You can imagine King Arthur at the round table, after a long fought campaign on the battlefield, lifting his chalice proclaiming victory over the fallen and slain barbarians. The challenge to obtain “the ring” is no different than the battle waged between Frodo Baggins and Gollum; when one overcomes the obstacles placed before them for the riches prize of them all. In team sports, an individual doesn’t achieve their goal until their uniform is soaked in their sweat and champagne, and confetti is draped over their bare skin. Then one can look over the landscape and announce to all within shouting distance, “I did it! I’m a winner!” Immortal.
So last week the NBA, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Lakers fan base and your long, lost cousin Raymond celebrated the fact that Kobe Bryant became the fifth (5th) player to surpass 30,000 career points. Bryant joined the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlin as the only players to accomplish this feat. Although this is a great achievement, which signifies his longevity, great health and desire to continue to play the game at a high level, I am not impressed. I relate it to a statement that ESPN’s First Take host Stephen A. Smith made in regards to Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, “He came to work every day.” My biggest issue with the mass media is that with every accomplishment, the comparisons between he and “His Airness” shrink and the allure of his alleged dominance of the sport continues to grow. Now mind you, I’m no fool. I can admit that Kobe is one of the greatest players of our generation. My favorite moment is when he silences the crowd with a dagger of a jump shot in the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal Game against Spain. But did he transcend the sport like Mike did? I think not. Take into account this, according to the website www.wagesofwins.com, an average player, if given the opportunity to take the same number of shots as Bryant during his seventeen (17) years in the league would rank 6th all-time in scoring with 29,847. This statistic includes average shooting guard’s field goal percentage and free throw percentage of 80.4. That would mean players like Larry Hughes, Flip Murray, Blue Edwards, Byron Russell, Monte Ellis and your favorite male bank teller (insert name here) would have a chance for a Hall of Fame career if given the opportunity to shoot as much as Kobe. Anyway, that’s beside the point; winning championships is the reason that Kobe and any other player of his caliber are held in high regard for their accomplishments. No one ever brings up his failures or missteps. See the lauded, self-proclaimed “Black Mamba”, isn’t quite the assassin that he’s made out to be on your 10 p.m. SportsCenter telecast. In an article written by Henry Abbott on January 28, 2011, titled “The Truth about Kobe Bryant in crunch time”, it was determined that trailing by one or two points, or tied, in the final 24 seconds of regular-season and playoff games since 1996-97, with a minimum of 30 shots, Bryant (at that time) shot 31.3% (36-115). The last time Kobe hit such a shot was last year in an 88-85 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. The facts point out that on such occasions, Carmelo Anthony is the “most clutch” player shooting 47.7% (at that time). However, because Anthony has yet to win a championship and has been bounced out of the playoffs in the first round nine out of his first ten seasons, Kobe’s deemed the “winner guy”. See when you win everybody forgets that you were once a disgruntled teammate, called selfish on frequent occasions for not sharing the ball, seen as a dirty player for flailing elbows at Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and Marko Jaric during the course of games for playing tight defense, or a host of other things. Ah, and let’s not forget that coming into tonight’s game against the New York Knicks, in games in which he scores 30 points or more, the Lakers are 1-10. That stat is telling because, when other teammate are involved and the scoring is evenly distributed, the Lakers win. An astonishing revelation! But because he’s Kobe Bryant, the Lakers failures aren’t in part his fault at some level. (refer to Tim Legler on ESPN on December 11th for details) When Kobe applied for employment in the NBA, his job title is “Shooting Guard”. Therefore, having an overall game of distributing the ball for assists or crashing the defensive boards for rebounds isn’t a criteria. When you win, those transgressions are forgotten and you’re instantly placed in an echelon of mythical heroes; gods that surpass the accomplishments of mere mortals.
