Sports failure: a definition undefined


By Owen Halberstadt & Mitchell Lookner

Graphic by Denise Chan

With playoffs underway, chaos is already ensuing within the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Miami Heat versus Milwaukee Bucks matchup was one not many paid close attention to, but the fourth game of the seven-game series was the big turning point in the series, with the Heat taking a 3-1 lead. 

The Heat would go on to win Game 5 and ultimately the series, a historic victory being one of the few eight seeds to ever take down a one, and the first ever to accomplish it in only five games.

With the Bucks highly favored to advance far into the playoffs, and the Heat expected to not put up a fight, the recent defeat is now recognized as one of the biggest failures in sports history. During a press conference after the loss, two time league Most Valuable Player (MVP) and 2021 NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetekunmpo was asked if he viewed the season as “a failure”.

 Antetokounmpo, seemingly irritated by the question, extensively explained his definition of failure. He referenced notorious basketball legend Michael Jordan saying that falling short is just a “step to success”.

The Bucks’ all-time leading scorer understands the lasting impact of this loss. While awards and regular season success adds to a legacy, winning in the postseason is key to becoming a legend. Holding the top record in the regular season provides an advantage in the playoffs; however, stellar playoff performance solidifies a player as one of the all-time greats.

The 2023 Boston Bruins are a primary example of a massacre — a Boston Massacre, for that matter. The Bruins had just come off of the greatest season in National Hockey League (NHL) history, finishing with a 65-12 record in the regular season. 

The Bruins brought Boston fans to their feet the entire season, with players such as David Pastrnak and Patrice Burgeron leading the way. Although it seemed inevitable that a Stanley Cup title would arrive in Boston, that did not end up being the case. 

The Bruins were matched up with the Florida Panthers, a wild card team that finished just ten games above .500. With the Bruins only losing four games at home the entire season, it seemed impossible for them to not skate by the Panthers. 

The obvious difference between the regular season and playoffs is the intensity and pressure level. Regular season success only goes so far, a main reason for talented teams struggling to perform come playoff time. A player or team unable to rise to the occasion are looked down upon as their disappointing true colors are revealed under the bright lights.

The Bruins held a 3-1 advantage before dropping three straight to lose the series. They lost three home games in this series alone, making the defeat even more dreadful. You could think of the brutal loss the way Antetekunmpo thought about his defeat, in that they are “steps to success.” 

After a historic season of winning, however, a championship is vital to achieve the ultimate success. It looks like the Bruins forget there are four rounds to win in order to reach a title.

Similarly to the Bruins, in 2007, the New England Patriots made history as they went 16-0 in the regular season, beating the Miami Dolphins record of 14-0 in 1972. The Dolphins went on to win the Super Bowl that year, completing the most significant accomplishment in American Football. 

The Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and wide receiver Randy Moss, won their playoff games. After defeating the San Diego Chargers in the American Football Conference Championship Game, they moved on to the Super Bowl to face an above average New York Giants team. The Giants had gone 10-6 in the regular season, and after miraculously making the Super Bowl, they were 12-point underdogs. 

Against all odds, the Patriots were defeated 17 to 14 by the Giants, ruining their hopes of a perfect season. This was a crushing moment for all Patriots fans, but was it really a failure? Ultimately, the Patriots achieved the most regular season success possible: they had a top-five defense and among the best offenses in the National Football League (NFL). 

Yet there will always be an asterisk next to the 2007 Patriots season indicating that even though Tom Brady won MVP, even though Randy Moss broke the all-time touchdown record for receivers and even though the Patriots to this day still have the most wins ever in the regular season, the team will always be known for falling victim to an underdog team when it mattered most.

Whether it be hockey, basketball or football, failures in professional sports are brought to the attention of fans everywhere. Teams have rolled through the regular season breaking records and having fun until the postseason rolls around, and these elite regular season teams inexplicably drop the ball. 

This trend raises the question: is the season as a whole dubbed a failure? There are many ways to view it, but losing in the most critical moments is not a reflection of failure, nor success — it is the valuable lessons learned and the vital experience gained that truly matters.

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