The Case Against Dynasties

Dynasties are fun. They create cocky fanbases, animosity towards dynastic franchises and fanbases, and serve as a microcosm for the wealth-to-poverty ratio in America.

But can dynasties successfully exist in modern-day professional sports?

Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs probably think so, but do they really?

Let’s start from the beginning. What is a dynasty?

Webster.com defines a dynasty as “a succession of rulers in the same line of descent; a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.”

The first definition is obviously tailored toward monarchical rule and political power. Still, it translates okay to professional sports. “Succession of rulers” could also be “a team that rules the league with tenure.” Succession implies that the power is hereditary and passed down within the family (I use family in the loosest sense possible). Consider “in the same line of descent” as a consistent form of succession; in sports, “same line of descent” translates to team. They come from the same team.

But the definition that fits more appropriately is the second one. Dynasties in professional sports are powerful groups or families (teams) that maintain their positions (at the top of the sport) for a considerable time.

Where we have some trouble is when we trying to figure out what “a considerable time means.” In sports, careers are short. Because of that, dynasties should consume roughly 30-40% of one’s time spent in their respective sport. While that’s impossible to determine, considering that some players never make it past their rookie training camp, and others remain relvant until their late 30’s, we can argue that 4-5 years will encompass 30-40% of one’s career. We have to err with the medium, not the extreme.

Since we defined dynasties, let’s look at the teams in the past ten years that have come closest to becoming one.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2006, 2009)

Pittsburgh somehow managed to win 2 Superbowls. Going by our definition and translation, the Steelers fail to qualify as a dynasty. They won 2 Superbowls in a decade (or in 2 decades, if we arbitrarily add the ’90’s into the mix), and they didn’t even do it back-to-back. On top of that, in years that they did win the Superbowl, they followed up with seasons where they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs.

Dynasty rating: 1.67777777

New England Patriots (2002, 2004, 2005)

The Patriots are the closest thing the NFL has come to a real dynasty since the Dallas Cowboys of the ’90’s. A franchise with more recent success than the Steelers, New England won a title at the beginning of the millennium, won back-to-backs just after being a year removed from the Superbowl, and then followed those championships up with a slew of playoff appearances, and even one Superbowl loss. As far as dynasties go, they’re the closest thing the NFL will see in a long time.

But things change. Teams get used to your talent, counter it with their own talent, and then dynasties dissolve (as I am writing this, Lou Williams just made a potential game-winning three-pointer to extend the Miami-Philly series another game. In the words of Andre 3000, that was ICE COLD.). That’s what happened to New England who, while enjoying tremendous regular season success in seasons when they didn’t win the Superbowl, has failed to make it to or win the big game since winning it all in 2005.

Dynasty rating: 5.98

San Antonio Spurs (2003, 2005, 2007)

Like most NBA fans know, the Spurs are old. They have never won back-to-back NBA Championships. Instead, they’ve won every other year for three years. In the past 10 years, they have 3 NBA championships. Technically, they qualify as a dynasty in the sense that 30% of a 10-year career witnessed a banner raising in San Antonio. For all intents and purposes, they meet the standards for an NBA dynasty. The asterisk that they inherit (besides the one attached to their ’99 championship, since it was a lockout season) stems from their inability to remain successive. Virtually the same core team for the past 10 years, with Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich as premier mainstays, the Spurs are a de facto dynasty.

Ask Tim Duncan how easy it is to start a dynasty. He's secretly assassinated every teammate from his title-less teams except for Tony and Manu.

They haven’t missed the playoffs in the Tim Duncan Era, and have won 4 championships since he arrived, 3 coming in the past 10 years, and all 3 coming within 2 years of each other.

Dynasty rating: 6.99

Los Angeles Lakers (2000, 2001, 2002; 2009, 2010)

It’s hard to argue against the Lakers being a dynasty at some point in the past decade. 2011 not withstanding (we narrowed the focus to decades), the Lakers have won 5 of 10 NBA Championships, and in two sets of succession. Per the definition of dynasty, the Lakers meet the standards. Winning 3 at the beginning of the decade and then 2 in a row at the end of the decade works against them.

