Anatamy Of a Championship Team

Dwight PalmerContributor IMay 14, 2010

BOSTON - JANUARY 31:  Kobe Bryant  #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the defense of  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics in the second half at the TD Garden on January 31, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Lakers won 90-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash /Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images


Now that we are on the cusp of watching the final four in the NBA Championship battle, the predictions will begin.  For years, I  have read and usually disagreed with the so called experts.  Very seldom do these writers, sportscasters, or studio embedded coaches give a full picture of the actual dynamics of a game.  It’s not usually about statistics, or even stats from the previous series. 


The things to look for from here are:  Coaching ability, leadership, preparation, mental toughness and personal determination.  As we have seen just recently, regular season stats are no predictor of post season success.


My experience is football but this can be applied to any sport. My preparation involved scouting other team’s strengths, the tendencies of their key player(s), their mental approach to the game and their overall team psychology.  I need some idea of the following:  The strength of their on-field leadership, how this opponent has previously handled adversity, does the coach have the ability to make adjustments on the fly and how strong is the bond between the on-field leaders and the coaching staff.


My philosophy on coaching is to take away the other team’s initiative, to frustrate their favorite plays thereby making them try to win in an unfamiliar way. We would exploit any error.  Positive turnover’s had to result in a score; any negative turnover was defended with ruthless abandon. Every play whether offensive or defensive was an opportunity for my team to gain ground.  To become a champion, a team has to be absolutely focused and manically relentless.


The coach of any team has to have the respect of his players.  The players must see the coaching staff as part of the team and not just management.  This creates a trust between the players and the coaches and creates a strong organization.  Treat the team leaders as assistant coaches, give them your respect and the coaches will be accepted as teammates with authority.


Experience makes a real difference.  A player that has previously won a title is almost impossible to deter mentally.  Whereas a player that has never won a title can be made to doubt his own ability to achieve that goal. 


A great example of the experience difference is the championship series between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks.  Down 0-2 the Heat never doubted themselves and I believe that Pat Riley and Shaq's previous title successes was responsible for their composure .  The Heat evened the score 2-2 and the Mavericks, who had no championship experience, mentally folded like a house of cards.


A good coach will give the non champion players another goal.  Revenge is an adequate motivator; the players are focused on something they know they can achieve.  They can be made to forget that they are playing for a title to relieve the uncertainty.  There are other deflective goals; it just depends on how well the coach understands psychology and his players.


The team and the coach must be prepared for any unexpected situations and circumstances.  These must be practiced and players must understand the why’s and how’s.  Even if these situations never happen, you have imparted mental toughness by making the players feel secure in their knowledge.  This also minimizes a player’s stress in end game situations. 


Even bench players have a role.  This role must be defined and each player worked with until he is as solid as lead shot in performing his function.  Boston’s defense caused Cleveland’s role players to drown in despair.  The 2004 Pistons surrounded Kobe like movie Indians attacking a wagon train, and none of the role players could respond.


Lastly, on-field leadership is essential.  When a player is tired, behind in the score, having a determined and focused leader in the huddle is inspirational and reassuring even at the professional level.  A leader that leads by example and expects nothing but victory will lend his character to his teammates.


This is an overview, unfortunately, there is so much more.  But this is enough for anyone to look at the remaining teams and see which teams have the best chance of winning it all, barring injury.  You now know what is going on beneath the surface of a championship series..


Thank you for your time.