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Should NBA Legacies Be Judged on Rings?

March 17, 2023
byTJ1048 views

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Basketball fans love dissecting NBA legacies. Basketball is a team sport where individual talent can impact how a game ends, and the league has seen many stars move the game in different ways.

However, fans love comparing one legacy to another. It doesn’t matter if the player played in the sixties. They’ll be put beside a player with the latest training and scientific advances, whether warranted or not.

One of the most common ways media analysts and Facebook users argue about a player’s greatness is the number of rings won. Fans will use their championships to determine whether a player is a better player than another.

However, Damian Lillard called out this method of discourse in a recent interview. This OKBET Sports piece will look into what Dame Time said about the level of discourse regarding NBA legacies and why it should improve.

Lillard Calls Out Ring Culture

Lillard is one of the league’s most exciting guards, but his championship window is quickly closing, if not already shut. This fact hasn’t escaped the media and fans who expected Lillard to leave the Portland Trail Blazers and chase after the elusive NBA championship.

During his appearance at JJ Reddick’s Old Man and the Three podcast, he discussed and questioned why ring culture matters greatly to today’s NBA fans.

Some will call Lillard’s take as an excuse for his inability to win rings. Others might see it as a sign of the star guard giving up on his championship hopes. However, Dame Time didn’t mince words when it came to how he sees everyone’s fixation on championships and rings. 

Lillard believes that NBA players who take their craft seriously want to win an NBA championship. The fact they’re competing at the highest level is proof of that desire. You can also see with his play this year: he’s averaging 32.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists on 47% shooting and 37% from deep.

However, he also noted that fans shouldn’t discredit these players’ journeys regardless of the number of championship rings they have on their fingers. He thinks players should also be honored for their on-court contributions.

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Best Players with “Terrible” NBA Legacies

Lillard made a great point regarding the toxicity of ring culture. The fixation of fans and media on rings takes away from the fantastic achievements the game’s brightest (albeit ringless) stars made.

Here’s a quick list of players who don’t get enough love because they didn’t win it all:

Allen Iverson

AI was controversial as an NBA player, but his influence in today’s game is undeniable. Thanks to his incredible crossovers and sheer athleticism, today’s NBA is full of skilled dribblers.

He only made the NBA Finals once, where he had to carry a Philadelphia 76ers team against Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. His Sixers lost in five games.

Reggie Miller

Speaking of an influential player, Reggie Miller was one of the best prototypes of the three-point revolution in the nineties. He was considered the best three-point shooter until a certain Stephen Curry flipped the term on its head.

Like Iverson, the man known as the Knick Killer only made one Finals appearance. He lost the 2000 Finals in six games to Kobe and Shaq. He also didn’t win a ring in his prime years due to a guy wearing 23 on the Chicago Bulls in the nineties.

George Gervin

Gervin may be an unknown player for most of today’s NBA fanbase, but he is widely considered as one of the best scorers in the seventies. Playing almost his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs, he was a talented forward who could score like a speedy guard. It’s a familiar concept nowadays, but it was unheard of during his time.

The Iceman did become teammates with Michael Jordan, but the Bulls still didn’t have a team ready to compete. He finished his career playing elsewhere.

How Do Teams Win Championships?

While it’s unfair, it’s hard for many not to use championships as the ultimate determinant of which NBA legacies matter more. Identifying the key metrics of a championship team may clarify what is necessary for any team to win a ring.

Multiple star players are one of the most critical cogs of any championship team. Bill Russell won so many rings because he played with other talented players. The Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors of the 2010s also won because of their core of stars.

The scoring distribution is also vital. Role players should be able to step up if the team’s stars are double-teamed. The quality of defense also matters for championship-caliber teams. Some of the most iconic plays in NBA playoffs are defensive, after all.

Finally, a fantastic coach can do a lot for a star player. Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, and Steve Kerr are great basketball minds that helped some of the greatest players alive reach the summit multiple times.

Great players who don’t get the ring usually lack one of the things mentioned above. If they’re incredibly unlucky, they might go through their careers without all three qualities.

Look at NBA Legacies Differently

What Damian Lillard is asking out of basketball fans is simple: stop rating NBA legacies simply on the number of championship rings they have on their fingers. The game of basketball is more nuanced than that. Limiting greatness to the number of rings available results in reductive discourse.

However, it takes much more than just a statement from a great player to extinguish ring culture. Championships matter in a competitive sport. The fact that only one team out of 30 can win it all every season makes the value of these championships soar. 

Moreover, talking about NBA legacies is fun when you can quantify a player’s greatness. Rings are more than a quantifiable asset that 

Until a paradigm shift in basketball discourse happens, expect ring talk to continue for years. However, don’t expect Dame to be affected by it:

Read more: Kaoru Mitoma: A Literal Football Scholar

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