The Alpha Dog: Why the Term Is Dead and Dying In The NBA

Josh DelpContributor ISeptember 20, 2010

Kobe: "I appreciate those kind words you had to say about me Shaq."
Kobe: "I appreciate those kind words you had to say about me Shaq."Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

I read a satirically written article on Bleacher Report the other day about Kobe Bryant that pointed to all of the reasons people hated on Kobe Bryant. One of the many insults the author runs through includes the fact that if Kobe didn’t have Pau Gasol or Shaquille O’Neal, he would not have had five rings right now. His inability to coexist with Shaq led to the team’s separation and the end of something that could have been much bigger.

Kobe Bryant is the poster boy for the “alpha dog” moniker in the NBA. At least, he was. With time, he has learned that success in basketball cannot be had by an individual player. It takes a TEAM effort to win, a theory some people don’t seem to subscribe to with all of this “who’s the best player” talk.

Kobe’s worst years in the league came after Shaq left the Lakers. Kobe was a mess. Yes, he was the proverbial alpha dog during that period. But what happened? He had no supporting cast. A guy as proud and talented as Kobe wasn’t very accepting of the team because they weren’t clicking and they weren’t winning. He didn’t think his team could win. Those are the ingredients of an 81-point game. Those are also the ingredients of ill-advised and hasty trade demands. He almost became a Bull for those of you who forgot.

Once the Lakers were gift-wrapped Paul Gasol from the Grizzlies, they were considered instant championship contenders. Why? One, because they have Kobe, and two because they received a second top-tier talent to HELP the TEAM win. And the rest is history. Kobe will be the first one to point to the reason why he has had recent success.

As everyone is well aware, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are all on the same team now after being the number one option on their previous teams. One of the many questions that they have received is “who will get the ball in crunch time” or “how will your egos coexist with each other?” Look, these guys are buddies. They will have no problem stepping aside and letting the other have the limelight. In the end, who cares if James, Wade, Bosh, or even Mike Miller gets the ball in crunch time? As Coach Herm Edwards uttered the infamous phrase: “You play to win the game.” It’s as simple as that. If you don’t go into it with that kind of mindset, then you won’t get much accomplished. These guys joined forces to win. That’s what they care about most. I’m pretty sure they aren’t that torn apart about leaving their teams for greener pastures. Did James and Bosh give up and bail on their teams? Yes. Do they have a greater opportunity to win now as opposed to where they were? Absolutely. And it’s all because they want to win and they went after the greatest chance to do so. James had a great team in Cleveland. By all accounts, he could have won there had he stuck around in my opinion. Bosh had a mediocre team in Toronto. He couldn’t have won there, so he left.

Amare Stoudemire was in a great situation with a Hall of Fame point guard in Steve Nash, but he fled to the Knicks, partly because he wanted to be the alpha dog. There’s that pesky phrase again. When three guys forfeit their position as the featured guy on a team and join together (i.e. James, Wade, and Bosh), they form a force to be reckoned with. When one guy leaves a successful team to join another not so successful one to get more money and to be a go-to guy (i.e. Stoudemire), then you get a team in flux that won’t win many games. I applaud James and Bosh’s decision to play with one another. They will be sacrificing point production, but they will be gaining so much more. It’s a no-brainer.

I struggle to understand the people who criticize Bosh and especially James for not staying loyal to their teams and trying to win a title by themselves. I’m all for the loyalty part, but these guys aren’t trying to “win one by themselves.” It’s a team game!

How many elite talents in the NBA have won a title without another elite talent? None! Not one! Let’s look at the past champions: the Lakers (Bryant and Gasol; Bryant and Shaq), Celtics (Garnett, Pierce, and Allen), Heat (Wade and Shaq), Spurs (Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker), Pistons (…their whole starting lineup!), Bulls (Jordan and Pippen), Rockets (Olajuwon, Smith, and Drexler). Do you see what I’m getting at? Not only do you need more than one elite athlete, but you need a cohesive unit that complements each other’s game. That’s one of the main reasons why “Miami Thrice” came to fruition. Shortly after Lebron made is ill-conceived “Decision,” people were already asking if the Heatwere now favorites to win it all. Well, at that point there were only four guys committed and under contract for the team (James, Wade, Bosh, and Mario Chalmers)! I don’t think they had much of a shot with players on the roster, but that’s just me.

Next time you question Lebron’s or Kobe’s motives, understand what they are striving towards. Understand their competitive drive. Understand their hunger for success. Understand, ultimately, their desire to put to death the “alpha dog.”


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