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How to Build a Team (Part 1)

June 1, 2011

I used to think you couldn’t buy a team, and with Lebron’s “Decision” to join his talented friends in Miami, I stubbornly assumed my belief would be given more ammunition as the Heat would fail without chemistry or strong role players. Well, it rarely happens, but I was wrong, but the reason why I was wrong might surprise you.

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Pulling together two groups of talented athletes from rival college hockey teams was a major hurdle for the 1980 Men’s US Hockey team that upset the Soviets and went on to win the gold medal in Lake Placid. Getting players from Boston University to gel with players from the University of Minnesota, who they had violently battled with in the 1977 Frozen Four, was an important task for Coach Herb Brooks. In the movie Miracle, one of my favorites, the team’s assistant coach and doctor joke that the initial on ice tension between the two factions was “their own little cold war.”

No matter what team you’re in charge of, whether it’s your softball team, your nephew’s soccer team or your cube of interns at work, one of the biggest challenges is to get your group to care more about the success and well-being of the team and their fellow team members than they care about their own individual achievements. Getting a whole team to work or play together frequently doesn’t come naturally, and it can be considerably more difficult if your team members don’t get off on the right foot.

For the late Herb Brooks, well-known for his mind games, the solution was long intense practices. In Miracle, the team’s doctor, aptly named “Doc,” speculates that the players were so busy working and resenting Brooks that they were too distracted to hate each other.

I was thinking about this because my philosophy about how to make a team was both confirmed and wildly proven wrong this week (so much so that I think I have too much for one blog post, which is why this is just Part 1).

Call me old-fashioned, but it has always been my stubborn belief that you can’t buy a team. A team is created through chemistry, mutual respect, and a shared sense of purpose – stuff that doesn’t have a price tag and can’t really be coached.

Watching Barcelona win the Champions League title on Saturday justified my long-held belief. Here’s a team of guys that has mostly played with each other for years, and  has a common sense of purpose. Barcelona not only has perhaps the soccer world’s most famous and most successful youth academy, they also represent the Catalan people, a group with its own identity that strives to break free from Spain. Chemistry, sense of purpose, talent, mutual respect – all things Barcelona has in spades. In my opinion, it’s no wonder that they’re so dominant.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s Lebron, DWade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat. On the surface, this is a group that really only has the talent portion of Juan’s Great Team Formula. Even entering the playoffs with the league’s third best record, I didn’t think it was possible. The problem, or the solution if you’re a Heat fan, is that I wasn’t alone. With so many people rooting against them or believing that they couldn’t be successful, they have quite a chip on their shoulders. What’s more, this isn’t just about Lebron, or even just their 3 high-priced superstars.

This is about the team, and that’s where we all messed around and created a monster. Any time a team gets the idea that nobody believes in them, they could be primed for overachieving. Just ask the 2007 New York Giants, who so famously denied the 18-0 Patriots their perfect season.

Maybe it’s just my way of allowing myself to believe in two opposing philosophies, but I think it’s clear that the Heat have found that elusive team dynamic with a little bit of help from the general public that was so quick to chug the haterade. I know I was. Realizing that, it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re done in 4 or 5 here.

But hey, what do I know? I’m not really an NBA fan. Would the Heat be as motivated and successful if more people had loved them and crowned them from day one?

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