Team unity always beats unique teams

June 20, 2004|By MARK KELLER

Nobody claimed that the 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be the greatest team ever assembled.Many experts, however, did claim that Phil Jackson could put arguably the greatest starting five in NBA history on the court and size up his left thumb for his 10th championship ring as a coach.

Los Angeles had four future Hall of Famers tabbed for their starting lineup this season. It wasn't supposed to matter who the fifth starter was.

In the end, it didn't matter. The Lakers turned out to be the basketball version of a runaway train, one that ran headlong into, quite simply, a much better team.

Please note that the emphasis must be placed on the proper word at the end of that last sentence.

Not "much."

Not "better."

But "team" is where the emphasis belongs, and the Detroit Pistons proved that ... emphatically.

How often do athletes say, "It's a team game," or, "I just want to do what's best for the team?"


And how often did you hear the Lakers use the word "team" during these finals? Probably not often, unless they were talking about the Pistons.

The fact that the Lakers could run Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone on the floor at the same time might have made some teams tremble in fear.

The problem: There's still only one ball on the floor in a basketball game and four guys from the same team can't hold it at the same time. That would be traveling. (Although, since they never call that in the NBA, this argument may not apply here.)

Somehow, Pistons coach Larry Brown realized this before Jackson, Jerry Buss, Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the shining stars in Laker land.

It's easy, actually. A group of five guys working together will beat a group of five guys who are looking out for themselves every time.

"The Big Aristotle" couldn't figure that one out?

The team concept has begun to make something of a comeback in recent years. Though each had star players, the San Antonio Spurs, the New England Patriots, the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Lightning all won championships by putting egos aside for the greater good.

Even at the local level, team ruled over individual in most cases over the last year.

North Hagerstown had its most successful football season in 2003 and included three stud running backs who could have started for any team in the area.

Rather than pumping up their own egos, Derrick Keith, Rigo Valentin and Bryan Slater each consistently deferred to the others and deflected praise to, among others, the offensive line, the defense, the coaching staff and even the North fans.

It's no small wonder they went 11-1 and, more importantly, had a great time hanging out together, both on the field and off.

For much of the high school baseball season, the Williamsport Wildcats were perceived as the Pips to Nick Adenhart's Gladys Knight.

Adenhart was a projected first-round pick in the amateur draft and got the lion's share of the media attention. But when an arm injury kept Adenhart from pitching at the end of the season, the Wildcats proved to everyone what they knew all along - that this was not a one-man band.

Few would deny that the Los Angeles Lakers had the better collection of talent among the two teams in the NBA Finals.

But make no mistake about it. The better team did win the championship Tuesday night.

And isn't that the way that it's supposed to be?

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at

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