If there was one guy on the stage Friday night for the induction ceremonies at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame who knows all about building a great team, it was Scottie Pippen. And Pippen, for one, isn't yet entirely sold on the Miami Heat.
Pippen was enshrined this weekend in Springfield, Mass., rightfully given his place among the all-time greats after a career that included seven All-Star selections and six NBA titles in the 1990s. Back in his day, Pippen was a part of a Chicago Bulls dynasty that had more star power than anyone in the NBA, between Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and himself. But when given a chance to sound off on the newest collection of superstars in the Association today — a Miami Heat team that now features Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh — Pippen wasn't blown away by their collection of talent.
"You can put a lot of great players together," Pippen said Friday, "but it’s about building chemistry. There’s been a lot of great teams put together, but that doesn’t really seal the deal. I think, me personally, Boston is still probably the best team in the East. Miami hasn’t proven themselves."
That Pippen would speak ill of the Heat's offseason rebuilding is newsworthy, but not entirely surprising. He joins a select group of former NBA stars, including Jordan himself and Charles Barkley as well, to make similar comments this summer.
Athletes as a bunch tend to be generally conservative. They believe in what's tried, true and proven, not what makes sense hypothetically. When you've been around the game as long as Scottie Pippen, you rely on what you've learned from the game through your own experiences.
If Pippen learned anything in his career, it's that the team that sticks together wins together. He and Jordan stuck together for a decade, and they've got six rings to prove it.
So naturally, Pippen's siding with the Celtics, who have kept their core group together for three solid years and are now gearing up for a fourth.
Is he right?
On paper, the Heat certainly look like the team to beat. They have three future Hall of Fame players in their primes right now; the Celtics have three HOF-caliber talents on the decline. Both teams have remarkable supporting casts, but the Celtics' is full of question marks while the Heat's looks loaded and hungry for a title.
On paper, Miami looks like a clear preseason favorite in the Eastern Conference. But the game isn't played on paper, and it isn't played solely over the course of an 82-game regular season.
Great teams are defined by what they accomplish in May and June. The Celtics have won a title and made two more deep playoff runs, including one that ended in a Finals Game 7 on the Staples Center floor; so far, the Heat have accomplished bupkus.
Wade has one ring; he won it in 2006 when he had Shaquille O'Neal and Antoine Walker by his side. LeBron has nothing — in his lone Finals appearance, he never won a game. Bosh has never even come close.
The Celtics are the ones with the proven track record of getting the job done.
Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan have rings. So, too, do Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
We should all know better than to anoint LeBron and Bosh as champions just yet. If they want to earn it, they've got plenty of work to do.