A strange thought hit me the other day. What if Lebron never wins a ring? Highly unlikely, I'll admit that, but it could happen. How will we define his career after that? Will he still be mentioned in the same reverence that he is now? What of the other champions that never won a ring? Is the value of their career lessened due to lack of jewellery?
I was discussing this very subject with my good friend Hasson. Now other than being an avid Laker fan, Hass is a pretty knowledgeable dude when it comes to basketball – is that an oxymoron of some sort, a 'knowledgeable Laker fan'? – so when he said to me that Allen Iverson shouldn't be considered amongst the all time greats, it threw me a little. It got me thinking. What about Charles Barkley? Stockton and Malone? Steve Nash? The list of names is endless. Would we look at these players differently had they won a championship? Would Barkley and Malone be better than Duncan? Iverson better than Kobe?
I understand Hass's argument. You play the game to win. You don't play for individual stats and accolades. That's why people revere Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Their ultimate goal was winning. The accolades came as a by-product of their team achievements. Your career in the pantheon of greatness in the NBA is judged by how many championships are won. That's what seperates the legends from the mere all stars. I understand all that. I just don't buy into his theory.
Basketball is a team sport. The championships are a reflection of a team achievement. They don't accurately depict how well an individual played the game of basketball. Let's use Sir Charles as an example. Considered by many as the one of the better power forward's of all time behind Tim Duncan. Barkley's numbers over his career are 22.1ppg, 11.7rpg, and .541fg%. Not bad right? Now look at Timmy's, 21.1ppg, 11.6rpg and .506fg%. Pretty similar. The point of difference many use is the 4 championships won by Duncan. Does that mean CB34 wasn't as good as Timmy D? Hell no.
What about Iverson? Critics are quick to point to his flaws. But the man fought wars on the basketball court and should be mentioned in the same breath as Bryant. He was damn near unstoppable for a good decade. Yes, KB has the rings but A.I. was a soldier. Played the game like no-one I've ever seen in my life. I rate him just as high as Kobe in my book.
Now back to Lebron. Imagine the unthinkable happens and the King never wins a ring. Is he demoted to merely being a 'Prince' of the game? Even though his first 7 years in the game have 'witnessed' ( pun intended ) him etch his name in the record books with numbers almost second to none? What if he wins another 2 MVP awards, averages a triple double in a season and leads his team to the Finals where they lose? Should we think his career never lived up to Kobe's? No.
Basketball greatness should be measured in how you played the game. Did you withstand the pressures of putting up big numbers night in and night out? That's how a career should be defined. Not claiming one player was better than the other based solely on the fact he won more championships. Sorry Hass, guess we have to agree to disagree on this one.