If winning were easy, everyone would do it, right? Well, not exactly, because for every winner there has to be a loser.
In professional sports, there aren’t many dynasties because it’s hard to win consistently. Almost every team goes through ups and downs. The downs seem to be longer for some than others. If losing builds character, there are some organizations that are steeped in character.
Success can be defined in a number of ways. Championships are the ultimate goal, but for the sake of argument, let’s say a team is successful when it makes the playoffs. At the very least that means you’re winning more than you’re losing. That can’t be so hard, can it?
Can you name the teams with the longest active playoff streaks in pro sports?
The Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots have the longest active playoff streaks in the NFL, and each of them have logged only eight consecutive years.
Here’s one that surprised me. The Atlanta Hawks in the NBA have been in the playoffs 10 consecutive years. Who would know that besides Atlanta fans?
The Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL have made the playoffs 11 straight seasons.
As impressive as those streaks are, currently the longest-running streak belongs to the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve been in the playoffs for 20 consecutive years. That’s borderline ridiculous. Do you have any idea how hard it is for a professional franchise to be that good for that long?
You could make the argument that in basketball, it doesn’t take as many good athletes as football, baseball and hockey to maintain excellence, but no other pro basketball team is even close, so there obviously are no guarantees.
It’s hard to know how much credit to give a coach in a star-studded league, but you can’t discount the fact that Gregg Popovich must be pretty good. The Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs with Popovich at the helm.
One writer says the secret to their stunning success is simple: being better than everyone at everything. I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.
Professional sports is big business. An owner needs to hire the right general manager, who in turn, has to hire the right coach or manager. It takes a room full of ego-driven personalities who can work together for the good of the organization.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the challenge in finding the right athletes and making the right financial decisions to remain competitive year after year after year.
The biggest variable to befall a team in any given year is injuries. No matter the sport, injuries are always a factor that to a large extent is outside the control of those running the team.
But even what you think you control are difficult. For instance, not every draft is successful. You can do your homework, study the potential of each athlete, measure the height, weight and speed of an athlete and still be wrong. It’s difficult to measure the heart, competitiveness and everything else that goes into building a successful team.
The business aspect of sports itself further complicates things. Which players do you invest in long term for the future, or do you use free agency to build or maintain your team?
The Kansas City Royals spent a pretty penny investing in Alex Gordon as their left fielder for several years. He is currently making $16 million this season and will be paid $20 million in 2018 and 2019. He’s still an above-average defensive player, but considering he was batting only .152 after 35 games this year with zero homers, that’s a problem. His contract is threatening to become an albatross for the Royals moving forward unless he starts hitting a lot better.
All of this simply to say how difficult the business of building a winner really is.
Hillsboro resident Joe Kleinsasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Kleinsasser@wichita.edu.