Between LeBron, Chris Paul, and practically everyone else in the NBA any time there’s a trade of any significance, I’ve come to a strange conclusion: I’m sick of hearing about championships.
I don’t mean to say that I believe NBA players shouldn’t be thinking about winning or trying to win. By their very nature, every professional athlete should be wired to compete, to dominate, to conquer. If they’re not, they should be making their living doing something else instead.
My problem is with the way championships are now perceived. From what I can tell, the title of every professional sport has become a check box—something that every player with an eye toward his legacy believes he must be able to mark off. If not, the thinking is that the player automatically becomes second-rate.
Since it’s always the default comparison in this case, just consider the difference between how Charles Barkley (off-court issues aside) and MJ are perceived. Barkley’s empty ring fingers seem to have made him a cautionary tale to every pro basketball player of subsequent generations. Yet, during his career, Chuck was an absolute monster. If you don’t believe me, check his stats—and keep in mind while you’re doing it that he was putting up those numbers at power forward while standing a mere 6’-6”.
Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Chuck’s name is the glaring lack of a championship on his resume. Now, players like LeBron, Chris Paul, and everyone else born after 1980 look at Barkley like the poster child of some kind of pro basketball “Scared Straight” campaign. (“Don’t lift the Larry O’Brien trophy, and you’ll end up like him!”)
Championships have somehow become the be-all, end-all in every sporting discussion. There’s an entire segment of the population that believes the “Kobe vs. LeBron” discussion is idiotic simply because LeBron is ringless. Therefore, how can he even be considered in the same breath as Kobe Bryant, 5-time champion?
As a result, the possibility of potentially doing something historic, of assuming greater risk for the possibility of greater reward, has become irrelevant. There is nothing—not loyalty, not an emotional connection to a place or a fan base or teammates—as important as a championship. Because without one, what are you, really?
This, I believe, is the primary motivator behind the power moves this generation’s superstars are now pulling. LeBron willing to go to Miami to play a supporting role to Wade? Better than not winning a championship. Chris Paul making every effort to burn the sports fans of one of the most unique and real-life ill-fated cities in the country? At least he won’t be the failure who could never win the Finals.
This isn’t necessarily the fault of the young players themselves. It’s the inevitable result of how we as a sporting culture have set our priorities. In team sports, the teams are obviously made up of individuals. Especially in the case of baskestball, where only 5 men are on the court for a team at any given time, the impact of a single player can be enormous. At the same time, no player is ever alone on the court, so pinning the ultimate success or failure of the team on one person is inherently illogical.
There’s a paradox at work, too, because we certainly honor individual greatness. But in a bizarre way, we respect the individual’s impact so much that his team’s failures become the individual’s fault. It’s even evident in the language when we discuss this topic. Very seldom do we say “Charles Barkley’s Suns never won the title.” We simply say, “Charles Barkley never won the title.” After all, why skirt around the damnation by acknowledging reality?
This is why I’m disappointed in Chris Paul’s trade demands, and in LeBron’s decision to merge with a rival rather than try to knock him out. On some level, I feel like those guys are surrendering. They would rather diminish their own greatness, the possibility of what *could* happen, for what they believe is a guarantee that they’ll be able to check off the championship box. They’re playing it safe—and doing it partially because we’ve all made them believe that that’s the only thing that matters.
It’s also why part of me wants to defend Mo Williams, who begged not to be traded because Cleveland has become his home and he believes the Cavs can get it done; or Byron Scott, who took the Cavs’ coaching job without any security that the team would be a contender next year. For all their other faults, these are men who believe in something greater than popular opinion. They understand that there are possibilities but no guarantees. (As Shaq said this past year, “I won four championships. Three of them? Lucky as hell.”) And above all else, they have values or desires that exceed catering to the fans and analysts and past greats blinded by jewelry. They stand for something.
I wish I could say the same for more of the players who make my favorite sport run.
