A friend of mine is a diehard Pistons fan and he's been trying to argue that Detroit's 3 titles are more impressive than the bulk of LA's. The real crux of his argument is that established MVP-level superstar talent continually bail out the Laker franchise, because they reach a level of celebrity and wealth that they want to live near other rich and famous. Los Angeles, of course, is the location for that.
As he puts it, "Bragging that Los Angeles has more championships than other NBA cities is a bit like bragging that that of all NBA cities, LA has made the most oscar-winning films and has the most multi-million dollar homes."
Sounds a bit like salt to me, but it made me wonder... how many NBA championships are a direct result of a superstar free agent signing or a MVP-talent demanding a trade to a city? We can start with LA where it appears 4 of their 5-6 greatest players of all-time were established elsewhere:
- Wilt Chamberlain in 1968: He was already a 4x MVP who had won a title with Philly before forcing one of the most lopsided trades in history to Los Angeles. As wiki explains it: "the center felt he had grown too big for Philadelphia, sought the presence of fellow celebrities (which were plenty in L.A.) and finally also desired the opportunity to date white women, which was possible for a black man in L.A. but hard to imagine elsewhere back then." Direct result: 1972 Championship
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974: Mirroring Wilt, Kareem was already a 3x MVP who had won a title with the Bucks before forcing one of the most lopsided trades in history to Los Angeles. By the mid 70s, Jabbar had started appearing in films. He had said the Midwest did not fit his cultural needs and demanded they trade him to LA. Direct result: 5 championships including 1 Finals MVP
- Shaquille O'Neal in 1996: Already a 4x all-star through his first 4 seasons, the all-nba player raced to LA after describing himself a "big fish in a small dried up pond" in Orlando. Shaq was in the process of starring in films and releasing rap albums. Los Angeles was a logical choice. Notably, modern restricted free agency rules would have kept Shaq on the Magic during his title years. Direct result: 2000, 2001, 2002 titles
- LeBron James in 2018: Already a 4x MVP and 3x champion, LeBron already lived in LA as he is starting to star in movies and also owns a LA-based production company that makes TV shows and films. Los Angeles made sense for his empire. Direct result: 2020 title
So, something in the range of 6-10 championships that came as a direct result of the franchise being located in Hollywood. As my friend puts it, "You think they'd still have those 10 championships if they stayed in Minneapolis? Hell no. They have them because famous people want to live in Los Angeles."
Of course, this doesn't even include Anthony Davis who made it clear he'd only accept a trade to LA.
Granted, I'd still say that 2 of those Kobe titles and maybe all 5 of those Magic (+ Kareem) titles are home grown, but my friend argues that his 3 Pistons titles are more impressive than all 10 of them. As he puts it, "This doesn't seem to happen with any other franchise. Do MVP winners in Detroit demand a trade to Portland? Do MVP winners in San Antonio demand a trade to Sacramento? No. Unless the destination is Los Angeles, it doesn't happen."
I countered with the following examples:
- Kevin Durant: Technically, he counts as an MVP that jumped ship and resulted in a couple Golden State Warriors titles. Of course, historically he'll always been seen as a player who bandwagoned onto a 73 win team that nearly won back-to-back titles without him
- LeBron (again): LeBron jumping ship to Miami might be the only other example of a superstar free agent signing resulting in championships. Technically, you might also count Cleveland bringing him back.
So, if you factor in the Golden State and Miami examples, does this mean it's exclusive to NBA cities with year-round beach weather?
I tried digging further. Kawhi Leonard is an example of an MVP-level player who demanded a trade (to Los Angeles, of course) and a ballsy Raptor franchise gambled on bringing him in for a season instead = 1 title. Kevin Garnett is an example of an MVP-level player who probably would have continued playing in Minnesota indefinitely, but his team finally decided to trade him. Though he preferred a move to Los Angeles, the Wolves listened to offers from the Bulls, Warriors, Pacers, Suns, Mavericks and Lakers before accepting an offer from the Celtics. = 1 title.
The rest of the title winners throughout history... whether it be Dirk with the Mavs, Jordan with the Bulls, Duncan with the Spurs, etc were accomplished through normal methods like savvy GM work, competent team-building and good-ol-fashioned tanking. Tl;DR: From what I can tell 6-10 Laker championships that might have gone to teams like the Bucks, Sixers or Magic had one franchise not had the good fortune of being geographically located at the center of celebrity culture. Beyond that, maybe LeBron with Miami and maybe Durant with the Warriors? That seems to be it.