But this is not an article bashing Kobe Bryant. This manuscript merely points out how winning changes the perception of both the media and public. Take Dan Marino for instance. It can be argued that Marino is the best pure passer in NFL history. A bona fide Hall of Famer who only lacks a Super Bowl championship on his resume. However, when discussed at your local eatery, barbershop or picnic, Marino doesn’t stack up to the likes of Joe Montana, John Elway, or Troy Aikman. The reason, he did not win “The Big One.” Until Elway won in his last two (2) seasons with the Broncos, he was clearly behind Marino as a quarterback. However, with the help of a running game lead by Terrell Davis and a stout defense, Elway achieved the once unreachable and surpassed Number 13. The two (2) players hadn’t changed at all; it was the winning that catapulted Elway ahead the once all-time passing leader in every statistical category before Brett Favre broke his records.
This is by far the sport with the biggest contradiction. When asked if Robert Horry is a Hall of Fame player, most people would suggest “Yes! That’s Big Shot Bob! He’s won seven (7) rings! He has to go to the Fame!” That would mean you’re voting someone into the Hall of Fame based on the fact that he made a number of last second shots and not based on his overall talent; dismissing the fact that he’s played 1,107 games, starting only 509. Additionally, people forget that he once threw a towel in then Phoenix Suns’ coach Danny Ainge’s face during a verbal confrontation in a game. Here are Horry’s career numbers: FG% – .425; RPG 4.8; APG 2.1; PPG 7.0. And that’s Hall of Fame worthy? Childe Please! (Chad Johnson voice) Based on that argument, that would mean that he’s comparable to Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, whom have never won rings but had stellar careers.
Coaches and Teams
So last year, prior to the Miami Heat winning the championship, Eric Spoelstra was designated as the worst possible coach to lead a group of all-star players to the ultimate team prize. Forget that prior to Lebron James’ and Chris Bosh’s arrival, he coached a team with Dwayne Wade, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers to consecutive winning seasons and playoff appearances. Since winning the championship, you have not heard one basketball commentator call for Spoelstra’s removal or replacement by Pat Riley. Since 1982 (30 years), here is list of the teams that have won the championship: Detroit Pistons; Chicago Bulls; Houston Rockets; San Antonio Spurs; Boston Celtics; Miami Heat; Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. That’s a total of eight teams in 30 years. Since 2004, there have been only three (3) teams from the AFC to appear in the Super Bowl: New England Patriots; Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. You what know that means…? Winning is hard, but there are teams and people that have equal talent or less opportunity and do not receive the accolades given to others in the same position. You can only succeed when given the chance to do so; and when you do get that chance, seize that opportunity.
Now take whatever job you perform for a living and apply it to this argument. How many times have you perhaps been passed up for a promotion or chance for advancement by someone who was perhaps your equal or less qualified? You pullout your resume and you have just as many certificates, commendations, and recommendations as your counterpart. However, because you took time off to tend to your ill child or for maternity leave, or because you had a disagreement with your supervisor, does that make you any less qualified for the job than before? Of course not! You were just never provided an opportunity to showcase your talent. When it comes to being designated a winner, it’s all a matter of perception. During the past five (5) years, it was evident that Lebron James was clearly the best basketball player in the world; at least in the United States. However, because he did not win until last season, the likes of Skip Bayless, Rick Bucher and even Ervin “Magic” Johnson, criticized him for his failures. People look at Magic as the ultimate winner, top five (5) player, all-time Laker great, etc. However, people forget that although Magic won five (5) championships, he lost four (4) series in that scenario in convincing fashion. That part of his career is never discussed; he’s absolved; like it never existed. To further my point, just look at the panel of any sports telecast. The former sports stars have either won or participated in a championship type game. Not to say that others aren’t qualified or have a gift to articulate their feeling in a public forum, it says that “we” want to hear, see and speak to winners, whether they are worthy or not. I say all that to say this, the next time you have an argument about who’s the best player in whatever sport, refer to this article, use your sports’ intellect and before you utter a word say, “You know what? You dead right!” and leave the conversation alone. Because even armed with facts and statistics, if the person you argue for hasn’t won a championship, it’s a mute point. (b)
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