Skip to main content

NFL teams should learn from NBA-champion Mavericks

"Dirk (Nowitzki) helps set the culture of the team. And culture is critically important for a winning organization."
-- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Congratulations to the Mavericks for winning the NBA title Sunday by knocking off the Miami Heat, proving once again that most championship teams are just that -- teams.

Dallas might not have the most talented collection of players, but each man knew his role and always put the team first. As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick frequently says: Just do your job.

Pick Six: In honor of Dirk

Now that the Mavericks have won the NBA title, Adam Rank honors Dirk Nowitzki by listing the current NFL players he'd most like to see win a championship. **More...**

Even Cuban, who normally is a focal point, took a step back by resisting interviews or the spotlight and allowing the team to come first. The Mavericks' win is refreshing, especially in a sport in which superstars reign supreme and the team concept is often lost.

As Cuban's quote above about his one superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, points out, building a culture within a team is vital to having success. Teams cannot act like strangers off the field or court, and then magically develop chemistry once the games begin. It takes time, leadership and, most of all, being together. That is why the lockout will make it hard for teams undergoing a lot of change to compete at the highest level. There will not be enough time to find and build the right culture.

Early in my career as a scout and then later as an executive, I always believed the most talented team was the best. However, as I have learned through my years of service in the league, having a group of great players does not always mean you have the best team or one capable of winning a championship. Just ask any Miami Heat fan what he or she thinks of that theory today. Teams win, not one player. There is a huge difference between building a team and drafting good players. This ability to build as opposed to drafting a team is what separates executives. Therefore, the Executive of the Year award in any sport can only be valid for the championship-winning executive. It takes a team to win a championship, and it takes skill to build the right team.

When a champion is crowned in any sport, it is important for other executives to study how that team was built and understand the common thread that made it a winner. Regardless of the sport, teams are teams, and there is a commonality to a winning organization and, unfortunately for some, a common thread to losing franchises. We see it all the time in the NFL.

In the early 1990's, the Houston Oilers had an incredible collection of talent from Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon to Hall of Fame linemen Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews to Pro Bowlers in every phase of the game. Still, they never even played in an AFC title game let alone sniffed a Super Bowl. Why? In part because when the games got tough, the team never behaved in a similar fashion. They never had the right culture in the locker room to handle the tough times.

Watching the Heat play Sunday reminded me of those Oilers. It also brought to mind why Jets coach Rex Ryan has been successful -- he knows how to build the right culture in the locker room. The Jets are not the most talented defense individually, yet they play as a team instead of as individuals.

With the lockout running into June, will teams be able to build and develop the right culture to compete for a title, or will some just be a collection of talent? Building the right kind of culture takes time and a commitment from the players. Even more important than the commitment, though, is having the right players working toward one common goal.

Once the lockout is over, there will be a mad dash for free agents, adding players and trying to repair the team. Still, the winner of Super Bowl XLVI will be the organization that does not rush to add, but rather creates the right culture and adds the players that fit its environment. That is why, in these uncertain times, teams that have been together the longest and have the best culture and leadership will prevail.

We were reminded Sunday that talent alone does not win. Superstars don't always make the difference. The Mavericks taught us that culture does matter, and the team concept is still the best. I wonder if any NFL teams were paying attention.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.