It’s not that the champions crowned this summer -- the Los Angeles Kings and San Antonio Spurs -- were a surprise. The Kings were one of 10 teams in the NHL to finish the regular season with 100 or more points. And the Spurs' 62 wins were six more than any other team in the NBA this year.
But it’s how decisive their title runs were and the makeup each team possesses that has left a lasting impression. In a world of sports seemingly built on superstar individuals and manufacturing a championship roster, these two teams had a core built through the draft and showed the world the concept of "team."
The Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years on Friday night at Staples Center, thanks to Rochester native Alec Martinez’s double overtime tally. It was his second overtime game-winner in this year’s playoffs (Game 7 vs. Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals). Los Angeles’ first 11 goals in the series were scored by 11 different players.
They have just a few true stars in Drew Doughty (I think he’s the league’s best defenseman), Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, even though none have won any major regular season awards (Quick did win the Conn Smythe in 2012).
They won hockey’s Holy Grail on balance, depth and toughness. You don’t come back from 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks without being tough. You don’t knock off the league leader in wins without being focused. You don’t dethrone the defending champs without mental fortitude, and you don’t win the Game 7s on the road without a steadfast belief in one another.
To their credit, before Justin Williams was given the Conn Smythe Award, there were at least five players who could have walked away with the hardware. That is a team.
The Spurs just captured their fifth title in 15 years. Together, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have won four. The trio has 117 playoff wins -- the most in NBA history -- and together they have made “team basketball” cool again.
Seemingly, each night they put aside their individual numbers and desires for the betterment of the team. This team is inspiring because of its unselfishness and toughness to bounce back from losing in the NBA Finals in 2013.
No one averaged more than 30 minutes per game during the regular season. In the knockout game against the Miami Heat, Parker (their leading scorer) didn’t score a point until the waning moments of the third quarter, and yet his team was up 19.
The Spurs would cruise to a 17 point win. It was their 12th win in these playoffs by 15 points or more -- an NBA post-season record.
Like in the Stanley Cup Finals, voters could have made any one of four or five Spurs the NBA Finals MVP.
These two champions will be applauded and saluted for their accomplishment, but they should be lauded for their good old fashioned teamwork and a willingness to lean on each other.
It may be 2014, but the champions of hockey and basketball today allow us to turn back the clocks of time and appreciate a team rather than a superstar.