Thursday, July 17, 2008

Off Topic: Can a title actually be cheap?

Regardless the sport of participation or the level of play, the competitive nature of each individual launches them on a quest for the ultimate prize. It’s the hardware, the ring, the trophy, or the cup. It’s the dream of becoming a champion that sets the heart afire, driving you to be perfect in every game, match, and set. But every now and then I’ll hear of a guy winning a "cheap" title, and I wonder if there is such a thing. What would lessen the luster of one championship, in comparison to another?

In a recent article, Vinnie Lyer of the Sporting News gave a list of five players we’d like to see get rings. The article sparked a thought, which led to even more. First off, with the exception of Jason Taylor, I wasn’t fond of his list. And the second thought had to do with the possibility of Jason Taylor leaving the NFL doormat Miami Dolphins for a team more ready to make a Superbowl run. As players move towards the end of their careers, you’ll often hear that they want to be moved, and some are even willing to work for less to have a shot at that prize. When players do this, is a title then cheap?

Karl Malone and Gary Payton, though having Hall of Fame type careers, joined the Lakers Roster in 2003, in hopes of winning a championship. Both worked for less, and some wouldn’t say they "joined" the Lakers, as much as they would say they “latched on” to the tail end of an NBA dynasty. L.A failed to capture the championship, and Malone retired without a ring. Payton moved on to another city and contender, where he finally became a champion with the Miami Heat. Was it cheap?

The achievement also becomes dimmed by the way it’s announced. Years from now, we can read about Dwayne Wade, and history will tell us that he won a championship with the Miami Heat. In that same book, we can read about Gary Payton, and the text would more likely say he won a championship “as a member” of the same Miami team. Doesn’t the wording tend to lessen the achievement? Also, it appears that if you’re not a superstar or never reach that status, a championship isn’t as cheap. Brian Scalabrine (Fight On!) just received a championship ring with the Boston Celtics. He wasn’t even dressed for the final game, and as much as people joke about him, he may not shine in that same bargain basement light as Gary Payton.

Zach Thomas is now a Dallas Cowboy, after putting together an impressive career in Miami. Championships are a team reflection, and until now, he’s never been part of a unit capable of bringing home the Lombardi. He has a great opportunity in Dallas, even in a diminished role and playing for less money. If Thomas and the Cowboys win it all this season, some will consider his title cheap. If Thomas stayed with the Dolphins (even taking less money and having a smaller role), and the dolphins somehow became NFL champions, apparently his ring isn’t cheap? Make sense? It’s not who you are, but where you play to get that ring. Well, at least when it comes to winning one in the latter stages of a career, when you’ve never won one before.

If Walter Payton left the Bears to win a title elsewhere, it would have been cheap. The same would be said for Julius Irving, if he left the Sixers. Charles Barkley tried and failed, which was the same as Karl Malone. Junior Seau failed in New England, and will likely try again. Dan Marino was one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks to never win the Superbowl, but a change of scenery would have made it cheap, correct?

My feeling is that you can’t lessen the achievement of players superior in their sport, regardless of where the ultimate prize is attained. The body of work, reputation, and value is what makes it possible for them to join a new unit with their skill level declining. We all wished Ernie Banks could have won a championship, while not wanting him to do it cheaply. That doesn’t make much sense to me. The fan and media perspective has created conditional worth to championship achievements. I have more respect, and feel it’s more deserving, for a Zach Thomas to win a title in Dallas, than I do for a Steve Kerr winning 6 rings in Chicago and San Antonio.

If you find yourself in agreement with me, I pose one more question. With an injury keeping the best golfer in the world (arguably of all time) out of the British open, will the British Open champion then be considered cheap?

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