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My Order of Categories of Importance of Ranking All-Time Players
This is gonna piss everyone off. Well everyone that can read. I started thinking about this a few days ago when I heard Steve Young on the radio. He said he was lucky to have won the Super Bowl because it automatically propelled him past other QBs who hadn't on the all time list. He said that winning Super Bowls was one of the most overrated categories to rate all time players, but our society seems to place it above almost everything else. And if you really think about it, its a pretty good point. Don't forget Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have two rings each, while Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dame Lillard, and many other of the top point guards in the NBA have none. Does that mean those two that played with Lebron are better? Of course not, and I will never argue that, but it shows you that rings should not be the major deciding factor when ranking all time players.
While I have spent time thinking about this, its hard to say definitively how far ahead and behind each of these things are from each other, but for the most part they are in the order I believe to be true for me as a person who spends a lot of time thinking about and talking about sports. And I know there are deficiencies with each category and I will try to talk about why they are arguable but why I rank them above or below others.
1. The Eye Test: This should be pretty obvious. Just like I stated above, no one thinks that Chalmers is better than Chris Paul and thats because we have watched them play enough to make that statement. And the more someone watches and the longer someone has been a fan of the sport and watched for years and years, makes that person apt to tell who is better. The problem becomes eras and rules. Everyone over 40 swears that the 80's was the best era of basketball. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Isaiah, all were in their primes and each won championships (okay Jordan's came in the 90's) and sure it was great to see those guys battle each other, but to define it as the best ever is tough. Those same people say the rules are different now and if Jordan played in these rules he would have paraded to the free throw line even more than he did. And there is some truth to that as well. But there is also truth to the change in physicality and power and athleticism of the league today. Jordan was one of the pioneers that made working out a major part of being an NBA player and the evolution of the body of the NBA player has continued and we are seeing massive human beings doing battle every night. I don't believe many of the players that played in the 80s would be big and strong enough to play in the league today. So I know the eye test has some holes, and people see everyone in their own world. And I believe most people see who they think as the best players as the guys of their youth/high school/college. This is because they are so much bigger and stronger when you are young. I remember when I was a kid my dad took my brother and I to high school basketball games. And there was Tony Gonzalez at Huntington Beach, and Brandon Jesse at Edison and Cherokee Parks at Marina, and these guys that to me looked like monsters. And I thought there was no way I could ever play at that level because I wasn't going to be that big. Even now, I can come up with those names and more off the top of my head 25 years later because they were larger than life to me. And now I see Tony Gonzalez and I am several inches taller than him. I think when we are little and see these guys that are older and bigger than us, it makes them iconic in our minds.
So having said that I know it is hard to rank players between eras but I still think it is the most important. We saw Kobe, we saw Jordan, we see Lebron, we see Curry, we see Brady, and Manning, we saw Elway and Montana and Young. And every time we see or saw one of those guys play a game, the more information we add to the bank in our eye test and to me its the most important thing when ranking players.
2. Statistics. I think statistics are the second most important factor in ranking all time players. Ranking players as individuals means you have to separate those individuals from their team acheivements, and in order to do that, you must look at their statistics. Just like if you wanted to rank the best teams you would use wins, and scoring average, scoring against average, etc. which are the statistics that would differentiate teams. I think total numbers are overrated stats because that is more a show of durability and longevity and how long you were in the league. For example, two guys who average the same amount of points, and one came straight out of high school and one played all four years of college will have massively different all time numbers but the same as far as averages. And when you talk about football, someone like Payton Manning who started as a rookie will have more opportunity versus guys like Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo who were backups for multiple years before they got their chance. But at the end of the day you can say Player A averaged this many points, rebounds, assists, etc and Player B averaged this many in those categories and have a pretty solid comparison for those players.
3. Individual Accolades. Holy shit I didn't put rings yet. All the Jordan people are getting pretty upset at this point but let me give you my reasons. If you want to rank the best players of all time, individual awards are more important than rings. Why? A ring is a team accomplishment and an MVP trophy or a scoring title is an individual accomplishment. Again going back to the original argument of Mario Chalmers vs Kevin Durant. (by the way, Mario Chalmers is a point guard that played with Lebron during the Miami years and won 2 rings with Lebron and Wade in Miami and was a nice role player pg for that team. Just in case some people didn't know who he was). So Durant has won the MVP and even though he said his mom was the real MVP, he was actually the real MVP, and he has won multiple scoring titles but has no rings. So if you want to put rings above individual accolades then you have to start to argue Chalmers over Durant which is just silly. I am also not saying that since Carmelo Anthony has more individual accolades than say Dwyane Wade, that Carmelo is better all time, I am saying those individual accolades are more important if we are talking about who is actually a better player in that sport.
