Jun 19, 2008

KG's Ring = Validation?

I lost track of how many commentators, bloggers, & sportswriters have heralded KG's ring as the final & irrefutable truth that Kevin Garnett is one of the all-time greats. I'm confused by such logic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, Kevin Garnett did not need to win a ring to be considered one of the all-time greats. His career stats speak for themselves: 20.4 pts, 11.2 rebs, 4.4 asts, 1.4 stls, & 1.6 blks. For his CAREER. His circumstances also speak for themselves: the best teammates he ever had (until this season) were an aging Sprewell & an aging Cassell. Often times, circumstances far outweigh individual talent. To win a championship, you must be in the right place at the right time. This year, Garnett finally was surrounded by other superstars and a ring was the payoff.

Since KG finally got a ring, does it mean this was the best seasons he has ever played? No way. Sure, he "changed Boston's culture." Blah, blah, blah. No, he came into a situation where he had two other great players and competitors in Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to play alongside him. I do not mean to undermine KG's leadership, but let's make no mistake about it -- this was a team effort. In fact, KG had a VERY mediocre Finals series (except for Game 6). He went into Game 6 with a 16 ppg average on 40% shooting (as a post player!). Both of these numbers are well below his career & career playoff averages. He was probably the main reason they lost Game 5, missing 3 of 4 FT's down the stretch & a couple of uncontested layups. In a bit of irony, one of KG's worst series turned out to be the series he turned his "loser" label into "winner."

I am sick of the number of championship rings being viewed as the #1 indicator of individual greatness. There are certainly some players who rise above the competition in the Finals, but it's usually their circumstances (i.e. the talent they are surrounded by) that got them into the Finals in the first place. Paul Pierce, for example, has been the same clutch player his whole career. He just hadn't been on a good enough team to make the finals until this year. Low and behold, he dominated the Finals and the world is finally recognizing his greatness. If Ainge hadn't swapped for Garnett & Allen last offseason, the greater basketball world would think of Pierce as just another good player who played on poor teams.

It's laughable that players of the caliber of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone will never be viewed as "clutch" and might even be considered "losers." Or look at football with Barry Sanders, or baseball with Ty Cobb. It isn't that these players weren't clutch or "winners," they just happened to play their best ball when there were dynasties dominating their respective leagues (Bulls for Malone; Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Bulls for Barkley; Cowboys, Niners, Packers for Sanders; Yankees for Cobb).

To me, it's even more laughable that someone like Bill Russell is "unquestionably" the best Center of all-time in some peoples' minds. "You can't question his greatness -- look at all those rings!" Guess what, folks: there were between EIGHT and 14 teams in the entire league when he won all of those championships. Today, there are 30 teams, the overall skill level is much better, and it is an international competition with a much larger competition pool. I don't question that Russell was the best (or one of the best) of his time, but he also played on a team that was much better than the rest of a small league in a not-quite-popular sport at the time.

In closing, I'm very happy for Kevin Garnett. He should have been considered one of the all-time greats whether or not he won a championship, though. It's a shame that it took one for people to finally put him in that category.

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