Last week I ran into an acquaintance who played in the NFL for more than a decade, much of it as a starter. We talked about the Jazz and their surprisingly strong finish in the regular season, and their first-round playoff success.
I asked him if all the talk about team chemistry is mostly just an old sports cliché. He said no, and he was adamant. He went on to say he had seen football teams with phenomenally talented players who didn’t like one another, and never reached their potential.
“So is this stuff about the strength of the team being the team, and all that, real?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “You can see it with these guys — it’s not fake. It’s real. I've seen both sides of that.”
I think that’s largely true. That doesn’t mean, say, Alec Burks doesn’t think he deserves more playing time, or that someone doesn’t think he should get more shots. A Jazz player years ago once privately complained to me that he could average 25 points a game if Jerry Sloan would let him play more and shoot more. Some players don’t get their shots in the situations they want. Still, the times I’ve been in this Jazz team’s locker room, I get no sense of brooding tension. I get a sense they genuinely like one another.
The proof, though, isn’t in the talk. It’s in the results. For a team with no player who has yet made an All-Star team to go this far says much. Oklahoma City’s star-laden team spent the season insisting it had no chemistry problems. The playoffs would beg to differ.