What gets lost in the all-or-nothing, black-and-white mentality, however, is that they competed in 2 championship series that they didn’t win in 2004 and 2008. So, even though the math is a little bit hazy, the Lakers won 3, lost 2, then won 2 more. But for three successive years, the Lakers were in rebuilding mode, finishing 34-48, 45-37, and then 42-40. Despite the championship rings, those are not dynastic numbers. They are successive in that the common denominator for all 5 ring-winning teams is the combination of Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher. They even exceeded the 30-40% standard that they were supposed to, winning closer to 50%. But it would be an egregious oversight to ignore the 3 consecutive seasons shrouded in mediocrity and, more importantly, collective insignificance (not individualistically, though. Kobe torched the league in the last two years of the three-year stint of mediocrity, breaking individual scoring records left and right).

Dynasty Rating: 7.77 (in honor of their 7 Finals appearances in 10-11 years)

You might be asking yourself, or screaming obscenities at your computer that are directed to me, what a dynasty is, then.

If the Patriots and Spurs aren’t an official dynasty after 3 and 4 championships in 10-11 years, who is? If the Lakers, who have 5 NBA championships, still have an asterisk by their 7.77 rating, then what gives?

Maybe dynasties are relative. Maybe I’m paying way too much attention to minute details like numbers, definitions, and the like. Maybe we should curve our standards like professors in difficult classes because the task is improbable, sometimes even impossible.

In an age where free agency, salary caps, and collusion run the gauntlet on who plays where, the factors that determine where key players decide to sign are wide-ranging.

But when fans and analysts think a certain team will rule with an iron fist over their “peers,” they’re guilty of buying into hype.

To say that the Green Bay Packers will establish a dynasty because of the skill level of Aaron Rodgers is ludicrous. There have been better quarterbacks who failed to accomplish that same feat. Off the top of my head, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees come to mind. But to their credit, I didn’t hear a lot of people saying that after the Packers won.

But when LeBron James, Dwayne (or Dwyane) Wade, and Chris Bosh teamed up, both they and the rest of the NBA-loving world automatically assumed that them becoming a dynasty is a given. I can’t deny that they will probably win one. But like Michael Jordan told Ray Allen after the 2008 Finals, “One is lucky. Talk to me when you get two.”

Maybe the Heat can win 2. You know what? Let’s get a little crazy and say that they’ll win 3.

Sure. I’ll buy that.

Who’s to say that those titles will be consecutive? Maybe they’ll do it the same way San Antonio did, failing to win back-to-back but winning in alternate years. As talented (on paper) as they are, they should conceivably win 7 titles.

But they won’t.

There’s a reason the Lakers didn’t win again after 2002 until 2009.

There’s a reason San Antonio could never win back-to-backs.

There’s a reason the Patriots haven’t been able to win a playoff game in 3 years.

There’s a reason that Pittsburgh hasn’t made the playoffs in seasons after they’ve won a Superbowl.

Other teams don’t just stand pat.

It’s much harder to defend a title than it is to win one. The reasons are endless. Injuries happen; chemistry issues mount; players regress; opposing players progress, and so on. To assume that a team will win as many rings as people are assuming the Heat will win is insulting to every other franchise in the NBA.

Do you think that you can succeed without pissing people off? Seriously?

Think about it.

Say you’re driving your car and you want to be the first car at the light. In order to do so, you’re going to speed up, weave in and out of traffic, most likely cut a few cars off, and then eventually you’ll reach your desired position in front of traffic. You might think it’s all well and good because you are in a hurry, don’t like driving behind slow cars, or whatever reason. Meanwhile, there’s a pretty little number sitting in a ’70 Camaro that you don’t even know you pissed off who cannot wait until that light turns green. She’s going to accelerate with a purpose and, before you know it, you won’t be first anymore, having been cut off, and you suddenly came out on the losing end of a game that you didn’t even know you were playing. And the funny thing is, she’s probably going to do the same thing to another car while trying to pay you back for cutting her off. It’s circular.

