Perhaps a big question amongst sports fans is how to classify a NBA player as a true superstar, by statistics or by the number of rings?
While the majority of people I have asked this question to argue that rings are the biggest factor in determining a superstar, I will beg to differ by arguing that the statistics of an individual player are what influences their true chances of becoming a one-of-a-kind athlete.
As players, like LeBron James, get ripped on for leaving a team after eight years in high hopes to join a duo or trio to win a ring, other players, like John Stockton and Reggie Miller, get ripped on for not winning a ring at all despite their loyalty in maintaining a position on the same team for their entire career.
Damned if they do and damned if they don’t?
Alongside ringless Stockton and Miller stand well-known superstars Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, Al Iverson, Patrick Ewing, Chris Webber, Dominique Wilkins, Tim Hardaway and Penny Hardaway, who all have notable careers without ever winning an NBA championship.
In fact, Stockton, Malone, Barkley, Mullin, and Ewing had the superb athletic skills to qualify for a spot on the 1992 Dream Team with six-time NBA champions Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, 5-time NBA title star Magic Johnson, and a three-ring winner Larry Bird.
Interestingly enough, Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber, and current ringless NBA player Grant Hill were all elected to the 1992 USA Basketball Developmental Team, where they shockingly became the first team to defeat Team USA in a scrimmage.
The 62-54 loss was quite the wake-up call for the USA Olympic Team.
Evidently, championship titles may add to a resume, but the statistics are what really matter in evaluating the pure skill of a basketball player.
When thinking about NBA Championships it takes a lot more than just one superstar to attain that goal. In addition, it takes a lot more than the team itself, too. The coaching and team experience factor into the equation as well.
Dating as far back as the early to mid-'80s, colossal 7'2" center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, paired up with Magic Johnson, who excelled in both point guard and forward positions. The two Hall of Famers led the Los Angeles Lakers to win five NBA Championships.
Their bench, to say the very least, was fully loaded with double-figure contributors Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, James Worthy, and Byron Scott.
A Top 10 coach, Pat Riley, guided his Lakers team to win four NBA Championships in seven finals appearances within eight years.
In the following 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons, legendary coach Chuck Daly conducted the Detroit Pistons organization to glory for the first time in history.
The team would not have been able to win a title two consecutive years without the aggressive 12-time All-Star Isiah Thomas, laid-back 6-time All-Star Joe Dumars, and the two solid defensive alternates Mark Aguirre and Dennis Rodman.
After those Piston victories, the powerful forces of Chicago’s Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen joined coach, Phil Jackson, to dominate the league by winning six NBA titles in eight years.
Let’s break down the equation of an outstanding team, shall we?
Two or more superstars + a coach with a Harvard IQ in basketball + team experience= Championships
Although we know there is no “I” in team, Michael Jordan made it very clear "that there is (an I) in the word win." Does that mean MJ could have brought his skill to any team and succeeded, or would he have needed another superstar to back up his game?
Well, maybe I should not go that far and mention his years with the Washington Wizards; however, the talent he brought to both the Bulls and Wizards defines him as a basketball player despite the handful of rings he won with a team.
Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan won all of their NBA Championships together. The dynamic duo, of course, had the help of Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright and B.J. Armstrong, who made their impacts on the first three-peat while Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr made their remarkable appearances during the second three-peat era.
‘The Zen Master,” also known as Phil Jackson, was able to construct a holistic team with a mind-blowing offense. With his intelligent basketball strategies, he won 11 NBA Championships, six with the Bulls and five with the Los Angeles Lakers.
By a holistic approach, coach Jackson emphasized the importance of a team as a whole and incorporated the interdependence of its parts as one. A complete system with components that coincide with one another will allow a team to excel.
Phil Jackson not only had the adequate skill of both Jordan and Pippen for the Bulls, but he also had the 7-foot, double-double master Shaquille O’Neal and the charisma of a consistent shooting guard, better known as Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even with these crucial parts, Phil Jackson focused on how his basketball players needed to win as a team, not individually. Every piece was just as important as the next one.
