In sports you have your play-makers and your role-players. Without at least one play-maker you will not reach the highest level. I can’t think of a single franchise that hasn’t had that play-maker that won it all. Different sports call for different play-makers in a variety of capacities, and some sports can rely more heavily upon the play-makers to win a championship.
In baseball some of the most important play-makers are the pitchers. It becomes apparent during the post-season that a strong, deep pitching staff is the main ingredient in a World Series run. The Atlanta Braves made it to the Series through a great pitching staff, anchored by the likes of Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees thanks to two very dominant pitchers in Randy Johnson (so much innuendo in that name) and Curt Schilling. Pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner have helped deliver titles to the San Francisco Giants, too. But pitching isn’t enough. I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan and Cole Hamels, strong as he is, can’t win without bats – which the Phils haven’t had for years. So, the whole roster is important.
Today’s NFL requires a strong quarterback (Tom Brady leading his team to a 4th title), but that’s not the only ingredient. How many great quarterbacks didn’t win the Super Bowl? Warren Moon, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly to name a few. Even one of the greatest of all time is only 1-2 in the Super Bowl while his inferior little brother is 2-0. And let’s not forget Trent Dilfer, not really a Super Bowl caliber QB, but on the team with the most dominant defense in a decade (or longer) – but still Ray Lewis and the defense were the play-makers. Eli Manning’s defense was more of the play-maker in his two SB wins, too.
Basketball also requires more than one play-maker. Although Michael Jordan was the best of his era he only won 6 titles; the added play-makers of Pippen and Grant or Pippen and Rodman were necessary ingredients for the Chicago Bulls dominance. When LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami it took time to develop the chemistry of three play-makers to deliver championships. Wilt Chamberlain may have been the most dominant player, but Bill Russel and the Celtics won the titles due to the presence of more play-makers and stronger role-players.
Yet, at the youth level one play-maker can make all the difference. This is especially true in basketball. I’ve been coaching a 9-12 team for years now, and this fact proves true every year. Three years ago there was a 6-footer on a team. He wasn’t all that good, but at that height at this level all they had to do was throw the ball up and let him shoot-rebound-shoot-rebound until his shot went in. That was their entire strategy. There’s a team in our league which always gets the play-makers (families tend to stay in the same teams over time) and therefore has won three of the last five titles. They have multiple play-makers every year.
But our team this year is a prime example of one play-maker making such a difference at the youth level. We finished the regular season 0-4, with every loss being close, save one. Even that loss was the smallest margin of victory for the league’s best team. In our last regular season game we lost 12-10, losing in the last ninety seconds. We played the same team in the post season without our best player. We were down 14-0 in the first five minutes. Even though the other team took their foot off the gas, threw it in neutral and applied the brake, we still were outscored the remainder of the game 12-8. The only saving grace is that, by the end of the game, our last player left to score during the season scored his first basket. It was a painful reminder of how hard it can be, at this level, to miss that play-maker.