Ranking the greatness of athletes in team sports has always been difficult. What’s more important: Individual accomplishments or championship rings?
There is no correct formula, but I give a slight edge to individual performance. There are too many variables when it comes to winning rings.
Was Yogi Berra, who won more than a handful rings playing for the Yankees, a better player than Ted Williams, who never won a ring with the Red Sox?
Was Terry Bradshaw, who earned four rings with the Steelers, a better quarterback than Dan Marino, who never won a title with the Dolphins?
On the other hand, would the Patriots have won three titles without Tom Brady? Or would the Celtics have won nine titles without Bill Russell?
There are dozens of other examples both ways. This is my way of saying how stupid Michael Jordan sounded last week when he rated Kobe Bryant as being better than LeBron James BECAUSE Kobe has five rings to LeBron’s one. I’m not saying LeBron is hands down a better player than Kobe, but to make the judgment based on rings is . . . well, like I said, stupid.
Jordan, of course, has both the individual accomplishments and six rings – all of which make him the greatest basketball player ever in the eyes of many including mine. And, for the record, the Bulls wouldn’t have won six championships without Jordan.
But the list of average and very good players with multiple rings is longer than the list of great players who never won a title.
Should a quarterback be judged by how good his team’s defense is? Should a pitcher be judged by how poorly his team hits?
While winning championships should always be the ultimate goal of any team, athletes can only be judged by how they perform. There’s no doubt in my mind we are often guiltier of elevating an individual’s greatness based on team championships than we are giving an individual his due because of a lack of titles.
Certainly any ranking of our greatest athletes is debatable, but, for example, where would Joe Montana rate among NFL quarterbacks without four Super Bowl rings? I contend few would put him No. 1 on the list as many do now.
Being part of a championship team depends on so many factors such as great teammates, injuries, luck, missed calls by officials and the competition. Individuals who do their jobs at a high level year after year deserve all the love and respect they get.
Return to: Lamm at Large Blog