New Faces, New Places: Who Had the Biggest Impact?
There are 10 banners lined up, the number of titles the Lakers have won since they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960. For you historians, they had won five while in Minnesota.
"Just looking up there, you've got to give it to Kareem,'' said Fisher, a Lakers guard. "Shaq's my guy. That's hard for me to say.''
The question for Fisher, who grew up a fan of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Lakers and played with Shaquille O'Neal during his entire Los Angeles stint, was: Historically, what NBA star who changed teams had the greatest impact with his new team?
Really, there are only two candidates. There's Abdul-Jabbar, who helped the Lakers to five titles after being acquired from Milwaukee in 1975, and won three of his record six MVP trophies in his 14 years in Los Angeles.
There's O'Neal, who, after leaving Orlando for the Lakers as a free agent in 1996, led Los Angeles to three crowns and won an MVP trophy in his eight years with the team. As for current Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, he's not being considered here because he wasn't yet a star when his draft rights were dealt by Charlotte to the Lakers during that same summer of 1996.
Abdul-Jabbar is a modest fellow, but even he believes he belongs at the top of this list.
"I fit that mold, so, yeah, probably,'' said the big fellow (top right), now a special assistant with the Lakers.
But that doesn't necessarily mean Abdul-Jabbar always will be at the top. There's a King in Cleveland who just might abdicate his throne and go elsewhere.
If LeBron James changes teams in his prime and with two MVP trophies already on his mantle, it has a chance to end up as the most seismic move the NBA ever has seen. James could leave the Cavaliers as a free agent this summer or a sign-and-trade may be worked out.
"It's all going to depend on where he goes and what the management of the team that he goes to wants to do in terms of getting the right people to play with him,'' said Abdul-Jabbar, when asked if James' exit could end up competing with his move for the biggest team change in NBA history. "People that he played with in Cleveland, it was kind of like Frankenstein's monster. A lot of attractive parts, but they didn't work well together.
"They didn't have time really to build it with a good team with the whole family thing going, where you put the pieces together and they mold. But that didn't happen. LeBron's an extraordinary talent. But unless you put it together with compatible talent, it's not going to work.''
Even with two guys as immense in talent and size as the 7-foot-2 Abdul-Jabbar and the 7-foot-1 O'Neal, it didn't work right away for either center. Abdul-Jabbar didn't win a title until his fifth season in Los Angeles, and only after the Lakers drafted point guard Magic Johnson. And O'Neal didn't get one until his fourth season with the Lakers, after Bryant had matured enough following his entry from high school.
If you want the most instant impact for a star changing teams, standing alone is center Moses Malone, who became a veteran free agent after winning his second MVP with Houston in 1982. After Malone signed with the 76ers, the Rockets, who couldn't afford to pay Malone what he was seeking, got center Caldwell Jones and a first-round pick in 1983 (Rodney McCray) as compensation. Malone then won his third MVP while leading the 76ers to the 1983 NBA crown.
But Malone can't be put in the same category as Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal because he didn't sustain the success. The 76ers never could get back to the Finals with Malone, who was shipped to Washington in the summer of 1986.
Center Wilt Chamberlain, who headlined the two most blockbuster NBA trades of the 1960s, also falls short in challenging Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal. Chamberlain twice ended up bringing titles to his new team but still didn't win as much as hoped.
Chamberlain went from San Francisco to Philadelphia in January 1965 and soon won three straight MVPs with the 76ers (1966-68) and the 1967 crown. The big man then went from Philadelphia to the Lakers in 1968, and eventually helped the Los Angeles to the 1972 crown.
In the early 1970s, the Lakers battled Milwaukee for Western Conference supremacy. The Bucks, with Abdul-Jabbar and legendary guard Oscar Robertson leading the way, won the 1971 NBA crown and lost in Game 7 to Boston in the 1974 Finals.
But after the Bucks staggered to a 38-44 record in 1974-75, Abdul-Jabbar wanted out. A commonly told story is Abdul-Jabbar, a New York native who played in college at UCLA, sought to go to a bigger city to practice his Muslim religion. But Abdul-Jabbar said that wasn't the reason he asked for a trade.
"I can practice my faith anywhere,'' he said. "The Bucks weren't going to be vying for a championship any time soon. ... Oscar retired, so it was going to be a while before we got back to where we would be contenders.
"I wanted to go from Milwaukee to New York to go home, and New York couldn't make a deal. They had money but they didn't have the players that Milwaukee wanted. L.A. had players and money. So L.A. was my second home. I went to UCLA so I OK'd the deal. That's how it happened.''
On June 16, 1975, the Bucks shipped Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers along with Walt Wesley for Junior Bridgeman, David Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters. And the Lakers, with Chamberlain having departed in 1973, had another dominant center.
With the trade having stripped the Lakers of some talented players, Abdul-Jabbar said they initially "didn't have the nucleus'' to win a title. But that all changed after Johnson was drafted with the top pick in 1979. The Lakers went to eight of the next 10 NBA Finals, winning five times before Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989.
The Lakers then went seven years before their next dominant center arrived. It came in the form of O'Neal, who, after playing four seasons with the Magic, is definitely at the top of the heap when it comes to the biggest free-agent signing in NBA history.
"Maybe if Kareem meant more in terms of basketball in winning championships; Shaq meant more in terms of revitalizing a city and revitalizing an organization that ... had been dormant, really,'' said Fisher, who was a rookie with the Lakers in 1996-97, when O'Neal arrived. "At least since the Finals in '91 [a loss to Chicago], they really hadn't really found much success."
"Shaq coming here changed the entire landscape of how people viewed the Lakers, the expectations, all the things that followed. ... I don't think anybody's ever [done] that other than coming to [a city] like a LeBron (drafted by Cleveland in 2003). I don't think anybody's had that kind of impact on a whole city, region, organization. And, therefore, if [James] were to leave it could be that way in reverse.''
