Why Team Chemistry is better than having Star Power (NBA Edition)

Aug 14, 2019


Credit Red Label Music Publishing

Think of some of the best sports teams of all time. The 72' Miami Dolphins, The 85’ Chicago Bears, The 96’ Chicago Bulls, The 98’ New York Yankees, The 2004 Detroit Pistons, The 2008 Jamaican Sprinters team, The 2012 Miami Heat. What do these teams have in common? They all had some of the best team chemistry we’ve probably ever seen in sports. Yes, there were legends on these teams, but the rest of the cast also played their part and might be the reason why they cemented their legacy as the best teams of all time. Team chemistry is way more important than star power. I will be using NBA teams for an explanation on why chemistry is better than star power. 


In the NBA you have 15 players on a team with 13 being active. If you were a coach, would you want 15 players to be able to play together on any given night or would you rather have three or four big name athletes and the rest of your team be pieces that don’t work with your top stars? I would take the 15 interchangeable players because that maximizes my chances of winning. If someone gets injured, another guy can come and fill in their place without disrupting the flow of the other players.

But let’s say you go the route of having three dominant stars and the other 12 players don’t have chemistry coming off the bench or playing with the main guys. This is a disaster waiting to happen. God forbid your star player gets hurt and the other stars have to fill their shoes and still fulfill their role. It’s going to be difficult to win because you put all your eggs in one basket. You overlooked key aspects of what it takes to win basketball games by relying on a few stars.


Chemistry can Make or Break a Team

Let’s look at the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2003–04, the Lakers had lots of basketball talent. They had a legendary squad in Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’ Neal, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. With all this talent the Lakers had championship level expectations and could you really blame people for giving them that with this roster? Many people thought they were going to win the NBA Finals easily.

Overall the Lakers season was really good but with some issues. First Kobe Bryant had some allegations made against him that could have ended his career. This was a huge distraction but ultimately did not affect the teams regular season that much. Another issue was Kobe and Shaq could not see eye to eye the whole season. They were beefing with each other and would constantly take shots at each other in the media. It got so bad that Kobe wanted a trade after the season. All these issues and more were just piling up on the Lakers doorstep and that toxicity will affect your chemistry and the team all together.

The Lakers had so much star power that it should have been a shoe in for them to be in the NBA finals that year. This was not the case unfortunately and the Detroit Pistons would go on and win the title that year. This is just one of the many examples why team chemistry is more important than star power.

Back to the Basics

"Chemistry is the study of matter, its properties, how and why substances combine or separate to form other substances, and how substances interact with energy." - Live Science

To apply that to sports, your team has to mesh together well with each other to have success. You can have a successful experiment or a complete blow up. You want teammates that can bond, combine and be a solid foundation for your organization. Like the science says substances need to interact with this energy and this becomes infectious and becomes the basis of your team.

This works both ways both positive and negative. If you have a positive atmosphere in your locker room then your team will have success and will be able to connect. If the overall energy is negative then you will have a toxic locker room like the Lakers did in 2004.

You want your team to have an organic chemistry. Organic chemistry is known as the “Chemistry of Life” because all of the molecules that make up living tissue have carbon as part of their makeup. - Live Science. This type of chemistry will literally breathe life in your team because there is nothing toxic about it. It just combines like a charm like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

But just how important is team chemistry?

A study done by Northwestern University in 2018 found that team chemistry is linked to success you have with your teammates. The more sustained success you have with your team the more chemistry you guys will build in the long run. Chemistry is essential to your team having success. Also the more you enjoy winning with your teammates the better your team will become as a collective unit.

Things that will kill chemistry in sports are players not getting along like Kobe and Shaq. Players getting over inflated egos, having bad attitudes, being negative, and changing personnel mid season. With all these distractions it will be near impossible to be successful in your respective team sport. No matter what people say, team chemistry matters a lot. A single person cannot carry a team if everything is toxic around them.

Credit David P. Gilkey / Detroit Free Press

Now let’s look at a well assembled group from the same year. The Pistons in 2004 had chemistry that teams are still trying to replicate til this day. From Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince they had a squad. You look at this team now and say of course they won, they had Hall of Famers on this team. You are correct they did but at the time in 2004 when in the playoffs the Pistons did not have what you considered top level stars. But this team did have chemistry to overcome any obstacle in their way. They played for each other and had lots of heart.

Unlike the Lakers, the Pistons did not have any super notable problems in the locker room or off the court. No teammates were beefing with each other and overall the Pistons every night looked like they were having fun playing basketball. They stuck to their game plan every night and had success. They were not the best team skill wise, but the chemistry on this team was unmatched in the league.

You could low key call the Lakers a “superteam”. They had three top level stars on their team but since their chemistry was bad they could not achieve the ultimate goal which is to win the title. All the back and forth between their two top stars and overall negativity just surrounding the Lakers franchise at this time cost them possibly their easiest championship in franchise history.

There are many other examples of chemistry being more important than star power throughout sports history. This just being one of them. Chemistry should be the basis behind building a team. You don’t need to have a multiple top level players to achieve the goal of winning the NBA title. Putting all your eggs in one basket is sure to backfire.