In a matter of days, the Florida Panthers took a 3-0 lead on the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Boston Celtics took a 3-0 lead on the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
In April, the UConn Huskies beat the Purdue Boilermakers to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and the South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.

There’s something uniquely special about all of these title runs across various sports that have a common pattern. 

In the Cup Final, Connor McDavid is considered by many one of the greatest talents to ever play the sport of hockey, and his counterpart Leon Draisaitl could have an argument for the second-most talented player. Yet the Florida Panthers and their depth, a team that’s been there before and lost just last year, bullied their star power as a whole, collective unit. 

The Dallas Mavericks have Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving whom a few analysts were declaring the best offensive backcourt we’ve ever seen the series prior. Boston’s historic season was modeled on having anyone that can score on the court at all times, a collective unit rather than a star (sometimes to the point where it led to toxic debates online), and lockdown team defense. 

UConn lost essentially their entire team that won the title the season prior when faced up against the reigning unanimous back-to-back National Player of the Year Award-winner in Zach Edey on Purdue, and yet they ran the gamut as the most overbearing dynasty, finishing with 9-straight double-digit wins that looked effortless in the way they worked together with a whole new team.

Caitlyn Clark of Iowa was the highest-scoring collegiate basketball athlete, men’s or women’s, during her tenure. Her shooting power and superstardom captivated even those who hadn’t followed women’s college basketball before. Yet the South Carolina dynasty under Dawn Staley, which had made four consecutive Final Fours, won two titles in three years and had a 74-1 record, eliminated the Hawkeyes like clockwork.

Now, there’s undoubtedly talent on each side in order to make a champion, but what can we gather from all of these results?

The entity of team, identity, and consistency within an organization has never mattered more in sports.

Gone are the days when LeBron James and the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers could say, “We have the best player in the world, and the rest will figure itself out” in order to make a championship in the same manner that when putting human beings together that work together every single day, you can’t merely just spend money on superstar and hope that it works out.

Superstar talents on rosters can and do elevate the play of supporting pieces, and by no means do you not want the most talent possible on a team, but the collective identity where everyone already has an established role has something to prove, consistently has a routine with a competitive organization from the top-down with front offices and coaching staff, and permanently plays with something to prove will always outweigh those that have the luxury of being able to fall back on top-end talent. There’s no faking desperation. 

The champions across sports had been there before. They had established and respected leadership at the top to create a culture of collective ideals, and ego was nonexistent as the organization had some sort of established identity.

There’s a fascinating element in taking all of this ahead of the upcoming MLB Postseason with year two of the expanded playoffs in that baseball is a complete paradox. It’s a salary cap-less sport, meaning that you can pay to bring in as much talent as you want (pending billionaire owner approval) and add more depth overnight with a league full of spenders and non-spenders. We are just coming off of a season where the Texas Rangers quite literally spent their way into winning a World Series after losing over 100 games in 2021. Within three years, they built a new arena, had a GM that spent half a billion dollars on an infield in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to be their duo for the next decade, signed or traded for an entire new pitching rotation, and brought in Bruce Bochy out of retirement to manage them to a title in his first year there. The vision and the resources were there to win, and they pounced and said, “We’ll figure out the rest when we’re planning the Championship parade.”

It’s complex in that baseball has an argument to be the most depth-dependent sport of those that are listed; the Los Angeles Angels would be precisely the argument against this notion after they had Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout together for five years with no postseason appearances and Trout may be our generation’s Mickey Mantle despite having one total playoff hit. However, the collective vision that the teams that are committed to winning goes a long way in the acquisition of talent. Ohtani saw the Dodgers‘ consistent use of resources in addition to their development of talent with a decades-worth of NL West Titles and had the desire to go there, defer his money on his contract until later, and be best suited to acquire as many pieces necessary to bring a pennant to LA.

The team mindset may also be the leadership of a player impacting the entire goals of the roster; the Yankees have gone from a team continuously scarred by injury bugs and flameouts to the Astros in the postseason to now looking like one of the most competent teams in the sport merely through the acquisition of Juan Soto, a young star who already had championship pedigree and has the most discipline at the plate we’ve seen in this generation.

The “team” mindset also can come down to the front office and its unique relationship with the players. The Tampa Bay Rays have been a model of consistency with five consecutive postseason appearances, yet in a recent players’ poll done by The Athletic, they’re listed as a team that no one would want to play for because they have a history of trading players before paying them to retool.

All of this boils down to this: to be a successful team in the sport, the motivated championship mindset and the collective togetherness in the dedication to winning has to be reciprocated from the very top of the front office to the last man on the roster.

The beauty of “team” has never been more relevant across all sports, and seeing it play out on the diamond ahead of the trade deadline.
Eventually, during October, high-stakes baseball will be absolutely enthralling.

PHOTO: Getty Images

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