Putting together a successful franchise is a daunting task for executives across all major American sports leagues. Managing team rosters, coaching staffs, fan interest, profitability and overall competitiveness are all a part of the complicated equation that yield a winning organization, both on the field and in the front office. One consequential factor that may be the hardest to predict — or even understand — for general managers is team chemistry. If managed correctly, the nuanced blend of ids, egos and superegos can create seemingly unbeatable teams like the San Antonio Spurs. However, poor team chemistry can lead to toxic combinations as shown in the National Football League’s (NFL) Minnesota Vikings over the past couple seasons. With big-name players coming together to play for the same franchises, fan anticipation is the immediate response. However, team chemistry is the most critical factor in creating successful team.
Former NFL wide receiver Randy Moss was widely regarded as one of the most talented athletes to ever grace the league. Yet, despite his demonstrated abilities, he still managed to get cut from multiple franchises — he was even released from two teams over four weeks at one point in his career. Bouncing around from squad to squad, the dynamic player never really found a home. This is because talent is only one element that coaches and general managers alike take into account when selecting a player for their squad. The reason? Simple:
Amongst sports that require team cohesion, the player’s addition to team chemistry is a salient characteristic. A disgruntled employee in the league, Moss constantly had arguments with teammates, executives and coaches, tearing apart team morale and making him a detriment to NFL teams. This caused management to favor players who were less of a risk off the field, but lacked Moss’ innate talent.
Moss’s star athlete foil is the San Antonio Spurs’ recently retired Tim Duncan. A soft-spoken power forward from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Duncan had one of the most successful careers in NBA history, winning five championships. Is Tim Duncan arguably the best power forward in NBA history solely because he played nice? Of course not. It was his personality, however, which meshed well with his teammates, Tony Parker, David Robinson and Manu Ginobili. This, combined with a certain amount of talent, created a lethal team chemistry that dominated the NBA for over a decade.
With NBA “super teams,” with three or more All-Star caliber players, such as the Golden state Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, coming together in the NBA over the past couple of years, the relative importance of team chemistry and star power has been a prevalent topic of discussion for sportscasters and fans. Recently, the Warriors have been most heavily scrutinized in the ongoing debate. While on paper a successful team combined with the addition of a high level all-star should make an unstoppable combination, a team’s roster does not tell the whole story. While talent is undoubtedly an important part of a quality team, if the players do not develop chemistry both in and away from the sport they play, they won’t win games.
As summed up by New York Yankees great, Babe Ruth: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club will not be worth a dime.”