The Utah Jazz love one another.
That’s right. They do. They say they do. They play(ed) like they do. Not this much, but thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much.
And as the songwriter wrote: “There is beauty all around, when there’s love at the home practice facility.” And as the other songwriter wrote: “All You Need Is Love to Go Deep in the Playoffs.”
Turns out love neither hurts nor stinks. (Speaking of love and songs, did you know there have been 128 No. 1 hits through the years with the word love in the title? Everything from “A Big Hunk O’ Love” to “I Love You, But I Won’t Do That.”)
As for titles, do you really need love to get an NBA championship?
If you do, the Jazz are on their way to one.
This is what Donovan Mitchell said as the players, one by one, were clearing out of the building Thursday on their way to an offseason spent at varying places, doing varying things to rest and begin again to prepare for a run next season:
“Our team is selfless — that’s the word I continue to use. We love each other, and I mean LOVE each other. We have each other’s backs. It’s not normal in this business, as I’m starting to figure out throughout my first year, you don’t really see that. We have guys who genuinely care about each other.”
Said Joe Ingles: “It was different. It was a great feeling within the group.”
Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Royce O’Neale, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto all concurred. Darn near every player said he was feeling it, to one depth or another.
And they circled the emotional connection as a reason for the Jazz’s unexpected success this season. The argument has been around for ages: Is it better to be loved or respected? The Jazz seem to have both ends covered. That combination led to hard work, a joint competitive spirit … or maybe it was the other way around.
“This is kind of as grateful as I’ve been in the time I’ve been doing this,” Quin Snyder said. “To be part of a team that has had the resiliency and the toughness to compete the way they have all year. … I don’t know if you can ask for a better effort from our group.”
A team that sweats together apparently gets together.
There have been teams in the past in any number of sports that have not necessarily had that kind of brotherly love. They had talent. They executed well on the field. But some of the guys hated one another.
If they didn’t hate, they certainly didn’t hang out together or feel personally close to a whole lot of their teammates. They went their own ways, but they did their jobs at the highest of levels when they were on the court or field or diamond together.
Terry Bradshaw once said: “I wasn’t that close to any of my teammates. I didn’t find anyone to become a best friend. We don’t stay in touch. They’re all over the country. I do not want to stay in touch.”
He and his Steelers teammates won a fistful of Super Bowls.
On the other hand, baseball executive Theo Epstein said: “When people do things they weren’t even sure they were capable of, I think it comes back to connection. Connection with teammates. Connection with organization. Feeling like they belong in an environment. I think it’s a human need — the need to feel connected.”
Snyder broke the NBA record for use of the word connected this season, uttering it a whopping 116,493 times.
In his team’s case, a team that had some talent but was not the most accomplished bunch, the camaraderie helped them function, and function better and better as time went by. The love and acceptance were particularly important for them because they were being led out by a rookie, a 21-year-old unproven maestro who needed to be embraced by the more veteran players to enable him to ascend to a position of importance, of command himself.
They did, and it helped everybody, including those who were sacrificing their own offensive opportunities with the ball to allow Mitchell to comfortably do and be what he did and is. Mitchell said that aided him, coming not just from his coach but his peers.
He also said it’s a goal of his to use his talents to build group success by becoming more adept at setting up his teammates, not just setting up himself at the offensive end, making all of them better as he does so.
Even a player as egocentric and singularly talented as Kobe Bryant emphasized the need for connecting with teammates, saying: “The important thing is that your teammates have to know you’re pulling for them and you really want them to be successful.”
It sounds like a load of motivational hoo-hah, but it really is true that the more that earnest sentiment comes across and spreads around, at least in most cases, certainly with the Jazz, the more likely it is for the team as a whole to fulfill and exceed its potential. Which is to say, to win.
As Ingles put it, “It was genuine. No one cared about who was scoring, who was doing whatever. It was a great group of guys that just wanted to get better, who really wanted to win and who had the same goal in mind.”
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.