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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ of sports: Misfit teams that thrived when put together

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We’re looking for “The Guardians of the Galaxy” of sports.

The Guardians of the Galaxy were relative unknowns as characters when they were introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2014. The success of the franchise inside of the bigger picture of the rest of Marvel’s Infinity Saga gave birth to one of the most beloved casts and set of characters despite skepticism of how things might work when they were introduced to us.

All week at SB Nation, we have been taking a look at the MCU and the impact it has had on the world at large and some of the things that have bled over into all of sports. Here, a panel of our writers are going to take a look at some of the teams that mirror the ragtag collection of characters thriving once they found each other.

The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons

Perhaps it is just the Detroit in me (spoiler alert: it absolutely is), but there is no better representation of throwing a bunch of pieces together and crossing your fingers that it works than this group.

Ben Wallace was the heart and soul of the team, but had bounced around the league for a few years and was undrafted. Chauncey Billups was the No. 3 overall pick in 1997, but was on four different teams before landing in Detroit in 2002. Rip Hamilton was part of a trade that sent Jerry Stackhouse, an All-Star scorer, out of Detroit. Tayshaun Prince was a star at Kentucky, but had a hard time cracking the rotation early in his Pistons career. The final piece was Rasheed Wallace, who was a fiery personality despite having all of the talent in the world.

The Pistons were a formidable team in the East before adding the latter Wallace to the mix, but he was the final piece to a puzzle that saw them make a run through the playoffs and then cast the final blow in the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal Los Angeles Lakers dynasty. The Pistons rode an elite defense and contributions from all every direction to take down the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, winning the series 4-1. They came a Game 7 short of going back-to-back, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. The 2006 Pistons would finish with a regular season record of 64-18, but lost in six games to Dwayne Wade and Shaq’s Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. That would be the last time the Pistons’ starting five shared the court together, as Ben Wallace would leave for the Chicago Bulls ahead of the 2006-07 season.

— Anthony Broome

The 2013 Red Sox

The 2013 Red Sox really had no business being as good as they were. Boston was coming off a very not nice record of 69-93 and finished last in the division during the absolutely disastrous one-year experiment with Bobby Valentine as manager in 2012. With new manager John Farrell at the helm, the Red Sox had some really great pieces to work with — namely superstars in David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Dustin Pedroia — but had some questions marks coming off an utterly horrific season.

The Red Sox pretty much cruised to an AL East pennant, but the season was a real rollercoaster. The squad donned a “Boston Strong” patch after the Boston Marathon bombings, and Big Papi’s emotional “THIS IS OUR F*CKING CITY” speech served as a rallying point for the team and city.

At one point in September, Mike Napoli (basically Drax, if we’re being honest), Mike Carp, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all hit grand slams over the span of a week. Not home runs, grand slams.

Oh and don’t forget the beards. Just about every member of the team grew distinct beards, and it became such a thing that the team adopted “fear the beard” as the official slogan heading into the postseason.

Every time it looked like they were out of a fight, they’d come through in the clutch.

The Red Sox would go on to beat Tampa Bay, Detroit, and St. Louis en route to their third World Series title in 10 seasons. With huge contributions from guys like Napoli, Carp, Saltalamacchia, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Brandon Workman, and Will Middlebrooks, how can it be anything other than a rag tag success?

— Caroline Darney

The Rock & Sock Connection

Look, I get it, some of you are probably foaming at the mouth because I dared to mention a WWE tag team, but there’s very little that better typifies a “misfit team” than when The Rock and Mankind teamed up and became tag team champions in 1999.

The pairing was perfect. You had The Rock, stalwart babyface (good guy) teaming up with the misunderstood Mankind to form a classic Odd Couple amidst the WWE’s “Attitude Era.” Not only were they two of the best, most-popular wrestlers in the world at the time, but they had natural charisma and chemistry together.

Wrestling fans knew the team wouldn’t last. These were two of the top singles competitors in the company working as a tag team, but it lifted both of them. It allowed The Rock to be his classic, smack-talking self, and Mankind to almost be the straight man — which was a hilarious departure for someone whose character was largely comedic.

The duo were dynamite in the ring, and electricity off it. Nobody can forget the classic “Mr. Rocko” promo, in which Mankind gifted The Rock with his own, personalized sock puppet, that looked like it was air brushed on a seaside boardwalk. Everything that was good about WWE at the time was typified by The Rock & Sock Connection, and they are my pick for the greatest misfit team of all time.

— James Dator

The 2005-06 Phoenix Suns

From Bright Side of the Sun:

Some how, some way, this group of misfits still won 54 games and finished 1st in the Pacific Division. They would match up against Kobe (who had 35.4 ppg that year...the 9th best scoring season in NBA history) and the Lakers in the First Round of the 2006 Playoffs.

The Suns would go down 3-1 to Los Angeles, and it felt like all hope was lost. Yet, in true superhero fashion, they battled back to win the series in seven games. This was in large part to another Guardians-esque misfit, Tim Thomas (we’ll allow him to be Yondu in this scenario)

— John Voita, Bright Side of the Sun

Team North America

Team North America is, was, and always will be my favorite hockey team. They played together for only six games total, but the mark they made on hockey is one that will not be forgotten. This team was the brainchild of NHL General Manager Gary Bettman leading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and included 23 players under the age of 23 from the United States and Canada.

This means that current stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel were all playing on the same team. It was the first official look at the Toronto Maple Leafs 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews whom many had not been able to watch while he was playing in Switzerland.

Team North America was everything traditional hockey analysts hate — they had the confidence of youth without having earned their time, they played a run-and-gun offensively aggressive style, and they were endlessly cool. Also, the logo is awesome. This was a snapshot of what the NHL was about to become, a transition from the second dead puck era into a future of fast, skilled hockey.

2016 World Cup Of Hockey Shoot Photo by Brian Babineau/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images

Alas, this team wasn’t as successful as they were legendary. They won two of their three pre-tournament games but when it came time to the actual World Cup of Hockey, the did not advance past the first round with a record of 2-1, losing to the only team that mattered in the tie breaker to advance. The finished the tournament in fifth place but will forever be first in the heart of everyone who watched these young bucks usher in the new age of hockey.

— Steph Driver