SI Vault
 
THE DOMINANCE THEORY
Kostya Kennedy
June 25, 2001
Dynasties are the yardsticks by which sports history is measured
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 25, 2001

The Dominance Theory

View CoverRead All Articles

Dynasties are the yardsticks by which sports history is measured

We watch sports to see great plays and great games, great athletes and, of course, great teams. Dynasties form the foundation upon which sports history is built. The Yankees, the Canadiens, the Celtics, the 49ers: They're the standard against which all other teams are judged.

Would the Brooklyn Dodgers endure so sweetly in memory if they hadn't struggled so valiantly—and for the most part, so futilely—against those Yankees bullies? The value of a dynasty is that the reigning team is at once loved and hated; a fan can't feel the thrill of an underdog's triumph unless there's a top dog firmly in place. Take golf, which is thriving in these Tiger Woods years. Woods's dominance provides us with an overriding reference point: How does everyone else stack up, or not stack up, against him?

Like many previously neutral observers, I took a shine to the 76ers after they won Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Could they really upset the mighty Lakers? I wondered. That glimmer of hope, which fueled my interest in the series, was made possible because the Lakers are mighty, which is why I'm glad they're well on their way to becoming a dynasty.

Nothing cheapens a championship trophy more than having it pass like an unwanted heirloom from team to team. It implies a randomness, like the one currently undermining the NFL. You remember the Steelers of the 1970s and the Niners of the '80s, but, quick, who won the last five Super Bowls? Years from now you'll recall Michael Jordan's Bulls and Shaq 'n' Kobe's Lakers. But you'll scratch your head trying to remember who won the titles in between—or you won't scratch your head, because you won't care.
—Kostya Kennedy

Dynasties are the cudgels that destroy competitive drama

I deplore dynasties for the same reasons critics rip a formulaic movie: stock characters, predictable plot. Would we really be worse off if Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Jazz had, just once, knocked off Michael and the Bulls? Or if the Yankees would give the Red Sox another chance to exorcise the Curse of the Bambino? No, give me the New York Rangers' lone Stanley Cup in 54 years; a Game 7 in which Mutombo's bones beat Shaq's bulk; a World Cup final in which Brazil loses to anyone. (O.K., maybe not to Argentina.) If the alternative is rampant Steinbrennerism, I'll take the World Series winner whose owner has spent the least money.

This isn't meant to extol the liquidation of the 1997 Florida Marlins or to give a pass to the NFL, whose owners have revenue-shared into extinction the incentive to win. Nonetheless, to embrace the top dog for helping us appreciate the under-pup is like praising the bully for giving us a sense of compassion. Only after a round of trust-busting during the second half of the last century did sports boom. It took UCLA's eviction from the Final Four by the UNC Charlottes and Indiana States of the field before the NCAA tournament became a Tiffany television property, and the Yankees' tumble from their perch in the 1960s for baseball to fully flourish beyond the Mississippi.

As for the example of Tiger, let's be careful what we wish for. What if a dominant athlete happens not to have Woods's �lan? What if, while squatting at No. 1 for 156 straight weeks, a tedious dynast turns as many people off his sport as Tiger has turned on to his? With Ivan Lendl, I rest my case.
—Alexander Wolff

1