This week’s column is not so much photo related, although I do like to equate teamwork in sports to group dynamics in workshops. I spent many years coaching basketball, which went a long way in developing my abilities to lead and teach photography workshops. We are witnessing a fascinating evolution in the NBA; the transition of an individual sport to a team sport. We lived through Michael Jordan and his 6 rings, and most recently, Lebron James and his 4 straight trips to the finals with 2 rings to show for it. Jordan was the best player of his generation and Lebron is the best player in the game today. It’s amazing to have a sport where one individual can have such a huge impact on the game, even though they share the court with 9 other players. We rarely see it in the NFL where it’s diluted further for a total of 22 players on the field. It’s clear the NFL is a team sport, but the NBA has been less so recently. How much impact does one player have in the NBA? Look no further than this year’s Miami Heat team without Lebron James. The are 20-25 and completely irrelevant. During last year’s playoffs we saw a shift. The San Antonio Spurs, lead by their head coach, Popovich, dismantled the Lebron lead Heat through the use of incredible ball movement, team defense, three-point shooting, depth, and making every player on the floor a threat. You never could predict where the scoring would come from. It was mesmerizing to see and there was no answer from the Heat. The Heat was a team built around an individual and it clearly didn’t possess the talent or coaching to compete with this new brand of team basketball.
Fast forward to this year and we are witnessing two protegés of Popovich, Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, and Steve Kerr in Golden State, use that same style to take commanding leads in their respective conferences. The Atlanta Hawks, a little known team with modest predictions, has reeled off 17 straight wins and looks unstoppable. And yet, they don’t have a single player on the roster who would qualify to be considered a top 12 – 15 player in the NBA. In a recent matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, they had to face the 2nd best player in the NBA, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, who is ranked somewhere between 3 – 6, depending on who you ask. How could anyone stack up against such a two-headed monster as the Thunder? Scott Brooks, the head coach for the Thunder, doesn’t run a teamwork style offense. He believes in allowing his star players to play one on one basketball. Just take turns and try to get the best shot they can. It’s excruciating to watch and is a large part of the reason the Thunder have been unable to win a championship. History will look back on the Thunder and always wonder how on Earth did a team with the superstars, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden (traded to the Rockets for virtually nothing and having an MVP season), not win a championship? I think the answer comes down to Popovich. He has pioneered a new way to play the game and the results speak for themselves.
If we end up with a Warriors vs. Hawks finals, everybody wins. It’s time to stop being selfish when it comes to team sports. Everybody on the team has a role, and if you embrace each individual’s strengths, the team as a whole benefits greatly. It also emphasizes how truly important coaching is, and that even an under the radar team like the Atlanta Hawks, can make a big splash.
One last NBA tidbit, as we approach the Super Bowl, deflate gate has received way more attention than necessary. It overshadowed the incredible feat of Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, scoring 37 points in a quarter. That has never been done before, ever. If you haven’t seen the highlights, watch it here.
I’m off to Yellowstone for a workshop. Look for a report next week!
My TV recommendation this week is Banshee. Very few people know about Banshee, but for those that are fans, it’s one hell of a ride. It is incredibly violent, graphic, and sexual, but underneath it all is a compelling story with great characters. It reminds me of Spartacus. When Spartacus season 1 aired, it was a bit of a 300 clone. But they soon realized how incredible Andy Whitfield was as Spartacus, and the show become about characters. Banshee season 3 started up recently and the first two episodes didn’t completely grab me. And then episode 3 aired last week and became the best episode of television I have seen in a long while.
That’s it for now, GO HAWKS!