Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Championships Are Over Rated

The NBA Finals are here. Tomorrow, the Finals are under way in OKC and we're already hearing all of the usual championship hype. Who's going to step up, who's going to shrivel under pressure, what legacies will be created and which will be tarnished forever? But while championship rings are of course an important symbol of a great career (you have to have done something right to win one), they are also undoubtedly over rated in regards to a player's success. Whenever the topic of greatest players ever is brought up, it always comes back to the rings. Kobe fans can throw that in the face of the haters, "he's got 5 rings, bro!". Gretzky's worshippers can tell you how unreal his number of rings are, Jeter supporters always have the hardware argument to fall back on, and people in the Bill Russell is the greatest basketball player ever camp love that picture of him rocking his rings on every finger like he's Slick Rick. But while those are undeniably among the greatest to ever lace up sneakers, cleats and skates, does not having a ring mean a player's career was a complete bust? Of course not. Barkley, Ewing, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, the list goes on and on of great players who don't have rings and who's reputations have taken hits because of it. Ewing leads the Knicks in nearly every statistical category possible but there's a large portion of Knicks fans who will list him behind Willis Reed or Clyde Frazier on the all time Knicks list because he wasn't ever able to win in June. That's crazy. Is Nazr Mohammed a better former Knicks center because he has a ring (and may get another this season) and Ewing doesn't? Robert Horry and Steve Kerr were very good role players who hit a ton of big shots (hence the nickname Big shot Bob) but the fact that they were a part of 9 straight championships from 1994-2003 shouldn't overshadow that they were not even all star worthy players. They hit huge shots but also were just really, really lucky to ride the coat tails of some of the greatest players ever. If not for Jordan, Pippen, Olajuwon, Kobe, Shaq and Duncan, Robert Horry and Steve Kerr would be Cedric Ceballos and Tim Legler. That one piece of jewelry causes most people to over rate a player's worth even if winning a championship requires a huge amount of factors to fall into place just right. A couple bounces one way or the other and we view Barkley as a top 5 all time player, rather than a second tier superstar who's good for a funny quote. There is no shame in falling just short against the greatest athlete of all time. Those guys on the previous list just happened to be born around the same time as MJ.

This isn't to say that we should disregard championships altogether as measuring sticks. In certain cases, a player's failure to deliver in the clutch or lack of a competitive instinct (we're looking at you, LeBron and Karl Malone) were/are symbolized by their empty mantles (well, I guess they have MVP trophies and other things that billions of dollars can buy you but no ring). But, we shouldn't let the magical ring overpower a player's entire career in either direction. In a couple weeks, LeBron could very well win one, and then everything will be forgiven. Or Derek Fisher could suddenly have as many rings as Jordan and Nazr Mohammed could have as many as Olajuwon. Only a fool would put those guys in the same class simply because of their jewelry collection, but are they any more "winning guys" than the players who weren't in the right place at the right time? We'll never know, but let's not let championships over rate, or under rate, athletes'legacies.