Let's Go Team! Err...Which One?

PJ EdelmanCorrespondent IJuly 30, 2008

What is the most team-oriented sport?  Which sport requires heavy contribution from all its members in order to make it deep into the playoffs?  Does the No. 1 team-oriented sport mean that it is the "most pure" sport (whatever that means)?  Let's take a look.

6. Golf—Alright, this is kind of a joke, but it takes a lot of balls (literally) and loyalty to caddy for a big time golfer.  There is essentially no limelight, glory, or fame.  There is, however, a decent paycheck perhaps.  It requires someone deeply introspective to realize that they don't have what it takes to play, but loves golf so much that they will walk or ride 18 holes just to be near the action.  The greatest tandem ever?  Happy Gilmore and his caddy.

5. Baseball—Baseball lands here simply because of the fact that a number of players may not touch the ball all game.  Say a Red Sox pitcher throws three-hit game, all of which are infield hits.  And for argument's sake, say the three Red Sox outfielders don't get a hit throughout the course of the game. 

I know scenarios like this are unusual, but they do happen.  It's known that championships are hinged on solid pitching.  It's clear that a solid playoff team must be solid all the way through, from their starting pitching to their pinch hitters.  Nevertheless, several games can be decided by few players.

4. Football—This one is a tough sport to place, but football doesn't make the top half of the rankings because most players go one way.  Offense tries to score. Defense prevents opponents from scoring, and special teams do special teams things. 

There are some individuals who play on multiple "teams," such as Chicago Bears Devin Hester, but for the most part, players stick to their unit's roles.  This does not mean that it doesn't take a whole team to win the Super Bowl.  A team has to be all-around talented to get deep into the playoffs (see: the NY football Giants).  But it remains that every player is specialized to their unit.

3. Basketball—It pains me to place basketball this far up on the list, because football and baseball both rank more highly in entertainment value in my esteem.  And it seems to hold true that a good team only requires one or two star players to make the playoffs. 

Players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and a younger Shaquille O'Neal dominated opposing teams with their talent and hustle.  The best teams generally have the best players.  But teams like the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs make a good case for team effort.  The Spurs have several all-stars—most notably Tim Duncan—but play a tough team defense and receive contributions from several players, such as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, even Bruce Bowen. 

The Pistons make even a stronger case, as six or seven of their players can have an impact on the game at any time.  However, most of the roster receives little or no playing time, and serve to fill in for injured players or act as punching bags for the starters.  Does basketball belong ahead of football?

2. Soccer—Soccer is kind of like beer—it takes some time to get used to then it is amazing.  I'm sure this placing will catch a lot of flack, but it is deservedly No. 2. 

Every player on the field touches the ball.  No single player can truly dominate a game the way a star NBA player can, although they can score big goals or make clutch saves. 

Soccer is a player-heavy sport—22 on the field at any given time (barring red cards).  Almost everyone plays some form of offense and defense, regardless of their position on the field.  The only knock against soccer is that about half of the players don't play.  A roster can hold over 20 players, and perhaps only 11-15 will actually play.

1. Hockey—This ranking might catch hell, but no worries.  An NHL team carries about 25 players, and almost all of them see some ice time every game.  Like soccer, an NHL star can score big goals, but not on demand (however Alex Ovechkin seems to be close).  Every player has major roles on offense and defense. 

When the puck is in the defensive zone, the forwards on that team become defensive players (and vice-versa).  Star offensive forwards are asked to play on the penalty kill.  Talented defensemen are big reasons for power-play success.  Even the goalie―who clearly is more defense-oriented―can be a big factor on an offensive play if he crisply passes the puck to a rushing player (see Martin Brodeur).  

What do you think?  Hockey seems to be the No. 1.  Anyone disagree?

Honorable mentions that could be top three: Lacrosse, water-polo, rugby, curling, ultimate frisbee.

Dishonorable mentions: NASCAR, singles tennis (for obvious reasons), bowling.