“This is it.” Whether or not Brett Favre actually means those words is one thing, but either way, the Minnesota Vikings, much of the NFL and many football fans across the country have been sucking furiously on the nipple of the Ol’ Gunslinger for the past few summers. He’s the Han Solo of football. He’s in. He’s out. Back in again. Gone tomorrow.
How many athletes can get away with blatantly and repeatedly testing the power of not only a coach, but also an entire organization? In football, it takes an extra special case; there are so many players and positions that hardly anyone, outside of a quarterback, can earn that kind of clout.
But in the NBA, where one guy can torture or turn around a whole franchise, players have some power and can afford to make mistakes or challenge authority … unless they pull a Sprewell.
So as Favre continues to wield his influence like a 1995 Suge Knight, let’s look at five of the most powerful NBA players:
Considering he’s had the lone no-trade clause in the NBA since 2004, I would say Bean has a pretty tight grip on the Lakers. And while Dirk Nowitzki joined that esteemed list this summer, the Mamba still runs shit in Hollywood. Guys on the end of the Lakers bench might as well be his personal ball-boys, shoe shiners and laundry go-getters. Ask Josh Powell. But Bryant does get along with a lot of the younger kids on the team and is sort of a father figure to them. And Derek Fisher’s value in the organization skyrocketed when it became clear Fish was the only teammate Kobe really listens to.
Kobe’s influence on this franchise rivals that of any other player in the League, right on down to the treatment he expects his wife and family to receive. And look at every move the Lakers have either made or tried to make in the past few seasons: Bryant has had his hand in everything.
No coach/player relationship in the NBA is any closer to an even level than Duncan and Gregg Popovich. The Spurs’ organization and front office takes a lot of its cues from the power forward: smart, cunning and content outside of the spotlight. In reality, Duncan is respected and listened to by his teammates on the same level that they listen to Pop. The emotions of the team flow through him. Ever wondered how everyone who shows up there immediately falls in line? R.C. Buford doesn’t do that.
Duncan will assuredly be offered an important position in the organization once his playing days are over. But knowing him, he won’t take it. Power means virtually nothing to the Big Fundamental.
I thought about putting Chris Paul on this list, but when you play on such a bad team in a terrible market, it limits how much pull you have. Then I thought about throwing in a wild card like Derek Fisher — Kobe’s boy and the President of the NBA Players Association — but 38 percent shooting doesn’t equate to power.
Durant might be only 21 years old and not interested in much besides dropping buckets, but if he wanted to be the man in the Midwest, he could. He has almost single-handedly turned the Thunder into a future title contender, their rise parellel to his own. The next five years will be his.
This situation is eerily reminiscent of Duncan’s early years with the Spurs. Without KD, Oklahoma City would be virtually irrelevant. This team is his. The city is his. Moving forward, most of the Thunder’s decisions will be made with Durant in mind because there is absolutely no way OKC can afford to lose their best player. As an athlete, that’s the pinnacle of power.
When you can get your neighborhood boys put on the team payroll and your high school buddies roster spots in the Vegas Summer League, you know it’s your world. LeBron had it like that in Cleveland; a homegrown superstar who always had his impending free agency as leverage. Figuratively, the King just brought his throne down to Miami with him.
Chicago was taken out of the running for James this summer after they reportedly said they wouldn’t hire his people. Miami will. The Heat has had a no-headband rule for a while. LeBron was already wearing one at the Miami Thriceapalooza introductions.
While his pre-game and celebratory antics aren’t often accepted as good for the game, LeBron gets away with them — while making everything bigger and better — because he is the largest name in the League.
The big German was able to secure his own no-trade clause this summer amidst re-negotiations with his Mavericks. That basically assures Dirk will finish out his career in the big D. But this situation is funny. Whereas TD and Pop are about as friendly and respectful as any two in that position can get, the relationship between Mark Cuban and Dirk is like an obsessed fan and player, Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes.
Nowitzki was the face of the franchise for the past decade, but did he really deserve it? He’s a great player, one of the best ever from Europe, but what has he ever really won? Most people don’t think he’s a guy who can lead a team to a title. Cuban does, which in turn gives Dirk the power to influence decisions.
Luckily, Nowitzki doesn’t seem to care about the “other” stuff; he just wants to play ball. There was chatter recently about Dallas’ position as a possible destination for Chris Paul. If Nowitzki really wants him, there is a good chance Cuban will go out and get the PG for him.