Harvey Araton: The End of "Synthetic Jordan"

Araton writes in today's New York Times (subscription required) that Allen Iverson's request to, essentially, team with another star marks the end of a post-Jordan era when the big names wanted the spotlight all to themselves:

The concept of multiple great players or even two sharing the ball and the attention, coexisting in pursuit of a common cause, was largely lost on the new breed.

“I think every player grows up wanting to be the star,” Rivers said. “But at the end of the day, you hope that winning shines brighter in their minds.”

That, unfortunately, wasn’t the case when Alonzo Mourning divorced Larry Johnson in Charlotte; when Stephon Marbury set out on a search for the inner Starbury because he couldn’t stomach being second in salary to Garnett in Minnesota; when Philadelphia wasn’t big enough for Iverson and the young Jerry Stackhouse; when Tracy McGrady refused to play Pippen to Vince Carter’s Jordan in Toronto and subsequently suffered through nightmarish losing seasons while playing part of that time for Rivers in Orlando.

On and on it went, into the 21st century when Kobe Bryant had to prove his manhood sans Shaq in Los Angeles, the high-end talent spreading thinner and the basketball public turning increasingly contemptuous of players it perceived as overhyped and underachieving. They were far from faultless, but as always in this sport, the players were the most convenient targets, as opposed to industry forces that produced them. How would Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have been perceived if they’d come along 15 years later and wound up on desultory teams in Toronto and Orlando?

“People get mad at me in Boston when I talk about Larry, but great as he was, and Larry was great, how would he have done if he didn’t have Hall of Fame players around him — not one, when he won his first championship, not two, but three,” Cedric Maxwell, the former Celtic, now analyzing games on Boston-area radio, said Monday night.

In no particular order, he meant Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Tiny Archibald, the Iverson of his day until Achilles’ surgery and the Celtics’ selfless system forced him to adapt his explosive small-guard skills.