When then-Lakers head coach, Pat Riley, trademarked the phrase "three-peat" it was a tad bit premature. His Lakers team was the first to win back-to-back titles in nearly 20 years and seemed destined to make it three in a row. Although Riley was unable to make a profit on the use of three-peat directly, he still cashed in when the Chicago Bulls and Lakers managed to triple the fun.
Three-peating is not something to be taken for granted. Not only did Riley's Lakers fail to do so, so did the team that dethroned them - the 1988-90 Pistons teams - that were good enough to make the "Jordan Rules" and win two straight titles, but not good enough to three-peat. In fact, when Michael Jordan retired for the first time in 1993, he explicitly mentioned winning three straight titles being a landmark achievement since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were unable to.
Then he showed us how good he really was, and did it again two years later. So what makes a team good enough to win back-to-back but not three straight? It seems to be a combination of things.
For the aforementioned Lakers and Pistons, it may have been as pure as a team looking for vengeance. That Lakers team knocked off the Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals in 7 games, becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the Boston Celtics of the 1960s. The very same Pistons team that fell victim to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came back with a purpose the next year and swept the Lakers to begin their own back-to-back title run. Then when it appeared the Pistons were cruising along as the Bad Boys, Jordan's determination led the Bulls to their first NBA Championship.
Both the Lakers and Pistons faced a specific team/player targeting them.
The first theory for a three-peat failure: Revenge Factor.
In between the Jordan three-peats were the Houston Rockets. The Rockets will always be subject to the "team that may never have won a championship if Jordan never retired" argument, however, Houston's greatest foe in actuality was not the Chicago Bulls, it was the Seattle Supersonics.
Between 1993-95, when the Rockets were in the midst of their championship runs, they faced the Trail Blazers, Jazz, Suns, Spurs, Knicks, and Magic, but did not face the Sonics. Tellingly, the Rockets were eliminated by the Sonics in 1993 and 1996. The Rockets traded for Charles Barkley after getting swept in 1996 by the Sonics and although they were able to defeat Seattle in 1997, they had gutted so much of their team, the Jazz were able to exploit other matchups. It's the NBA's equivalent to a bracket during March Madness, sometimes it comes down to who you play and when.
The second theory for a three-peat failure: Playoff Matchups.
That leaves us with two more failed three-peat attempts, The 2008-10 Lakers and 2012-14 Heat. Both teams had a barrage of all-stars and hall of famers. Both teams also had aging players.
The Lakers had Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher as key contributors. Meanwhile, the Heat relied on Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade. Admittedly, Dwyane Wade and Pau Gasol are still key contributors to this day, but it was during their teams' respective third title runs during when all these stars started to tail off a little.
The third theory for a three-peat failure: Father Time.
Despite some injuries, the Warriors are still battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. They have looked vulnerable at times, especially during their recent four game losing streak.
This is the Warriors worst start in five seasons and subject to all three of the above mentioned theories:
(1) LeBron is out for revenge and the Lakers just might be the young group he needs to overtake the Warriors;
(2) The Warriors have never defeated a healthy Kawhi Leonard in a playoff series and with LeBron out of the Eastern Conference, Leonard and the Raptors could get to the NBA Finals and defeat Golden State;
(3) Andre Iguodala has seen his back issues act up increasingly since winning his 2015 NBA Finals MVP campaign. In fact, the only team to push the Warriors post-Kevin Durant to 7 games, was a Houston Rockets team who took a series lead with Iggy out.
If the Warriors avoid all the common hurdles and do manage to win it all, they will join the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls in NBA immortality as the fourth team to do win three in a row. If that happens, we should also keep an eye on Steve Kerr and the Warriors management's attempt to trademark the phrase "four-peat."