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August 3rd, 2017

NBA Championships and the True Value of “Ringz”

Mike Brady @MBHoops13

Credit: Nike/Jordan Brand

A large part of sports fandom is debating about our favorite players and a lot of these debates revolve around our obsession with “rings.”

While some fans believe that counting how many championships a player has won (or how many “rings” he has) is the true measure of that player’s legacy, others surmise that winning isn’t everything and championships are sometimes overvalued in a players legacy.

At times the squabbles seem to get deafening, however, the truth resides — as it almost always does — somewhere in the middle.

For the most part, fans are obsessed with how many “ringz” a player has. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were both great players but at the same time, they have perpetuated misconceptions about what it means to be a great player. Deliberately or not, they made fans obsessed with “ringz.”

Are the fans wrong? Not entirely. Analysts, journalists, commentators and bloggers are guilty of the same obsession; can you blame us? For as long as basketball has existed players have shown us one way or another that winning championship rings means more to them than anything else.

Just\ this week, Michael Jordan stated that Kobe Bryant should rank higher all time than LeBron James purely due to the amount of championships Bryant has won.

“Ringz” are a part of the reason LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami and part of the reason he then left Miami to go back to Cleveland. They’re the reason a 34-year-old Charles Barkley left the Phoenix Suns to join Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Houston and they’re the reason Wilt Chamberlain demanded a trade from Philadelphia to Los Angeles where he partnered up with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.

They’re what drives players to leave the team that drafted them, to demand trades, and to spend all summer recruiting other All-Stars in group chats on Whatsapp or Slack (or whatever app NBA players use).

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, it’s the one goal all players are compelled to achieve; seizing that elusive “ring.” They want to experience the ecstasy of gold. They want their face carved on every fan’s Mount Rushmore of ballers. They want to win it all.

So why wouldn’t we, as fans, value championship rings above all else? The players do.

When comparing two great talents that are arguably on par or close to on par with each other there is some sort of logic in using championships as a deciding factor… if you believe championships are an individual achievement.

And if you do believe that, you’re wrong.

Winning titles shouldn’t define a players legacy. Championships are a reflection of a team’s success, not individual accomplishments. Team success is a reflection of team quality, not the skill set or heart of a single star player.

Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Chris Webber, Elgin Baylor, Bernard King are part of a never-ending list of stars who left fantastic legacies behind – legacies tainted with the perceived failure of never winning a championship.

Rings and the number of championships won should only really be used as a way to mark milestones in a player’s story the same way you would punctuate a sentence; they’re exclamation marks, not the story itself. A player’s legacy is something much greater than simply counting how many championships they were fortunate enough to win.

Take Dirk Nowitzki, for example. He is horribly underrated, but that’s another article for another day. In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks, lead by Nowitzki, managed to upset the “super team” Miami Heat. Without this championship, Nowitzki would be even more underrated by the average fan than he already is. Yet 2011 wasn’t even his best playoff run. Was it his most successful? Sure. But individually, was it his best performance? Not by a long shot.

Five years prior to their title run, the Dallas Mavericks made it to the NBA Finals and lost to the Miami Heat (and their staggering abundance of free throws). During that postseason, Nowitzki played far better defense than he did in 2011 and generally played better overall. He rebounded better, tallied up more assists and averaged fewer turnovers. His per-game stats during this run were 27 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and one steal. He carried a weaker team almost the same distance. The other top players on the roster that year were Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, Jason Terry and Adrian Griffin, a far cry from the likes of Jason Kidd, Shawn “The Matrix” Marion and Tyson Chandler in 2011.

When evaluating him as an individual, nobody discusses his 2006 run. They always talk about the 2011 championship year. If Nowitzki hadn’t won that championship in 2011 would it make him any less of a player? Absolutely not. Would the average fan value him even less? Most likely.

Another example is the “GOAT” himself, Michael Jordan. The journey to becoming the greatest player of all time is just as important to the legacy of Jordan. Even without the rings he would be (at least) a top-five player ever on talent alone. The team success (championships) simply divide him from those other four players in the minds of most fans.

There is more to the career of Michael Jordan than the rings he won. Sure, they’re shiny and he wears them with pride but don’t let it distract you from all of his other accomplishments. The rings are simply the jewels that stud his crown and if you stare at the crown for too long, you might fail to notice the throne on which he sits – built from the bones of his opponents.

Championships are what every team and player wants to win. They matter. We should value them as the greatest achievement, it would be weird if we didn’t. Valuing them as the only achievement that matters, however, is foolish. “Championship or bust” is a moronic concept that, at best, can only loosely be applied to a handful of teams each season. Just because your team doesn’t have four All-Stars doesn’t mean their successes are worthless. Winning a conference title, finishing at the top of their division, or simply making the playoffs, they’re all worth celebrating. It’s all relative.

The other accomplishments are tangible goals that we should take into account relative to the caliber of the team. There’s nothing wrong with putting championships ahead of everything else, they are a statement of excellence but when it gets to a point where that’s all that matters, we’re doing something wrong.

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