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Opinion: The Utah Jazz don’t have a star player, but their success depends on that

‘Basketball is a team sport, and lesser players who play together can beat greater players who don’t’

SHARE Opinion: The Utah Jazz don’t have a star player, but their success depends on that
Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) celebrates a basket with Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt (8).

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) celebrates a basket with teammate Jarred Vanderbilt (8) against the Memphis Grizzlies in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

I’ve just come home from watching the Utah Jazz beat the LA Lakers again and move into first place in the NBA’s Western Conference, and there is a story here, a big story.  And since no national commentator is writing it, I’m going to.

In their first 12 games, the Utah Jazz have proven an old adage true — an old adage that no one believed any more — an old adage that says “Basketball is a team sport, and lesser players who play together can beat greater players who don’t.”

Traditional wisdom in the NBA has moved away from the balanced team concept to the idea that, to win, you need a couple of super stars surrounded by role players who support them.

The Jazz are disproving that, and are showing the world (though not many are watching) that nine or 10 team-oriented players, assisting and supporting each other, without a dominant star, can beat teams where two or three stars take more than half of the shots and are expected to control the game.

It turns out that basketball really is a team game, and we had just forgotten that for a while, since no NBA teams were playing like that.

Well, this year, one team is — and no one has fully realized it, at least not on the national level.

Here is a team that everyone thought had been stripped, decimated, their stars traded away for future draft picks in some kind of five-year rebuild that would probably mean tanking this year — accepting their inevitable losing destiny and hoping that if they lost enough games, they could get high lottery picks in the next couple of drafts. So, they bring in a 34-year-old coach, hang on only to a 35-year-old point guard and a sixth man gunner who only shoots; and cobble together a bunch of guys that other teams have given up on. Danny Ainge is hated by many for giving up the goods, and pre-destinating the team to a long, miserable rebuild.

Young, rich owner, plenty of time — willing to go through some bad losing years to re-structure toward a championship in eight or 10 years. Let’s give up our season tickets and come back in a decade or so and see if they are good again, because, hey, you can’t win without stars, and we don’t have any.

Well guess what, we are winning three of every four games because we don’t have stars, because we play as a team, because we get six or seven more assists per game than last year, because they are having fun and sharing the ball, because we have the most balanced scoring in the league, sometimes getting to 120 points with no one player having more than 20, often having seven or even eight players scoring in double figures in the same game. 

Hey, remember that old adage about basketball being a team game — wow, turns out that it was true after all. And that there is joy in it — joy we can actually see on the players’ faces.

There is a bigger lesson here. Things really are better when people work together. Caring and assisting each other actually does make both the individual and the collective better. Sharing rather than fighting for the credit produces synergy! The whole really can be bigger than the sum of its parts.

Will it last? Can this team continue to teach us the life-lesson of teamwork and even of equality and of valuing each other? Could we actually apply that lesson in other spheres? Even in politics?

Who knows, but for now, let’s notice it and enjoy it while it is happening!