The Winning Ability … Morning Cup O’Chiefs

I’ve been thinking about Todd Haley over the last 24 hours or so, at least since the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship on Sunday night.

That Mavs victory over the Miami Heat is one of those teachable moments that I’m sure will not go without comment when the Chiefs head coach gets a chance to speak to his team once again.

The Dallas victory is a perfect example of what Haley preaches 24/7 to his crew – there has to be more than talent involved for a team to win a title. It’s a basic truth in athletic competition and essential when teams fight for supremacy. Talent and talent alone do not guarantee victory. It never has. It never will.

Down in Miami, they were convinced that the pairing of LeBron James and Chris Bosh with Dwayne Wade was the start of a giant victory parade down Collins Avenue every June. Any knowing person would have James and Wade on their All-NBA first team.

But it’s so easy to be seduced by physical ability – the guys who can jump the highest, run the fastest, lift the most weight and scores the most points, yards, rebounds, home runs, strikeouts, etc. Pull enough of them together, and a team will be unbeatable. Owners, general managers and coaches have been blinded by that pursuit for decades.  

An athletic team is a very complicated organism, with a lot of moving parts. There are some gears that need to be given more oil than others. There are important replacement parts that have to be in tune and ready to go at any time. While big and strong, a team has to be quick and agile, able to shift gears when the situation calls for adjustment. It cannot be a big cruise ship, one that requires hours to turn in the water.

There’s an old cliché about a team being like a metal chain and it’s only as strong as its weakest link. I don’t think that’s true. I think a team is only as strong as the weakest part of its best player’s link. If the most talented understands his limitations and comprehends how he fits into the bigger picture of the team, then the team will be a very strong and successful chain.

If he does not, then we have the Heat, a team that promised it would win six, seven, eight NBA championships before they were done. Yet, they could not even take the 2011 championship series into a seventh game. Whether one believes the Heat’s best player was James or Wade, the fact is these guys were unable to become a factor of one.

The factor of one – that’s what the Dallas Mavericks were able to accomplish. There’s no question who the star of the Mavs is, and I’m not talking about owner Mark Cuban. The team’s best player is Dirk Nowitzki, one of the league’s top performers right now and possibly over the last decade. Cuban, team president Donnie Nelson and his head coach Rick Carlisle surrounded Nowitzki with talented and intelligent players, guys that understood the situation and how they fit in the equation.

But the key to their victory was Nowitzki understanding that it was an equation, and that he was the biggest part of the math. It was up to him to understand when his role needed to change from game to game, heck quarter to quarter. Sometimes he needed to take charge; other times he needed to allow those around him to control the flow of the game.

Successful teams are built on stars, role players and athletes smart enough to understand the differences. That’s part of what Haley constantly talks about with the “right fit” when it comes to his roster. He understands that it’s impossible to win in the NFL without having physically gifted men. His point is that there has to be more to the contribution than just ability. There has to be knowledge of the bigger picture and why NFL championships are won by teams, not single players.

For two years, Haley pounded that notion into the consciousness of his players. Some understand, in fact probably more than don’t comprehend. Whether the Chiefs get it or not will be shown in part when the players come back together again, whether it’s training camp or some sort of mini-camp allowed when a new labor agreement goes down next month.

It will be visible in what type of physical and mental shape they’ve created for themselves in these days of the lockout where the only person pushing was the little man inside of them. Last year, the Chiefs had what might have been the most-fit team in franchise history. The almost complete participation in the club’s off-season conditioning program led them into a season where they had few minor injuries and no major problems that eliminated a contributing player for the entire season.

It’s a big reason they went 10-6 and won the AFC West. It will be a major factor in whether they can repeat as division champs and make the post-season streak two in a row.

Losing the off-season program was a blow to Haley and the Chiefs. Overcoming its absence will also be testimony to whether they’ve come to understand the championship equation that more is needed than talent.


It became one of the feel good stories of the sports world on Monday when news came out of Americus, Georgia about Chiefs TE Leonard Pope saving the life of a six-year old Bryson Moore in an apartment complex swimming pool.

“I was looking at him because he couldn’t swim,” said Bryson’s mother Anne. “I noticed, first, he was standing up, and then he went under and never came back up. I started screaming. Leonard was inside, and he came out of nowhere and dove into the water without any hesitation, cell phone in his pocket and all. He saved my son’s life, and I am so thankful that he was there for me and my child.”

Here’s the story from the Americus Times-Recorder.

3 Responses to “The Winning Ability … Morning Cup O’Chiefs”

  • June 14, 2011  - TDKC says:

    Good piece Bob.
    I don’t know if is the possibility of losing football this season or pure boredom but I really got into this series.
    Dirk is awesome. He is a big man but what separates him from other big men before him is his shooting ability. It’s not talent or God given size. It is time in the gym.

  • June 19, 2011  - Mike says:

    I am huge Chiefs and Mavs fan. This was such a great article.

    TDK- The thing that makes Dirk great isn’t his shooting, though it is amazing. It is how humble and unselfish he is. The man is the definition of a professional and he finally earned the ring he deserved for so long. Glad to see you enjoyed the series.

    Thanks for the article Bob

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