The Return Of “Team Ball”
The National Basketball Association, more than any other highlight their superstars. And rightfully so. You do what you have to do to sell tickets, create revenue stream, and TV time. But as we are learning more so in recent years and even in the middle of this year’s current playoff run, while the importance of an superstar remains a priority to most organizations, it is by all means not a necessity.
One of the things that people will not talk about is the very fact that there are teams who are currently remaining in this year’s playoffs who continue to embrace what I call “team ball” philosophy.
Let me make clear, being a diehard Miami Heat fan of 23 years. I am still appreciative of the Big 3 trio of LeBron/Wade/Bosh being present in South Florida. Believe me I am. But it is no secret that the ultimate recipe for success in the NBA even in the era of the ‘superstar’ is team basketball.
Bill Russell is recognized as probably the greatest winner in NBA history. 11 titles in 13 years. Cannot argue with that. However it must be noted that Russell had a phenomenal team alongside him. Bob Cousy who at that time was recognized as the best point guard in the game, John Havlicek, Sam Jones and more.
Magic Johnson (my favorite player of all time) came in as a proven winner straight out of Michigan State. And why he was the driving force of the 5 titles the Lakers won in the 80’s, his team was stacked with hall of famers in the greatest scorer of all time in Lew Alcindor (aka. Kareem Abdul Jabbar), James Worthy, and role players in Byron Scott, defensive stallworth Michael Cooper, and Mychel Thompson.
Larry Bird was a phenom no doubt. But still one can never argue that he might have had with him the greatest frontline in basketball with Hall Of Famers in Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. But on top of that he had another Hall Of Famer in Dennis Johnson (who is vastly underrated on the all time list), Bill Walton off the bench, Danny Ainge was a sharp shooter and a very deep bench.
The point is that team chemistry and continuity will be the ultimate X-Factor in teams consistently winning titles or at the very least being in the conversation for one year after year.
This season the San Antonio Spurs are defying the odds to some degree even in a shortened season where everyone (including myself) thought they wouldn’t finish no higher than a 5 or 6 seed in the Western Conference. But the continuity of coach Gregg Poppovich and building solid role players around an aging Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they are proving that playing cohesive team basketball can overcome all, as evident by their #1 seeding in the West and their first and second round sweeps of Utah and L.A. Clippers.
Case in point, this season no player averaged more than 18 points a game and even more impressive is that San Antonio had 11 games who contributed at LEAST 8 points a game. That’s the definition of balance.
The Indiana Pacers are another example of a young up and coming team being built they right way. All credit of course goes to Larry Bird for staying the course. And they are giving the overwhelming favorite Miami Heat all they can handle (series tied at 2 as of this column). The Pacers can in a lot of ways be called “the Spurs East”. Indiana didn’t have a player who averaged more than 19 points a game and had 9 players on their roster who averaged at LEAST 9 points a game. Impressive.
Does this bode well for teams named the Heat/Thunder/Lakers? Yes and no. But all I know is this. You can have many superstars on one team but it takes team work and chemistry to make a champion.
Miami Heat, take notes!!