Sports legacies are fickle things. Fans love to rank and judge athletes, and it doesn’t stop when they retire. You always hear about the Mount Rushmore of this or the top five of that, but what do these lists really come down to? After an inexplicable amount of research in the scientific lab (read: me on the toilet), it has been determined that championship wins and records in championship games/series have an inordinate amount of sway over how athletes are perceived, even when those athletes play in team sports. So how much is the individual athlete’s legacy really determined by the athlete him or herself, and how much do they owe to those around them? Well, luckily for you, you’re about to find out.
No 6: Ron Artest Saves the Mamba
Look, it’s not like people would have run around saying that Kobe is a bum. However, in 2010, Kobe went 6 for 24 in Game 7 against the Celtics, the Lakers’ storied rival. Watch the highlights of the game. Artest came up huge, especially with that three as the shot clock was winding down late in the game to seal it. When people talk about Kobe’s legacy, they bring up his five rings (it would have been four). Had the Lakers lost that Game 7, you’d hear a lot more sentences that start with “Kobe was great, but that Game 7 against Boston…”
No 5: Defense Really Does Win Championships
Peyton Manning’s legacy was tarnished by two things going into his final season. First, he was 1-2 in the Super Bowl, and second, he somehow had fewer rings than his spacey little brother Eli. So Peyton, fused neck notwithstanding, took his job back from Brock Osweiler, which in retrospect doesn’t say much, and managed to avoid screwing up Denver’s Super Bowl. This article says it all; it’s entitled “Broncos Win Super Bowl 50 as Defense Swarms Panthers,” but features a photo of Peyton Manning.
No 4: Quick, Michael’s Gone, Let’s Steal Some Rings!
There are plenty of theories as to why Michael Jordan abruptly retired to go and play baseball, only to come back a couple of years later, including one examined here at the Lead Sports, that Jordan was secretly suspended by David Stern. Regardless, Jordan’s hiatus left a void for someone else to win two championships. Enter Hakeem the Dream and the Houston Rockets, who won back to back in ’93-’94 and ’94-’95. Those were the only two rings that Olajuwon won, and without them, his legacy would likely be looked at much differently, despite his amazing game.
No 3: Don’t Thank Jesus, Thank Mike Jones
Kurt Warner is on television. He’s a former star quarterback, largely because he won a Super Bowl with the Rams. But he also lost one for the Rams, and lost another for the Cardinals. He’s not in the top 20 in career yards, passing touchdowns, or any other meaningful stat, unless you count completion percentage, which we don’t because ranked two spots ahead of Warner at #2 is Chad Pennington. Yet Warner has this image as a winner because of that Super Bowl ring and his story of coming from nowhere to win it. Well, what if Mike Jones misses this tackle? 0-3 in the Super Bowl doesn’t really give you a while lot of clout.
No 2: Jesus Shuttlesworth Saves the Chosen One
LeBron and his Cavs were getting creamed by the Warriors the other night. LeBron was getting heckled and motioned to a fan that he had three rings. But what if he didn’t have three rings? Check out this article ranking LeBron’s championship performances. What if instead of “clutch shot” in game seven against the Spurs in 2013, the series stopped at Game 6? LeBron would be 2-5 in the Finals, and instead of that series-clinching shot, he’d be remembered for the brick that culminated a lost series. But he’s not. The brick led to a great rebound and kick out by Bosh, and an even more amazing three pointer by Ray Allen. Legacy restored.
No 1: Tom Terrific
If you ask people who the best QB of all time is, you’re most likely to hear Tom Brady’s name as the response. You’ll also get Joe Montana, but more and more, Brady is solidifying himself atop that throne in many circles. But what if Malcolm Butler doesn’t step in front of that Russell Wilson pass to rob the Seahawks of a Super Bowl and instead deliver it to Brady? What if Brady, instead of having four Super Bowl rings, had a mediocre 3-3 Super Bowl record? Would he still be up for GOAT? Would Donald Trump still brag about getting calls from him? Well, no as the GOAT; yes probably still to the Donald.