By Jeff Nations
I never have been a fan of so-called "supergroups," a term I always used to associate with music. You're no doubt familiar with the concept -- a record company producer would attempt to pluck the brightest stars of the moment from the musical stratosphere, pile them into a studio and simply wait for the money to star rolling in by the truckload.
Sometimes, that worked just fine. Think The Traveling Wilburys (George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne) or The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson). When you stack a lineup with that much undeniable talent, chances are good music is going to happen.
It doesn't always work out that way -- for every supergroup success, there have been an equal number of mercifully forgettable failed attempts at striking instant musical gold.
Professional sports have long had their own version of supergroup building over the years, as deep-pocketed owners thirsty for the instant gratification that winning brings in terms of personal aggrandizement and increased revenue streams have never been in short supply. Call it the George Steinbrenner model, if you will -- we've seen this quick-fix approach in all the major sports, with varying degrees of success. Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees, assembled great teams largely via free agency and trades in the 1970s, mostly terrible ones in the 1980s using the same approach, and hit another run of success starting in the late 1990s and continuing through the present.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder made a similar attempt at dynasty-building during his first 10 years or so running that storied franchise, with largely disastrous results.
In the NBA, the Miami Heat are the current standard-bearers supporting the benefits of supergroups. Who can forget that epic moment in sports television journalism, ESPN's infamous "The Decision?" That was the night LeBron James went from widely-admired sports icon to a reviled mercenary during the course of one revealingly arrogant "special." James famous proclamation that he had decided "to take his talents to South Beach" and join fellow NBA stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat rankled all but the most die-hard James fans.
It instantly made the Heat prohibitive favorites to win the NBA championship. Three superstars on one team, including arguably the best player in the league? Unbeatable. Well, almost anyway -- the Dallas Mavericks upended the latest rendition of the "Big Three" in six games in the 2011 NBA Finals.
To their credit, the Heat bounced right back to win it all in 2012. Miami handily dispatched the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, and James was named the Finals MVP.
The Heat got right back there again this year, battling the San Antonio Spurs for another championship. So if the plan, by bringing in James, was to once more make the Heat relevant, then the move has been an unqualified success. Three years and three appearances in the NBA Finals is about as good as it gets -- winning three would be better, though. Maybe that's why I'm down on the whole supergroups concept. It could be the "Dream Team" syndrome playing over and over. Fans are force-fed a storyline basically declaring the latest constructed super lineup as perhaps the greatest the league has ever seen, or at the very least so head and shoulders talented above all others that multiple championships are a given. It often doesn't work out that way, sometimes not even close.
Back to the music analogy -- although I fully admit that some of those supergroup bands have made some pretty fine music, it's never the same as what made those individuals stars in the first place. Maybe it's expectations, that I simply expect these groups to roll out the greatest music I've ever heard. The Wilburys churned out some good tunes, but I'd take Bob Dylan's solo efforts or George Harrison with the Beatles every time.
It's the same thing with these high-priced, high-profile professional teams. I expect greatness (despite knowing better, from plenty of past history) and when I simply see really good, it just disappoints. I'd rather see a championship team built through intelligent drafting and shrewd trading, a franchise that emphasizes teamwork and depth over individual star power. A team like the San Antonio Spurs, as a matter of fact.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>