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No “I” in Team

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The Golden State Warriors are headed to the NBA Finals.

Back on May 24, when the Thunder took a 3-1 lead in its Western Conference finals series with The Greatest Team Ever, the folks at ESPN were in full, hysterical convulsion mode. Though Disney stock was tanking thanks to the sports giant’s recent travails and shrinking subscriber rolls, and several key on-air performers had announced their intentions to leave, the Warriors’ pending exit was worst of all. ESPN had invested a season’s worth of hype in the Warriors, to the point where SportsCenter broadcasts had become promotional videos for the team, and each successive victory had become reason for great celebration.

While the folks in Bristol, Conn., fretted over how they would possibly go on without their favorites, Golden State regrouped and won three straight over the Thunder, proving once again that no series is over until the final horn sounds and that those who value individual stats over winning will always look foolish. By playing what TNT analyst Charles Barkley referred to as “hero ball” in the final two contests, OKC’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook helped their team become the first since your 1980-81 Sixers to blow a 3-1 advantage in the conference finals.

Durant and Westbrook are generally regarded as two of the league’s best players, and the NBA’s propaganda partners devote considerable energy to celebrating their exploits. But for all of its regular-season success, the pair has yet to win an NBA title, even though Oklahoma City reached the Finals in 2012 and stood on the precipice of another trip this season before fashioning an unforgettable choke job. This year’s Thunder squad specialized in blowing late leads and demonstrated that characteristic most blatantly in the sixth game, when OKC committed six turnovers in the final 2:55, with Westbrook’s giving it away three times in the last 55 seconds. As the pressure mounted, the Thunder sagged and must now face an off-season of introspection and frustration brought on by a failure to close the deal.

All of which brings El Hombre to your Philadelphia 76ers, a team that, after three years of basketball malpractice, have finally decided it’s a good idea to start winning again. Over the next two months, the franchise will attempt to bring some talented players to town through the draft and free agency—and by welcoming former high draft choices (Hello, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric) to town. By the time the 2016-17 season tips off in the fall, the Sixers could have as many as eight or nine new faces on their roster—something that should cheer up beleaguered coach Brett Brown, who has no doubt tired of trying to win a nuclear war with popguns.

As Bryan Colangelo and his staff go about the business of trying to build a contender, let’s all hope they learn a valuable lesson from the events of the last week. It’s fun to have players capable of creating excitement with their individual efforts, but it’s a lot more important to amass of collection of people for whom winning is their primary goal. Carmelo Anthony has scored more than 22,000 points during his career, but he has not sniffed a championship, nor will the egocentric forward ever come close to one.

The NBA is filled with players like Anthony, for whom individual glory and its attendant riches are more important than raising a trophy. Talent is paramount in the league, but as Golden State proved during its comeback, so are grit and the ability to deliver under pressure. The Warriors accomplished that and are in the finals. Oklahoma City was unable to do it and made some ugly history.

As the Sixers begin their long road to contention, they must not be dazzled by empty numbers and false stardom. A title is the only thing that matters. Maybe the Thunder realizes that now.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: There are plenty of local lax teams participating in the PIAA state tournament. Top-seeded Radnor leads the girls’ bracket, which also includes Archbishop Carroll, Conestoga and Garnet Valley. Strath Haven and Springfield are the locals on the boys’ side. Action begins June 1 and concludes with a championship doubleheader June 11 at West Chester East High School.

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