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“If you don’t win the championship, it means nothing.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this said in sports over the years. Apparently it’s a “loser’s mentality” to say a team had a good season if they didn’t win the whole thing.
Is winning a championship the ultimate goal for all teams? Of course. But do great seasons without a title mean nothing? Sorry, but that’s a horrible take, and a crazy amount of fans believe it.
There are two big comparisons that come to my mind.
The Indianapolis Colts vs. The New York Giants
From 1999-present, who do you believe has been the more successful franchise? The Giants won two Super Bowls, and the Colts won one. Does that automatically end that debate? The Colts have been to the playoffs 15 times during that stretch, while the Giants have gone eight times. The Colts were perennial contenders in the Peyton Manning years, while the Giants had several bad seasons mixed in. Which fan base has had more fun over the last two decades?
How about an example from baseball?
The Marlins vs. the Braves
In the last 25 years, the Marlins have two World Series titles and the Braves have one. Would you really argue that the Marlins have had the better franchise? I’m sure all 25 of their season-ticket holders would say yes, but that’s beside the point. Did the 14-straight division titles by the Braves mean nothing because they “only had one title” from it?
Here’s the thing: Sports are amazing for a number of reasons. But the main reason sports even exist is for one purpose:
Yes, championships are the goal. Championships mean so much to a city, a fan base, and a franchise. But you know what else means a lot to a fan base? A team you can be proud of. A team that entertains you. A team that gives you something to talk about. A team that makes you feel united to others in the fan base.
The more big games your team plays in, the more entertained you are. The further your team goes, the more nights you have to get excited about.
If you follow a team that is out of the race early in the season, it takes all of the fun out of it.
If you follow a team that is good all year, makes the playoffs, then loses — sure, they didn’t reach their ultimate goal. But it still mattered. It still meant something.
The Pacers have never won an NBA title. But they’ve been to the playoffs more times than any other Eastern Conference team since 1989. Does all of that mean nothing? I can assure you, it has meant a lot to a state that loves basketball.
Of course, not all seasons are equal. I’m not suggesting mediocrity is a good thing. I’m not suggesting the Colts were happy with only winning one Super Bowl in the Manning years. For certain teams, a “title or bust” mentality is more valid. I’ll take that Cubs World Series over a large number of “good” seasons any day.
I just want to end the nonsense that titles are the only thing that matters.
This is even more true in high school sports. As a varsity girls basketball coach, winning is still a goal — but it’s not the only goal. While sports bring entertainment to the fans, they bring life lessons and memories to the athletes. Make no mistake — winning matters. Participation trophies aren’t valuable. But championships are not the only thing that brings value to sports.
The journey of a season is a beautiful thing. The struggles and triumphs. The ups and the downs. The story-lines. The conversations. The “what-ifs.” It will never just be about the end result.
So, support your teams. Have some perspective. And most importantly, never forget to enjoy the ride.
Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girls’ basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.