Don't awaken sleeping giants, no matter how pretty they might be.

That’s what success is like. In order to get there, you’re going to step on toes. It’s inevitable. In order to win NBA Championships, you’re going to break a lot of hearts. The Spurs created enemies by winning those rings, the Lakers created enemies by pulling off unfair trades and having a cocky coach, the Patriots created enemies by annoying NFL teams for always being the team to beat (and spygate), and even the surprisingly mildly successful Boston Celtics created enemies by trying to punk everybody.

Teams always react. To counteract the Lakers, teams are getting bigger. For the past three years, a monster has been growing in Oklahoma, and it has been calling on reinforcements. Little by little they came, via draft picks, free agent pickups, and trades. Now, they’re big enough and talented enough to attack the over-whelming strength of the NBA Champion Lakers: their size.

For the past 4 years, the Celtics have ruled the East, emerging as the favorite to either make or win the NBA Finals. In the process of laying waste to their opponents, they forced the hand of LeBron, Dwayne, and Bosh, who realized that they would never beat the Celtics on their own, so they decided to join forces.

Do LeBron, Dwayne, and Bosh think that the league won’t do the same thing to beat them? Do they honestly feel like they won’t eventually meet Oklahoma City? What about the Chicago Bulls, who band together because they were tired of losing to LeBron, the Celtics, and whomever else was better than them?

My point is simple.

Dynasties, per rigid definition, don’t exist anymore because teams will always aim for the teams at the top and do whatever is within their power to beat them. Dynasty candidates can’t conceivably keep their winning streaks up because they carry a target on their backs and 31 other teams are vying for the best sharp-shooters around.

Potential Dynasty rating for Miami: 4.444

Till next time. 

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7 Responses to “The Case Against Dynasties”

  1. Sina Says:

    That was one of the funniest things I have read. The Steelers, I agree with you, we share the same amount of hate for them in my opinion. But who would you say is the greatest dynasty of all time?

  2. Anthony Burrola Says:

    I think you have to say the packers of Vince Lombardi and the Celtics of Bill Russell were the most successful, but their competition wasn’t up to par with today’s standards.

  3. daniel "cool beans" lee Says:

    Good read. I think the greatest dynasty credit goes to the Ming dynasty though!

  4. chappy81 Says:

    I agree with you on some levels. It’s really hard for teams to be a dynasty this day in age when players switch teams like none other. In that same sense I’d call the Lakers a dynasty even though they did suck for awhile (I thoroughly enjoyed those years) in the middle there. With every team out to get you, it’s amazing to just reach the finals two years in a row let alone 7 out of 11 years. Judging a dynasty should go something along the lines of has anyone else done anything close to that in the past 25 years? Only Jordan’s Bulls, which was more impressive imo, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what Phil and Kobe have done…

    I’m not really sold there will be a football or baseball dynasty anytime soon. Baseball feels like a crapshoot every post season. Football you only get one game, and just like college football we don’t always end up with the best team as being the champion. In hoops, 90% of the time we end up with the best team winning…

  5. Anthony Burrola Says:

    “on some levels” is all anyone who writes can ask for.

    Baseball sucks, but football…that’s fun. I think it’s impossible to build a dynasty in football, which is why New England is so impressive.

  6. chappy81 Says:

    Haha not a baseball fan huh!?! New England could’ve had a dynasty, but they fell a little short, and Brady getting hurt for a year didn’t help either. I hate the Patriots, but damn it, I respect them…

  7. Anthony Burrola Says:

    Haha anchor man reference. No, not a baseball fan. BTW I’ll set the date for the chat. Won’t be today.

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