Read this whole thing if you have the time. I didn’t (I’m still at the office testing the fuckin’ site and all the copy is edited and uploaded and the tech geeks are telling me I have to help test and wahhhhhh)
This made some really good points. But, you are a bit crazy when you say: “From 1994 to 2007, Robert Horry was the most feared crunch time playoff performer.”
IMHO, there was this guy playing for the Bulls, who was prolly a little more feared. But that’s just guess work on my part because damn Bob could put up the most feared 7 & 5 & 2 in the history of modern professional basketball.
The other day, I sat down to dinner with a few friends and one way or another, Robert Horry’s name came up. And as any sportsfan who grew up in the 90’s/00’s should be able to tell you, Horry is the most clutch basketball player of our day. Someone at the table had the audacity to claim that Derek Fisher was actually more clutch. Yes, I know Derek Fisher hit the ‘0.4 seconds left’ shot, but calling Fisher the most clutch player of our day, is like saying Charles Barkley is in shape. The only shape that Charles Barkley’s in is round.
Horry’s seven championships should speak for themselves. 2 with Houston, 3 with the Lakers, and 2 with San Antonio. He is the only player to have won + titles who was not a member of the 1960 Boston Celtics. Winning 7 titles aside, Horry hit so many big shots, and has so many big games that its hard to keep track of them all. Bill Simmons tried, and concluded:
“Maybe 15 years from now, when ESPN Classic shows Game 5 of the 2005 Finals some day and I’m calling my buddy House just to tell him, “Turn on Classic, they’re showing the Robert Horry Game, “I can pretty much guarantee his response: Which one?”
Does this make Horry a eventual Hall of Famer? Let’s put it this way; Horry played the game the way it should be played. Yes, his regular season stats were average, if not below-average. Yes, he disappeared for stretches of games. Yes, he hip-checked Steve Nash and got Boris Diaw and Amar’e Stoudemire ejected. Which all is moot, because Horry sacrificed for the good of the team. Horry did not complain about touches. He didn’t complain about playing help defence. He didn’t compain about playing time. He hit shots and won titles.
If LeBron James were to retire today, having not won a championship, I would much rather have Robert Horry’s career - I kid you not. We all know LeBron will get his rings (now that he’s the greatest second fiddle of all-time, playing behind Mr. Wade) but up until this point, it is safe to say that Robert Horry has had the better career.
Now the argument that Horry is a Hall of Famer based on the fact he won titles is not merely enough. It was the way that Horry played for those championship teams that seperates Horry from others. Though he played with Olajuwon, O’Neal, and Duncan, he hit big shots on all 7 of his title runs, as evidenced by this video. From 1994 to 2007, Robert Horry was the most feared crunch time playoff performer. Just ponder that for a second. Playing with Shaq, Kobe, Duncan, and Olajuwon, Horry was the guy who made opposing arenas scared in crunch time of playoff games. And if that is Hall of Fame worthy, I don’t know what is.
“Instead of asking Michael Jordan — that noted misanthrope — perhaps we should be asking Magic Johnson who he’d rather play with. Did he want the lowly Chicago Bulls to win the coin flip in 1980 to secure his draft rights, or the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-featuring Los Angeles Lakers? Did he want the Lakers to draft James Worthy first overall in 1982, or some scrub in order to even the competition and make it all about Magic?”—Kelly Dwyer, on MJ & LeBron (via nbaoffseason)
“We’re going to be wearing a bull’s-eye, but that’s what you play for. We enjoy the bull’s-eye. Plus, there’s going to be times when we lose two, three games in a row and it seems like the world has crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade [Center] is coming down again, but it’s not going to be nothing but a couple of basketball games”—
DWYANE WADE, referring to 9/11 while talking about basketball!
The Heat & Celtics were thought to be favorites. I am going to go with the Lakers as my prediction. I think Kobe, snubbed by Raja Bell who reneged on a requested “sit down” with the Black Mamba, went all out and sent Barnes an order from Proflowers.com.