With the Suns’ recent dismantling of the Lakers, despite Kobe Bryant averaging 32.8 points per game, and the Yankees at the bottom of the AL East while Alex Rodriguez leads the league in home runs, RBI, runs scored and slugging percentage, it is apparent that the era of the sports superstar is over.
With the talent level of all professional sports constantly rising, the most successful teams now and in the future are the ones who can put a better-rounded lineup on the field, court or pitch. I’m sure people are rolling their eyes at this statement; it seems like the obvious strategy for any team in history. However, the competition now in the major sports is far different than it was even ten years ago. Slowly fading away are the opportunities for a team to pick up a Jordan, McGwire or Gretzky and instantly become a playoff contender. With the amount of veteran and rookie talent available to teams in the present, it is impossible to throw one superstar into a lineup to project enough power to give the lesser players on the team the opportunity to shine.
The very idea of what a superstar is has been slowly been diluted over the last decade. There are enough amazing athletes in sports right now that all-star games have turned into a showcase of the hall of fame classes of the future. Without being able to rely on one guy to carry a team to a pennant, GMs are forced to make sure their lineup matches up and down with every team in the league if they want to be a contender. The biggest effect that this has had is certainly positive: teams are forced to become more team-oriented to survive. Just remember how silly the guys who said, “Small-ball doesn’t win championships” look after the Angels won the 2002 World Series without any real superstar players.
The payoff for fans is twofold. First, having a limited number of players that are taking a team to the playoffs is a classic supply-and-demand conundrum. Teams make blockbuster trades that rip apart squads in order to get one player, and fans lose the players they loved to root for (and also have to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to pick up their favorite player’s new jersey). In the end, fans have to pay for the new guy on the home team, and because fans want to get a chance to see the superstar on the away team as well, ticket prices skyrocket.
Secondly, games are far more entertaining to watch when it isn’t one on one (although basketball certainly does have some exceptions). Imagine if Rex Grossman could pass. Not only would the Bears, a historically run-oriented team, be much more exciting to watch with a lack of predictability in their play calling, but they would also have some pretty damn large rings right now. If the Lakers had anyone other the Kobe and a bunch of perennial underachievers, they wouldn’t have been rocked by Phoenix.
The trend away from superstardom and toward more complete teams is picking up steam. The Suns, despite an incredible lineup, are going to be remembered as The Suns if they win it all this year, not Steve Nash and some other dudes. And how about that pimp-slap Brady Quinn got from the Browns when they passed on a superstar prospect for an offensive lineman who will spend his career unappreciated in the trenches? But superstars do still exist. I guarantee some fresh jewelry to any team in any sport that adds Rasheed Wallace to the roster.