An interesting discussion took place in my Sport Psychology course last week when a student presented The Ewing Theory to the class, a theory developed by ESPN personality Bill Simmons that tries to explain why in rare instances when a star player is injured (or leaves the team) the team actually plays better than when the star was in the lineup. While I had been casually aware (and intrigued) over the years that some superstar players never have had the ultimate, championship-level success (Charles Barkley and Dan Marino immediately come to mind), I was not aware that Bill Simmons had developed a pseudo-theory around the irony of some teams playing better when their best player is absent form the lineup.
Interestingly, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks (Ewing’s former team — more irony??) may be the poster boy for the Ewing Theory today. Anthony is regularly one of the highest scoring players in the league, a multiple All-Star, and even a three time Olympian — yet for all those accomplishments and accolades he hasn’t come close to a championship in his ten years in the league. In fact, when he missed substantial time with an injury two years ago, the legend of Jeremy Lin began (“Linsanity”) and the Knicks played better without Anthony than they did with him.
While Carmelo Anthony might be an outlier or anomaly when it comes to superstar players and team success, it is worth noting that not only has he not come close to a championship and his teams in the past have played better without him on the court, it also seems that he doesn’t drive very much interest from other teams interested in acquiring him by trade. Think about that for a moment – here’s a player who just won the individual scoring title last year and few teams seem to be actively interested in pursuing him.
So why do some teams play better when their star player is not in the lineup? Immediate reasons would seem to include better team dynamics and flow, better focus and responsibility amongst individual players, and perhaps a little “chip on the shoulder” mental toughness by players on the team hoping to prove critics wrong that they really can win without their star. Or maybe the success witnessed when the star player goes down should be attributed to great coaching, as the stakes are that much more increased for the coach to make the best of a tough situation. The truth is it’s probably a little bit of all of that, and likely even some luck, that contributes to better and stronger team chemistry and cohesion when the star player is not available. So there you have it — “The Ewing Theory” — perhaps one of the stranger occurrences seen in sports!
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anthony, bill, carmelo, chemistry, Coaching, cohesion, dynamics, ESPN, ewing, psychology, simmons, sport, team, theory