4. Teammates/Competition. Calm down, I promise rings is next. Now why are teammates/competition more important than rings? Well buddy unless your playing tennis or golf, you won't have any rings without good teammates, and damnit if your playing doubles in tennis or Ryder cup in golf you need your teammates in those as well. Lets start with my boy Lebron. In 2007 the Cavs faced the Spurs in the finals. The starting rosters looked like this- Cleveland- Lebron 27.3 ppg, Drew Gooden 11.1 ppg, Sasha Pavlovic 9.0 ppg, Zydrunus Illgauskus 11.9 ppg, and Daniel Gibson 4.6 ppg. (Regular season ppgs). Now if your not a sports junkie, you don't know 3 or 4 of those names, but I promise they are real people. Now if you look, you have basically Lebron and a bunch of role players. And lets not forget when Lebron scored 29 straight points against Detroit a series earlier. He had nothing. Now the Spurs- Tim Duncan 20.0 ppg, Tony Parker 18.6 ppg, Manu Ginobili 16.5 ppg, Bruce Bowen 6.2 ppg, Fabricio Obert0 4.4 ppg. They also had Michael Finley, Robert Horry, and Brent Barry. So you have 3 first ballot Hall of Famers, then you have Bruce Bowen who was a defensive player of the year, and then off the bench they had scorers and a guy named Big Shot Bob who some argue is the clutchest playoff shooter ever. I am telling you right now NO SINGLE PLAYER IN NBA HISTORY SUBS IN FOR LEBRON AND WINS THAT SERIES. I will argue that to the end. And don't get me started on last years finals. Lebron had no one except Matthew Dellavedova, versus one of the most prolific offensive, best defensive, and deepest teams in history. One game J.R. Smith looked like he was being paid to throw the game. And again Lebron gets crushed for losing another finals.
And the other argument I will make to this point is this. The competition you must face during your time. Lets take an extreme example. Lets pretend that Tiger Woods is the best golfer ever. Lets pretend that Phil Michelson is the second best golfer ever. Well if they play in the same era, how will Phil Michelson ever be able to show he is the second greatest when he has to take on the greatest ever every week. Lets say, in this fake example, that Tiger wins 18 majors and Phil wins 3 and everyone thinks Phil is really good. Lets say Phil, as the second greatest ever, was born 20 years earlier and never played against Tiger. Phil wins 15 majors and is considered one of the all time greats until Tiger comes along and breaks all of his records. The fact that Phil played in the same era as the greatest player ever means he won't be able to win as much as needed to show where he ranks on the all time list. I think the same thing is happening in football with Brady vs Manning where I think Manning would have several more rings if it weren't for Brady. And in the NBA with Durant/Lebron/Curry. I am not saying they are the top 3 of all time, I just think the fact that the other two are there, will take away from the possible greatness of any one of them.
Lets also not forget, the year after Michael Jordan retired to play baseball, the New York Knicks, as the #8 seed, made the NBA Finals. Does that say something about who Jordan had to beat to get his rings?
5. Rings. In my opinion, the most overrated determiner of all time greats. No one puts Bill Russell as one of the top players in NBA history yet he has 11 rings. But when you want to start arguing Jordan, Kobe, Lebron, rings is the first thing that comes up. Why is that? Because they make your arguement work for you. Rings. Rings. Rings. Lebron couldn't win one until he did. Then the following year Ray Allen hits a shot that wins Lebron a ring. If he misses that shot Lebron at that point is 1-3 in the finals and is overrated. Ray Allen helped secure Lebron's legacy. Last years Super Bowl. In my opinion, one of the worst play calls in Super Bowl history, throwing the ball from the 2 yard line with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and throwing an interception to lose the Super Bowl. But that gave Tom Brady his 4th ring. That put him in a new echelon of qbs. Why? What did he do? He stood on the sideline and watched. He didn't win that game. He didn't become better when Russell Wilson threw that pick. But if you go by rings he did. All the guys with 2 and 3 just fell further behind Tom Brady on the all time list because Russell Wilson threw an interception. You want to know why I put teammates ahead of rings? How many defensive plays has Tom Brady made? Tom Brady isn't on the field for 50% of the game! I don't care how good he is if his defense had given up 50 points in that Super Bowl he wouldn't have won it. He could have had the best game of his life if his defensive guys didn't keep them in the game it wouldn't have mattered. Yet here he goes up the ladder of all timers because Pete Carroll made the dumbest call ever. Would Derek Jeter have more rings if Arod hit better in the playoffs? Maybe. I haven't talked about baseball at all in this article but think about teammates as far as baseball when you only get one at bat out of 9. There is literally nothing you can do for 8 other at bats. Yet if you don't get rings people don't put you in the all time categories.
6. Game Winning shots/Buzzer Beaters- Kobe has the most buzzer beaters ever. He has shot the most by a mile and has the lowest percentage shooting them of all time. You can look that up. Shooting every single one your team has doesn't make you clutch, it give you more opportunity than anyone else. Case closed.