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Chris graduated from Georgia State University in 2009 with degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing. He has spent a lot of time working with the media. From engineering radio broadcast for most of Atlanta’s major sports teams to shooting high school football games behind a camera, Chris has a lot of media experience. Besides that, he loves soccer, detective shows, and a buffet list of 'nerdy' things that would embarrass his wife.

The Anatomy of a Great Sports Team

If you were trying to construct the next great sports team, whether it be in football, soccer, basketball, etc., how would you do it? Would you try to comb the globe for the most robust talent, or would you focus more on how well your individuals combined into one unit? This is probably the sort of thing every manager, owner, and coach wonders during their tenure and a question that if “answered” incorrectly, could lead to a pink slip in the mailbox.

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LeBron took his talents to South Beach. (Credit: Steve Mitchell/US Presswire)

The most obvious response would be to choose talent. After all the essence of competition is to pit one against the other, so why not stack the odds in your favor? You don’t have to look too far to see this sort of philosophy at play, as most teams in every major sport spend tens of thousands of dollars on scouting programs and recruitment. Everyone wants to find the best player to build their team around. For example, the NBA’s most dominate player, LeBron James, was (and still is) the game’s most coveted asset when he joined the Miami Heat in 2010. James’ addition to Chris Bosh and perennial All-Star Dwayne Wade catapulted Miami from an also-ran in the Eastern Conference to the best team in basketball, making 4 straight appearances (two of them wins) in the NBA Finals when they otherwise hadn’t contended since the ’05-’06 season. So it’s no surprise that LeBron’s return to his former team, and serial Eastern Conference basement dwellers, Cleveland has been met with similar excitement and even an article in Sports Illustrated.

In fact, going all-in on the acquisition of talent has been a staple of creating teams in the NBA for quite a while. Just look at the Celtics of the late 2000s, the Lakers of the early 2000s, the Bulls of the 90s, and so and and so fourth. All of these teams housed star-studded lineups featuring the likes of Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Rajon Rondo and of course, Michael Jordan. And with the success that followed those teams, it’s also no surprise to see this method of team building travel well beyond the rim. Football, or soccer as it’s referred to in America, often utilizes this sort of tactic, sometimes to varying degrees of effect. However, the two teams that currently sit at the top of UEFA rankings also field the two best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo for Real Madrid (#1) and Lionel Messi for Barcelona (#2). While those who only follow the sport during the World Cup most likely aren’t as familiar with the pair’s dominance due to their national teams’ lack of it, you only need to check out their career statistics to understand exactly how much of a match-up nightmare they give other teams when they’re in the game.

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“Fitz” may never get a ring. (Credit: Getty Images)

The bottom line is that great talent can transform an average team into a juggernaut. However, the reverse is also true. If you surround one great player with a roster full of sub-par players, then you’re unlikely to yield truly great results. The NFL has some of the best examples of this. Barry Sanders was arguably one of the greatest running backs who ever played the game, but the team he played for just happened to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson; all haven’t had a consistently good supporting cast around them to win a championship their careers so desperately deserve.

So then what becomes to answer? Should you stack your team full of only the most talented players in the world? Again, it’s easy to jump at the chance to fill your roster with only the best of the best, but there is no guarantee that success will follow. Since their dominance during the turn of the century, the money-splashing Yankees have won only one World Series in the past fifteen years, spending more than a fortune in constructing their teams. The “Galácticos ” of Real Madrid had a well publicized “decline” in Spain’s La Liga in the mid 2000s, even with a slew of top talent walking through their doors (and likewise, money flying out). Most recently, John Elway’s Denver Broncos signed a number of talented players during the off-season, especially on defense. However, in what turned out to be their final game of 2015, that newly created “weapon” of a defense couldn’t register a single sack on the opposing quarterback,  Andrew Luck. Simply put: talent doesn’t always trump all.

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Tottenham’s coach couldn’t get his team’s chemistry right in 2013, and lost his job soon after. (Credit: Ed Sykes/Action Images)

It’s hard to argue against accumulating a wealth of the best talent, but sometimes the coaches decide that chemistry may be more of an important component to their team. Just take a look at all the buzz surrounding what the NBA’s #1 team is or isn’t going to do during the trade deadline. The Atlanta Hawks are an example of a team without a true superstar, but are combining so well that the entire roster flourishes. While the team’s recent losses have highlighted the need for perhaps a veteran star or a talented “big man”, Coach Budenholzer is wary of doing anything major to upset the chemistry of his thus-far winning product. The makeup and camaraderie of a team can’t be underestimated. If you sacrifice the essence of what a team is and make too many changes in the locker room, you may end up like the “Dream Team” that was (not) the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles or Tottenham Hotspur of 2013-2014 EPL season.

Sadly, the way sports today work means that salary cap numbers dictate what is and isn’t possible. Fans of the NFL have seen this played out time and time again, as owners are forced to tear apart their teams to balance the books. But that is key to creating a truly great sports team: balance. All of the best teams in sports find a way to utilize some talent within the constructs of a team. Recently, the Patriots showed a great formula en route to winning their first Superbowl in over a decade. The team had their share of talented stars on either side of the ball, but they also spent the season building a chemistry that eventually saw them claim the NFL’s top prize after a shaky start to the season. But perhaps the best example of a consistently balanced team is the San Antonio Spurs under Greg Popovich, who have won five NBA Championships since 1999. Much like the Patriots, the Spurs work all season on perfecting the way their talented roster plays together and are always vying for a place in the Finals. With such a great balance, NO ONE is surprised to see Coach “Pop” win his 1,000 game in charge.

While it’s definitely hard to find that equilibrium between the two philosophies; getting as balanced as possible should always be the main focus of any person looking to construct the next great sports team.

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