On 7/2/12 I expressed my strong feelings in a blog entitled “Is It Necessary to Place Shortcomings on the Great Ones?” It had to do with fans not being able to appreciate individual excellence in the field of sports unless the person or his team “won it all” (limiting, for now, fans’ comments to men - a word of caution to women: WATCH OUT, you’re next - it’s just that women’s sports haven’t been around as long). Nothing short of a championship is accepted to stave off criticism. What follows is a reprint of that post - as well as additional commentary (in italics and bold) in an effort to update it.
LeBron James finally (after all, he’s already 27 - he’s currently 29) put to rest that, although he was a great player, he couldn’t win a championship. Like they’re easy to come by. It’s always been that way. In fact, just last week I was at lunch with a few NBA fans when one of them (a guy I barely knew) actually said Wilt Chamberlain was a loser because, “sure he had stats, but he won ‘only’ two NBA titles.” Much to his dismay I asked him how many titles he had won, “I mean, counting all of them - Little League, summer hoop camps, even spelling bees.” He was somewhat taken aback. Hey, here’s somebody he’d met a time or two questioning his learned opinion. He kind of raised up, looked me straight in the eye and said, as only that kind of fan can, “More than Wilt!”
Now NBA followers are placing the “good stats/great player but can’t win a championship” mantle on Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard just like they did to Charles Barkley, Pete Maravich, John Stockton & Karl Malone. Let’s examine the last two. They came in second in back-to-back years, yet are any of the people criticizing them - including sportswriters and talking heads on TV and radio (including satellite) - considered #2 in their respective (not to be confused with “respected”) fields? Forget back-to-back, even for just one ratings period.
Some of those guys got close but it just wasn’t to be. Maybe they played in the wrong era; maybe they didn’t quite have the right mix of teammates, e.g. not enough talent or chemistry. I’m showing my age when I say I remember a couple National League MVP awards going to Ernie Banks - even though his Chicago Cubs finished last!
For some reason we feel this moniker needs to be, if not presented formally, at least discussed - in every sport. From national television to local watering holes. I coached in the college basketball world for 30 years and when I started in 1970 a similar label was thrown around in our business. As a young guy in the field one of the veteran coaches I was in awe of was Dean Smith. It used to shock me when I would hear the “Greatest Coach Who Has Never Won a Title” attributed to him. Freshman Michael Jordan’s jumper took care of that nonsense but shortly thereafter the crown was passed to Mike Krzyzewski.
It is almost a badge of honor for coaches. In order to qualify for the unenviable title, a coach needed to take a team to the Final Four - on more than one occasion and come up short. For most coaches reaching the Final Four is considered capturing the Holy Grail. After Mike won in 1991, he bequeathed the “honor” to Rick Pitino. The line on Rick was, “Sure, Rick can take a team the the mountaintop; he just can’t them to the Promised Land.” In 1996 his Kentucky Wildcats won it all. Still, the debate raged on.
It almost seemed mandatory for fans and media to have a coach whose feet they could hold to the fire. It must have made them feel good at that time because there were two contestants. And as fate would have it, their teams squared off in the 2003 championship game. In a show of empathy, while shaking hands after the game, the winner, Jim Boeheim said to the runner-up, Roy Williams, “Don’t worry; you’ll get one” after Syracuse beat Kansas. It was similar to the exchange Bob Knight had with Boeheim after his Hoosiers beat the ‘Cuse in ‘87. And, of course, ‘ol Roy did just that. Twice.
I won’t tell you who had the wrath of the nation up until last year. You probably can figure it out. Hint: he no longer has to deal with the problem (John Calipari). My comment to these critics: There’s only ONE of these championships per year! Each season - at most - one coach who’s never won one before can win it that year.
Sports is definitely the most highly scrutinized business - possibly because there are fans and we love to argue. Now that cyberstat - or whatever they’re called - guys have entered the world, it doesn’t seem like there will be any stone unturned. If only Wall Street could have such a fan base - although it might be a little too late for that.
Still, people revel in the misery of others even though it doesn’t make the critical person’s life any better. Or put another way:
“Although someone may come up short in their endeavors, it doesn’t make you better at any of yours.”