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Do Superteams Work?


In the sports world, a “superteam” is a team consisting of several elite and well-known players. Superteams are found throughout all sports, but they are most well known for their presence in basketball and baseball.

Notable superteams include the 2021-2022 Brooklyn Nets (infamous for their failure of a season), and the 1927 Murderers’ Row Yankees, arguably the greatest baseball team ever assembled. In the present MLB offseason, since December, the Los Angeles Dodgers have assembled their very own supeteam, notably adding Tyler Glasnow, Teoscar Hernández, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Shohei Ohtani, reigning American League MVP and arguably the greatest player of all time. Even before their recent offseason additions, some may say the Dodgers already had a superteam, thanks to players such as Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. With a roster of this caliber, it seems like winning the World Series would be a given. However, despite occasional superteams finding their way to success, previous superteams throughout sports history illustrate that winning it all is anything but a given.

The most recent and notorious failed superteam was the aforementioned 2021-2022 Brooklyn Nets, which consisted of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, and more. Many NBA critics predicted this team to make it to the NBA Finals and win.

Those predictions were not completely apart from what really happened, but a 44-38 record, a 7th seed spot in the Eastern Conference, and getting swept in the first round by the Celtics was nowhere near many analysts’ predictions at the beginning of the season. What happened? In simple terms, there can only be five players on the floor, and there is only one ball: each star player either didn’t get on the court enough, or didn’t get the ball enough. Simple, but ultimately the main reason. On the surface level, to many this Nets team looked like a masterpiece of a roster constructed by Nets ownership and management. But to others, it was a team that was bound to be vulnerable in several different ways, one of which was the defensive ability of the star players. Of all people, the players know that there are two sides to the game: it can’t just be offense. Unfortunately for Nets fans, the lack of defensive effort/capability led to nothing but high-scoring games, many of which did not go in favor of the Nets. Other factors that led to the Nets failure include injuries (which contributed to their underwhelming defense) and lack of chemistry between their players. With several roster changes, existing Nets players had to adjust and form relationships with all the new players coming in, affecting their own style of play. The 2021-2022 Nets demonstrated that with the way the game of basketball is set up, success from superteams is never guaranteed.

Unlike the 2021-2022 Nets, some superteams see astounding success. One of the most famous superteams ever assembled, the 1927 “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, experienced success at an historic level. The team, consisting of players such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, put together an astonishing record of 110-44-1. The Yankees ended up breezing through the playoffs and swept the Pirates in the World Series four games to none. So what was the difference between the 2021-2022 Nets and the 1927 Yankees? Obviously, they play different sports, but the main difference between the two was the ability of the Yankees to overpower their opponent in every aspect of the game. The sheer power of their offense was unmatched on the daily, and their pitching rotation hosted the league leader in wins, Waite Hoyt (22-7), and also led the league in ERA. The unmatched success of the 1927 Yankees asks the question: how do elite teams manage to be such disappointments?

The answer is the same reason for why some say “you can’t predict baseball.” Take the 2023 Dodgers for example. Arguably a superteam, they won 100 games in the regular season, just to get swept by the 84 win Diamondbacks in the Divisional Series. On any given day, the pressure of the postseason can catch up to a team and its players, and trip them into losing three games in a row. This is likely the main concern for the Dodgers in the upcoming season. Without even having played a spring training game yet, the Dodgers are expected to win the World Series, and any other outcome would be seen as an utter embarrassment of a failure. Dodgers outfielder [Ed. Note—apparently he’s expected to spend most of his time at 2B this season? What?] Mookie Betts stated himself that regular season games would be “the other team’s World Series.” So if the Dodgers end up disappointing their fans in the postseason yet again in October (which they probably will), the players will have no excuse other than just the nature of baseball.

So do superteams work? It depends, on the sport and also on the players. Superteams in baseball are more likely to succeed because of the way the lineups are. There are more players, and therefore more opportunities for team success. But a “super” team does not automatically translate to a “winning” team. Success is never guaranteed, and superteams across sports, whether we like it or not, will continue to disappoint in unpredictable ways.

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