Word on the Street

Championship Piggyback (cham’-pe-uhn-ship pig’-e-bak) noun. The situation in which one or more players – usually roleplayers and/or aging veterans – sign on with or get traded to a “sure bet” championship contender, often for a reduced salary, in the hopes of winning that elusive NBA title before retirement.

Usage example:Almost half of the Celtics’ current roster are playing championship piggyback.”

Word trivia: By my count, the Boston Celtics are the current league leaders in championship piggybackers: Eddie House (who was practically out of the league), James Posey (who left the Heat), P.J. Brown (who left his couch), Sam Cassell (who forced the Clippers into a buyout), and Scot Pollard (is he even still playing?) all jumped onto the Celtic Championship Express. (I’m both thankful and kind of disappointed that Reggie Miller didn’t do it.) The Spurs, always a highly desireable location for the CPs (who can forget Glenn Robinson celebrating the hell out of the 2005 NBA title?), has two standing examples (Brent Barry and Michael Finley) and two new additions (Damon Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas).

Of course, the most classic contemporary example of championship piggybacking was when Gary Payton and Karl Malone took huge paycuts – GP accepted the mid-level exception and The Mailman took the veteran’s minimum – to sign with the Lakers back in 2003-04. Of course, we all know how that turned out. The irony is that Malone obviously wanted a “sure thing” but turned down an offer from the Spurs, who were the reigning champs, because he wanted to be the X Factor that pushed L.A. back over the top. Unfortunately for Malone, L.A.’s medical staff misdiagnosed his knee injury, telling him that a torn medial collateral ligament was nothing more than a sprain, which caused further injury and transformed the former NBA ironman into a shuffling, slow-footed shell of his former self. If you ever wonder why the Pistons mandhandled the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, that’s a big reason why.

The second most famous recent example has to be the 2005-06 Miami Heat, a team chock-full of late 90s and early 2000s All-Stars like Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Jason Williams. Yes, that abomination won the NBA title and despoiled 2000 years of human history with the words “Antoine Walker, World Champion,” but this year’s 13-win squad is living, breathing, sucking proof that karma is indeed a real thing. It also shows what can happen when a team mortgages its future for The Now.

The Chicago Bulls were a favored CP destination back in the 1990s, with guys like Dennis Rodman, Joe Klein, Luc Longley, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, and even Robert Parish – okay, that one hurt me physically – signing on to play caddy for Michael Jordan. The Celtics and Lakers of the 80s got their fair share of piggybacking: Boston picked up guys like Bill Walton, Jerry Sichting, and Scott Wedman, and L.A. rented the services of Bob McAdoo, Mychal Thompson, and Orlando Woolridge, among others.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Clyde Drexler did it with the Houston Rockets in 1994-95 – and got a ring for his troubles – which led both Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen to jump on the Houston rocketship in 1997-98 and 1998-99 respectively. Too bad The Dream, Sir Charles and Pip were old and used up by then. Sorry. I mean “past their prime.”

Upate: Reader Mats F. called me out on the following somewhat unforgivable omission: “You absolutely can’t leave Mitch Richmond and the 2002 Lakers off this list. The lone bright spot for Sacramento fans seeing L.A. beat their beloved team was seeing their long time martyr dance with glee at getting his ring. They even let him play a few minutes in one of the games against New Jersey.” Thanks, Mats. You’re absolutely right. My bad.

Synonyms: We created the term “championship piggyback,” but we also once referred to players who do it as “championship remoras,” so named after those little suckerfish that latch onto sharks, whales and other large fish in order to live off of their scraps. According to Wikipedia: “The relationship between remoras and their hosts is most often taken to be one of commensalism, specifically phoresy. The host they attach to for transport gains nothing from the relationship, but also loses little.” Is there any better way to describe Glenn Robinson’s stint with the Spurs back in ’05, or Scot Pollard’s run with the Celtics today? Personally, I don’t think so.

One last note: Barry and Finley are indeed valuable roleplayers with the Spurs. But, as noted, piggybackers aren’t always useless slobs. They sometimes contribute greatly to the cause. However, there’s no question that Finley went to the Spurs, and Barry recently returned, because they felt as though it was the best system for them and held the greatest chance for winning another title.

Piggybackers? Well you do what you have to.

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Labels: Gary Payton (GP) / Karl Malone (The Mailman) / Bob McAdoo / Mychal Thompson / Orlando Woolridge / Dennis Rodman / Bill Walton / Jerry Sichting / Scott Wedman / Joe KleinLuc Longley /Ron Harper / Steve Kerr / Robert Parish / Alonzo Mourning / Antoine Walker / Jason Williams / Eddie House / Clyde Drexler / James Posey / P.J. Brown / Sam Cassell / Damon Stoudamire / Scot Pollard / Michael Finley / Charles Barkley (Sir Charles) / Scottie Pippen (Pip) / Hakeem Olajuwon (The Dream) / Brent Barry / Glenn Robinson / Mitch Richmond / Kurt Thomas / Los Angeles Clippers / Houston RocketsBoston Celtics / Sacramento Kings / New Jersey Nets / Miami Heat / Chicago BullsSan Antonio Spurs / Detroit Pistons / Los Angeles Lakers / 2004 NBA Finals / NBA ChampionshipNBA / Word on the Street

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