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Rarity of the repeat

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff October 28, 2008 09:41 AM

Winning one is difficult enough.

Back-to-back is something else entirely.

Perhaps in this day and age of free agency and parity our classification of a dynasty should include a clause that you must win in consecutive seasons to be eligible. If that were the case, you'd be able to call the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02) the NBA's lone dynasty this decade. In the NFL, only the Patriots would qualify.

Nobody considers the NHL's New Jersey Devils a dynasty despite winning a trio of Stanley Cups over a nine-year period. After two World Series wins in four years, some might consider the Red Sox a dynasty. That's premature, however, for a team that has only won its own division once this decade. If the Sox hadn't suffered key injuries this month, and found a way to get past the Rays in the ALCS, that debate might have ended with the Sox becoming baseball's first dynasty of this century.

Win back-to-back, and all questions of your greatness seep out the door. Any proposal of fluke is put to rest. You're no longer a one-year wonder.

Winning one championship? Difficult, but in the grand scheme of all things legendary, it's no big deal. Someone does it every year in every sport. On average, you have about a 1-in-30 shot at partying after the final game of the season.

Yet only two pro teams from the Big Four sports have managed to take home titles in consecutive seasons this decade. The closest thing you could otherwise argue as a “dynasty” would be the San Antonio Spurs’ three NBA titles, which since 2003 have come in seasons ending in an odd integer. That’s difficult to overlook despite the lack of back-to-back championships.

Then again, nobody is questioning San Antonio’s legitimacy, like some are doing about the Celtics, who “survived” a seven-game series against the otherwise overmatched Atlanta Hawks, “survived” getting past LeBron James and the Cavaliers, then beat a shorthanded Lakers team without the services of Andrew Bynum for the title.

Boston completed the greatest turnaround in league history, and still left others in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and ... yes, Atlanta wondering, “what if?”

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Michael Jordan told Celtics star Ray Allen, “When you win one, you've just [been] lucky.''

More than one, you’re legit. Back-to-back, you’re in the dynasty discussion.

This is what the Celtics face heading into defense of their 2007-08 crown, the challenge of winning a second a year later, something this storied franchise hasn’t managed to do in 40 years. Only the Lakers (twice), Bulls (twice), Rockets, and Pistons have pulled off the feat since.

It is arguably the most difficult thing to accomplish in all of professional sports, a two-season journey, at minimum, the overall prize the golden nugget at the end of a day-to-day focus that can scarcely be broken.

Win one? Heck, the Anaheim Ducks have their names etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Greatness no longer necessarily comes with the sole championship. People still refer to Brett Favre as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, even though it was almost 12 years ago, in a game in which Desmond Howard made things a heck of a lot easier. That’s not to knock his place in history, but Trent Dilfer has as many rings.

If it seems almost diabolically arrogant to insist that one title means a stroke of luck or some sort of cosmic pathway to nirvana, the latter of which was often cited during the Red Sox’ run in 2004. But someone has to win annually. Rarer is the repeat, a true sign of greatness.

Can the Celtics do it? In no other league is it more set up to do so than the NBA, which doesn’t speak to its ease, but rather the overwhelming difficulty of doing it in football, baseball, and especially hockey. Yes, the Celtics’ 30-somethings are all a year older (Kevin Garnett, 32, Ray Allen, 33, Paul Pierce, 31), but in a league filled with far too many green-behind-the-ears players jumping at the chance for cash in exchange for an early dismissal from school, experience and veteran leadership are perhaps the most needed and wanted intangibles on most NBA squads. And nobody can mess with the amount the Celtics have.

The loss of James Posey will be felt at times this season, but please, enough of the hue and cry over his decision to flee via free agency. Rajon Rondo, already considered by some among the best point men in the game, should see improvement in his third season in the NBA. Leon Powe, Eddie House, and Glen Davis should be a triple threat coming off the bench.

Still, add Bynum to the Lakers and who knows what happens last June, never mind the next time around. Chris Paul is looking to lead the Hornets to the title, a possibility for certain if he plays anywhere near his MVP-caliber season of a year ago. The Cavs and James are a year older, and likely more dangerous, and the Spurs would like to remind everyone that 2009 ends in an odd number.

But if any of them do take the title come the end of the season, the same questions will surround them. Only one team can consider themselves among the NBA greats of the last half-century by winning back-to-back titles. That’s what the Celtics have on the line now.

They dish out titles every year, whether you’re lucky or good. It’s the ones that win it again that silence any question of the former.

3 comments so far...
  1. The Cavs being a year older isn't a positive for them when they have Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, and Wally. What helps them is the addition of Mo Williams who will finally get The King running. That team will be scary, as well as a number of other East teams that have improved (Toronto, Philly, etc.). It's a tougher road for the C's this year, but their record didn't reflect how good they actually were last year.

    Posted by J-Bone October 28, 08 12:23 PM
  1. Can we stop the "lucky" comments? And also stop with "...if the Lakers had Bynum."? If Kobe was out fine, but Bynum played less than half a season and all of a sudden he's a critical piece on a Final's team? Whatever. Lakers fans just want it both ways because they were still picked to win in 6 games last year, now because they lost, it was because of Bynum.

    Posted by Classless October 28, 08 03:32 PM
  1. The Celts were emotional tonight and rightfully so. Yet as champions, they found a way to win. Their second unit looked a little rusty tonight as the ball did not move around well and many of them forced the issue. Doc will straighten that out in his effort to help each player trust making the extra pass. That said, they do look hungry for a repeat. Go Celts!!!

    Posted by imsointoyoudotcom October 29, 08 12:05 AM
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