969 in Milwaukee and Phoenix.
Also relevant was the makeup of the league’s top teams during those years, notably the 76ers in 1968, fresh off their historic 1967 season. Then there the Knicks and Lakers, two teams that would meet in the 1970 Finals, with the 8.4 SRS Knicks winning in seven games. The core of those teams would meet in the Finals again in 1972 and 1973. Boston defeated all of them en route to its 10th and 11th championships.
That Russell’s Celtics were able to still pull off the feat, while on the back end of his career, only serves to validate the previous nine championships. At a time when the size of the league and structure of the postseason was becoming less of an issue — Boston had to win three seven-game series in each year — a Celtic team well past its prime still won.
They not only won, they did something no other team would accomplish for another 20 years. Pack that into your Red Auerbach-pipe and smoke it for a while.
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