If James bolts, it certainly could wreck the Cavaliers. Then again, maybe another phenom soon could arrive. Houston got so bad after Malone left the Rockets ended up with the top pick in consecutive drafts, taking Ralph Sampson in 1983 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984.
If James departs this summer, some other team figures to be quite fortunate. Could it be Chicago, New York, New Jersey or another outfit?
"It depends on where he goes and who he brings with him,'' said Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who doesn't believe one has to be a dominant big man to be lumped in with Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal among players making the greatest impact after changing teams.
He cited the dominance of Michael Jordan.
"It doesn't matter if you don't have any help," Barkley said. "But I hope he stays in Cleveland. That would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be born in a city [Akron, Ohio, 40 miles south of Cleveland] and become a legend.''
If James leaves, he will seek to become a legend in another city, something Barkley knows about. The forward was traded from Philadelphia to Phoenix in the summer of 1992, and was named MVP and led the Suns to the NBA Finals in his first season out west.
With that in mind, one might think Barkley would make a top-10 list of stars having the biggest impact after changing teams. The only problem is Barkley said he doesn't deserve that recognition.
"I wouldn't put myself on that list,'' said Barkley, whose 1993 loss to Jordan's Bulls marked his only Finals appearance. "I think that to be on that list you've got to win a championship. You've got to have a title if you're saying that a guy who changes teams changes the whole organization.''
We'll listen to Sir Charles on this one. So he's off the list.
But that means Phoenix guard Steve Nash also is left off. After bolting Dallas to sign as a free agent in 2004, Nash was named MVP in his first two seasons with the Suns. But he has yet to make even one Finals appearance, coming up short for the fourth time in the conference finals last week when Phoenix fell to the Lakers.
With Los Angeles winning and Boston also advancing to the Finals, that means Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett are on a list in which they soon could move up. But, for now, here are the top 10 stars to have made the greatest impact after switching NBA teams:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Traded by Milwaukee to the Lakers in the summer of 1975. Won three of his NBA record six MVPs and five of his six NBA titles after the trade. His first four seasons in Los Angeles didn't produce even an NBA Finals appearance. But the Lakers took off after adding Johnson in 1979. Played 14 seasons for the Lakers, retiring in 1989 at age 42.
2. Shaquille O'Neal. Signed as a free agent with the Lakers on July 18, 1996 after four seasons with Orlando. Won the MVP and scoring crown in 1999-2000. Led the Lakers to titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and a runner-up finish in 2004. Was clearly the NBA's most dominant center in his eight Lakers seasons, six times being named to the All-NBA first team. O'Neal's trade from the Lakers to Miami in 2004 makes him a candidate to be a two-time entry in the top 10 -- like Chamberlain. But he gets squeezed out due to just one Finals appearance with the Heat (albeit a 2006 win) and no MVP.
3. Wilt Chamberlain (Sixers). Traded by the San Francisco Warriors to Philadelphia on Jan. 15, 1965 for Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash. Won MVP trophies in 1966, 1967 and 1968, after each of his only three full seasons with the 76ers. Led Philadelphia to the 1967 NBA title after 76ers went 68-13, then an NBA record. Won two scoring titles and three rebounding titles in four seasons with the 76ers.
4. Wilt Chamberlain (Lakers). Traded by Philadelphia to the Lakers on July 9, 1968 for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff. Helped lead the Lakers to Finals appearances in 1969, 1970, 1972 and 1973, winning in 1972 after going 69-13, a new NBA record. Won four rebounding titles in five Lakers seasons.
5. Julius Erving. Sold by the New York Nets to Philadelphia on Oct. 20, 1976 for $3 million after the New York Knicks demanded $4.8 million from the Nets for moving from the ABA into their NBA territory. In 11 Philadelphia seasons, the forward was named MVP in 1981 and helped lead the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983. The Sixers won the title in 1983.
6. Moses Malone. Signed as a veteran free agent by Philadelphia on Sept. 2, 1982. Houston received Caldwell Jones and a 1983 first-round pick, which would be Rodney McCray at No. 3, as compensation. In his first season with the 76ers, Malone was named MVP and helped the 76ers to a 65-17 mark and the title. Won three rebounding titles in four 76ers seasons.
7. Elvin Hayes. Traded by Houston to the Baltimore Bullets on June 23, 1972, for Jack Marin. In eight seasons with the organization, the power forward helped lead his team to the Finals in 1975, 1978 and 1979, winning in 1978. Won the rebunding title in 1973-74. Teamed with center Wes Unseld to provide a formidable post duo.
8. Kevin Garnett. Traded by Minnesota to Boston on July 31, 2007 for Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two 2009 first-round picks (Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington). The forward led the Celtics to the NBA title in 2008 and now has Boston back in the Finals for the second time in his three seasons there. Named 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year and to the All-NBA first team.
9. Pau Gasol. Traded Feb. 1, 2008, from Memphis to the Lakers along with a second-round pick for Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, a 2008 first-round pick (Donte Green) and a 2010 first-round pick. The big man has made three Finals appearances in three Lakers postseasons, including winning it all in 2009. Has made the All-NBA third team two straight seasons.
10. Oscar Robertson. Traded April 21, 1970, by Cincinnati to Milwaukee for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson. Nearly 32, was falling out of his prime after joining the Bucks. Still, teamed with Abdul-Jabbar to lead Milwaukee to the 1971 title while averaging 19.4 points and being named to the All-NBA second team. Played four Bucks seasons before retiring after the loss in the 1974 Finals. His retirement was one reason Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of Milwaukee, so that sure shows Robertson's importance.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson