The great Phil Jackson once said success and winning championships “requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.”* With head coaching stints with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and Los Angles Lakers in the 2000s, Jackson had the luck of coaching the best talent in the NBA, but had to manage egos along the way as well. Yes, Jackson had an advantage by having Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal, among others. However, Jackson knew that in order to win championships and achieve something bigger than any individual player, the team must work as one. Teamwork has been the key to success for the Lakers during their championship runs.
Critics say Jackson had Jordan and Bryant working for him, so of course he has won eleven championships. Those who say this can’t see the beauty of competitive sports. Teamwork triumphs over talent. Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”** Jackson has developed a culture where team unity and selflessness reigns over individual agendas and satisfaction in Chicago and Los Angeles. Tex Winter’s “triangle offense” epitomizes teamwork and working as one, which has helped Jackson to bring six championships to the Bulls and five championships to the Lakers.
Initiating and executing a “we instead of me” attitude is seldom done in the NBA because the league has turned into a “star status” venture especially during the past two decades. This is not solely an NBA tradition. Other professional sports and sometimes even collegiate sports fall victim to building individual stars and egos, rather than successful teams. Of course there exists many exceptions to this mentality, especially in the NCAA. A perfect non-basketball example of a championship team that valued and approached the game through teamwork rather than talent is the 1980 USA men’s hockey team.
The “Miracle on Ice” occurred during the 1980 Lake Placid, NY Winter Olympics. The men’s hockey team was comprised of college hockey players, amateurs, and most importantly, coached by Herb Brooks. The USA team was portrayed as a bunch of kids who talent was sub-par to the rest of the competition. The Soviet team was the favorite to win the gold and was made up of pure talent. Brooks instilled a mentality of teamwork and unison with his players. Not only did he reassure his team that they belonged there, but that they could win. Eventually, the USA players started to believe and thanks to a “we instead of me” approach, they pulled off arguably the biggest upset in the history of sports by defeating the Soviets. The USA team defeated Finland the next round to claim gold. The Soviet-USA match was named a “miracle,” but it was a direct result of relying on teamwork rather than talent alone.
The start of the 2010-2011 season for the Miami Heat was uneven because it took them a couple of months to figure out how to work as a team. The Lakers failed to work as a collective unit and the commitment level seemed to be lost during this past postseason. Although trades are very likely to occur in order to fill some weaknesses of the team, success won’t be at the doorstep if they do not work as a team. This is where Phil Jackson’s departure will be most missed. Whoever the new head coach is, he needs to adopt this mentality in order to sustain Jackson’s influence he has had on players like Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.
Teamwork is a powerful and valued aspect in building a championship team. Of course, talent is required. After all, a player must have talent to gain entry into professional sports, like the NBA. However, in Los Angeles not winning a championship is considered a failure. The Lakers already have some of the top talent in the league. If they mix their talent (current and new) with teamwork, possibilities are endless. Consider this, if sports were based on talent alone, there would be no need to have a post-season, let alone a regular season.
*Source: Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lesson of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty
**Source: Championship Team Building by Jeff Janssen
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