Polity by Rob Salmond


The pantheon of sporting dominance

A couple of years ago, an English journalist stumbled across some scrawl in an All Blacks meeting room:

We are the most dominant team in the history of the world.

After retaining the Rugby World Cup emphatically, it’s a title some other journalists are now throwing around, not just for rugby, but across all sports. While these All Blacks’ historic supremacy in rugby isn’t in doubt, does their record justify the title of “best anywhere, anytime, at anything?”

Bad news first: the All Blacks are not the most dominant sports team in the history of the world, and probably never will be.

The US men’s basketball team – of 1992 Dream Team fame – has an all time winning percentage of 86.4%, including going 130-5 at the Olympics. The All Blacks, for all their greatness, have an all time winning percentage of only 76.8%.

To match the US basketball team’s record, the All Blacks need to win more than 250 more tests, in a row. That’s a big ask.

The US women’s basketball team and US women’s soccer team have similar win-loss records, and are similarly impossible to catch.

Of course, the goal of being the most dominant team in any sport, ever is – to channel Steve Hansen – “fairly ambitious.” So if there’s still the odd team above them, exactly how great is the All Blacks brand, and this All Blacks group in particular?

First, let’s look at soccer. Brazil is the all-time best national soccer team in the world, winning 63.4% of its games. By itself, that doesn’t seem anywhere near the All Blacks’ 76.8% record. But draws are much more common in soccer, due to its low-scoring nature. Are the laws of soccer masking Brazil’s true dominance?

Brazil’s full international record is 599 wins, 160 losses, and 186 draws. For the All Blacks it is 413-106-19. To address the too-easy-to-draw effect, we can remove all draws from both teams’ records, comparing only wins and losses.

On that apples-for-apples measure of dominance, the All Blacks win 3.90 matches for every loss, while Brazil only gets 3.74 wins per loss. All Blacks win.

Club soccer? Manchester United was the most dominant team over the first 125 years of British league soccer, managing a record of 1,688-869-987, for 1.71 wins-per-loss. Every time the All Blacks lose, they win more than double that in response. Full historic records for European and South American clubs are harder to come by, but none will be twice as good as Manchester United.

The All Blacks all time record also leaves top performers in America’s professional leagues in the dirt. The most dominant franchise is the LA Lakers, with a 60.4% win rate in the NBA. The Green Bay Packers are the best in the NFL (57.6%), and the New York Yankees in baseball (56.8%).

How about this current group of All Blacks?

Their record is even better, beating the most celebrated efforts in basketball, baseball, soccer, or even tennis.

The 1995-6 Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, posted the most dominant season in the history of the NBA. They went 72-10 over 82 games (87.8%) in the regular season. But these All Blacks have won 90.2% of their last 82 games.

Babe Ruth played on the legendary 1927 New York Yankees, sitting alongside Lou Gehrig in a “murderers row” of feared hitters. They’re widely seen as the best team in baseball history, even though the 1906 Chicago Cubs actually have the best record. Those Yankees went 110-44 in the 154 game regular season, a 71.4% win rate.

Over their last 154 tests, the All Blacks win 87.0% of the time. They lose less than half as often, over just as many games, as the best baseball team ever.

Much has been made of the All Blacks record since the last world cup. Four years, 49 wins, three losses, two draws. That’s a four-year period with over sixteen wins per loss. Sixteen.

Manchester United’s most dominant four year stretch ever was from 2005-2009, under Sir Alex Ferguson. They won a Champions League title, two FA Cups, and three EPL titles. Over that time, they amassed a 108-19-25 record, for 5.68 wins per loss. It’s, relatively, pathetic.

From 2004-2007, Roger Federer utterly dominated tennis. He won eleven grand slam titles. His record was 315-24, clocking up 13.13 wins per loss. That’s near All Black levels of dominance, but these All Blacks are still better.

So, that’s where the world champion All Blacks stand in the pantheon of global sports. All time, they’re not quite the Dream Team, but they’re better than Brazil or any American franchise. And the current All Blacks are better than Michael Jordan’s best NBA team, Babe Ruth’s best baseball team, Sir Alex Ferguson’s best Manchester United team, and Roger Federer’s best years.

That is global, historic greatness.

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