The Qualities of an NBA Champion: What Your Mom Never Told You

Daniel LockeContributor IJune 5, 2009

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 28:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers shares a laugh with Michael Jordan #23 of the Washington Wizards during the game at Staples Center on March 28, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 108-94.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

What are the qualities of an NBA champion?  What does it take to be the best?

To answer that, one has to look at who the NBA's champions are.  And it can't simply be those who were role players.  One has to look at the driving force of each team and define the true qualities of that person.  

Of the last fifteen years, the most successful players (measured by championships) have been Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Manu Ginobili.  Many others have captured one championship, but for the sake of brevity, are not included.  

Michael Jordan was an aggressive, territorial, angry individual who would ride teammates until they got better or snapped.  There are numerous anecdotes about his rivalries, his spitefulness, and his jealousy.  Yet, he is a winner and was adored by America during his prime.  

Shaquille O'Neal has been accused of being lazy and has little work ethic.  His free-throw shooting has stagnated at 52.8% for his career. Yet, he is huge, seven-foot-one and weighs at least 340 pounds.  He frequently uses emotion to get himself to work hard and perform on the court.

Dennis Rodman is a freak of nature and also very emotional.  Video of him fighting players on the court, relentlessly hounding them and punishing them, can be found on YouTube.  One can also find video of him kicking a camera man in the groin during a game.  His on court behavior was considered very unusual for his time and his off-court behavior is even more bizarre. 

Kobe Bryant is as determined, focused, and hard working as an NBA player one could ever imagine.  There is no harder worker in the NBA right now.  One would think he would be adored, but he is disparaged by many.  He constantly rides his teammates to get better, is openly disgusted by them if they play poorly, and has had his verbal tirades taped and published by those around him.

Scottie Pippen was a solid teammate and superb player for the Bulls and Trailblazers.  But during game three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 13, 1994, Scottie Pippen refused to take the court after a time out because a last second play did not have him taking the game-winning shot.  

Tim Duncan is the rare exception to what is almost a rule.  He never has emotional outbursts, never openly berates his teammates, and never fights people on the court.  It's amazing that he has achieved so much without having that extra motivation provided by being nearly emotionally out of control.

With the exception of Tim Duncan, the mold for winning multiple titles and consistent championship success is one of being very emotional.  One must have physical gifts, either size or amazing athleticism and an extra dimension composed of pride, jealousy, and anger bordering on rage.  

But to think of the success they've had, how steep the pyramid is to get to the top, thousands upon thousands of high school ballers, funneled into a few hundred colleges, skimmed into just 400 players in the league, fighting it out for one championship a year, it must really take a unique personality to have consistent success.  

And the edge is emotion.  People aren't supposed to measure themselves by their achievements or amount of money earned.  But one look at Michael Jordan's enormous and self-absorbed trophy room in his house contrasts the difference between being a good person and being a champion in the NBA.

Lastly, my opinion on this isn't set; its simply something I've noticed about the truly dominant players of recent.  They have the physical skills, but they almost all have an emotional dimension that can't be considered healthy.  It is obsessive, but rewarding.