In game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls led the Miami Heat by 12 with about 3 minutes left in the game.
The Bulls lost. Their average age is about 27 years old.
The Heat, on the other hand, is the oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 30 and some change. Miami is the only team in the league above the 30 year old mean.
In game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder led the Dallas Mavericks by 15 with 5 minutes remaining.
The Thunder lost. Its average is just under 25 years old.
The winning Mavs’ have an average age of about 29 years old. They're the third oldest in the league. (The Lakers are second). When adjusted for playing time, the Mavs become the oldest team, the Heat fourth.
Looking at average NBA experience in years for these teams, the Heat top the group with 8.1 years followed by the Mavericks at 7.3 years. The Bulls are at 5.1 while the fledgling Thunder are at 3.3.
Both conference champions won their series 4-1, and not necessarily by wide margins. The games were super close for most of the quarters. But the Heat and the Mavs closed the games -- and their respective series -- with phenomenal plays, decisions, defense, and overall execution.
The games that ended up being series closing contests -- in disbelief to many -- were prime examples of what age and experience means in the NBA. Historically, teams that win an NBA championship have an average age of at least 28 with just a couple exceptions the last 20 years (the Bulls of 1991 and the Lakers of 2009).
The Heat and the Mavericks are built to win championships. They have firepower. They have superstars. They have experienced players who have been to many a playoff game. They have role players who get excited for their teammates on the court. They’re better on paper when looking at overall weapons. They have sustainability and maturity in them -- and around them -- as a collective unit.
There is no argument that Miami has the personnel -- three all-stars and Olympians synthesized to succeed -- and Chicago has one person in the form of a young superstar still learning how to make himself and everyone around him better (and probably hoping he gets some more teammates who he’ll have an easier time making better).
However, to become a team with a high average age and years of experience, players have to be good enough to stay in the league. And even the players who don’t get into the games (the Heat’s Juwan Howard has hardly seen the floor), are there as true teammates, supporting from the bench, and more importantly, working and teaching and mentoring in practice. What the average fan doesn’t witness is how important those teachings are beyond the 48 minutes of game action.
So, as one may argue face value of average age and compare it with average age adjusted for playing time, it’s very hard to substitute experienced teammates that can pass on vital lessons learned and instruct, player to player, teammate to teammate. Veteran ballers like Miami’s Howard and teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskus. Dallas’ Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. Even Chicago’s Kurt Thomas (who for a couple brief minutes on Thursday looked like Chicago’s savior and series extender with a couple key jump shots). Combine those types of players with the greats of their teams who also have the age-plus-experience-equals-win equation and there exists a solid foundation for success and a mutual understanding of “how to get it done”. To close quarters. To close games. To believe in one another. To push each other in practice.
There is talk of how Miami did not work on offense all that much in the fall. The newest installment of a Big Three, along with its experienced peers, knew the team built to win a championship would have to defend. And defend it has. With quickness and length and buy-in and years of basketball IQ.
Miami has NBA champion and MVP Dwyane Wade as well as another ring bearer in Udonis Haslem.
Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki, an uncanny and prominent closer in his own right who has been through battles (ironically enough, with the Heat in the 2006 Finals), plus so much more in next level leadership.
To have a floor general of Jason Kidd’s stature -- at 38 years old -- who has been to the NBA Finals and enjoyed a stellar -- and what one could call an improving career -- is even more special. Or a 32-year-old Mike Bibby. Even Eddie House, who at 32 has been around winning during his days with the Boston Celtics. It’s noticeable -- he is the first one to cheer on his Heat teammates from the sidelines.
Individual plays are fun. Results from team experience can be even more exciting to watch. Plays are made, especially down the stretch, that take more than just physical ability or athleticism. They are mentally rehearsed, imagined, discussed, analyzed, actively practiced, and integrated. In the best teams, we see a convergence of commitment, trust, communication. and execution. The feel for the game, one’s own and his teammates, keeps the athletically aged spry and, in the case of Dallas and Miami, just damn good.
A tremendous contest awaits. May the best -- or the oldest -- team win.