In the 1980s, the Boston Celtics had the great Larry Bird, who was blessed with a team full of guys that consistently scored in double figures, including Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
The Boston Celtics have won the most NBA Championships (17) than any other team. Boston’s basketball organization has been and always will be held by an expert structure of recruiting, coaching, and fan support.
Celtics’ current roster contains a tough center-forward Kevin Garnett, above average shooter and consistent foul instigator Paul Pierce, and last, but not least, top point-guard Rajon Rondo, who never steps onto the court without bringing his ninja-like antics.
Although Ray Allen just signed with the Miami Heat, he broke Reggie Miller’s record to become the all-time NBA three-point shooting scorer as a Boston Celtic last season.
What did the Celtics have here? A team full of All-Stars, and Boston still does have a team full of All-Stars even without Ray Allen.
Since 1997, the San Antonio Spurs have built their team around 13-time All-Star Tim Duncan, who has earned a reputation for his quality defense under the basket. He joined another All-Star, David Robinson, and won his first ring two years later with the addition of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
So, what happens if an All-Star is not put on a team full of All-Stars and fails to win a ring? Do the statistics and multiple achievements get thrown out the window because a superstar falls short of winning an NBA title?
Indiana’s organization failed to establish a championship-winning team with Reggie Miller, who is well known by precision three-point shooting especially in clutch situations.
Miller stuck out his entire 18-year career with the Indiana Pacers without ever winning a NBA title; however, he will finally be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame this year.
Failing to win a NBA title does not disqualify Miller or any of those ringless players from earning a “superstar status” title.
In more recent years, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, continues his struggle of winning that championship ring. He spent 10 years with the Phoenix Suns and even played six years on the Dallas Mavericks with top player Dirk Nowitzki, veteran Michael Finley and All-Star Juwan Howard, yet still never won a title.
Why not join 16-time NBA Champions the Los Angeles Lakers?
Steve Nash with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum may just be the recipe for an NBA title. That is the goal right?
Can you blame Steve Nash for wanting to leave an organization in which he gave 10 years of his athleticism, to thrive with an organization known for winning NBA titles?
Guys like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Shaquille O’Neal were lucky enough to be a part of organizations that have reputations for building championship teams and it is not like they won their NBA titles on their own.
Cleveland failed to deliver the missing pieces LeBron James needed to fulfill his goals and so did Phoenix with Steve Nash.
NBA critics seem to make it a necessity for a player to win a championship ring, so the players feel pressured to do so. Therefore, shunning a basketball player for leaving a team because he wants to win a ring somewhere else is absurd.
Comparisons of Michael Jordan and LeBron James have been a hot topic recently because they are both record breaking, MVP status athletes who put on performances that drop the jaws and widen the eyes of every viewer.
But there is just one problem. LeBron James has only won one ring and Michael Jordan has won six. True, but how was LeBron James supposed to win any rings staying with Cleveland?
Since an obscene amount of pressure is put on LeBron and other athletes to win a title, he left the Cavaliers to accomplish that goal.
No matter where LeBron goes, he is still putting up insane statistics and earning a superstar status with or without any rings.
Like it or not, if a team wants to see victories, it must have more than one superstar and an expert coaching staff and organization. A team earns rings, while superstar athletes are determined by their own statistics and contributions to a team.
In addition, nobody ever mentions the players that get a ring without earning it. Did Brian Scalabrine earn his NBA Championship ring in 2008 with the Boston Celtics?
Scalabrine averaged 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds in the regular season and never played a game throughout the playoffs. According to critics’ arguments, a player needs a ring to be considered a superstar, so I guess Scalabrine fits that description, right? WRONG!
Juwan Howard is an All-Star, but did he earn his one and only ring this year with the Miami Heat? Let’s do the math, shall we? He averaged 6.8 minutes per game and averaged 1.5 points per game. I am sorry to inform my readers that Juwan Howard did not earn his ring sitting on the Miami Heat’s bench.
With 18 years in the league, Howard played for 10 different teams and the contributions he brought to the court should not go unrecognized either, but he is no superstar.
Statistics, achievements, record breakers and Hall of Fame inductees should all factor into a notable superstar, not just the number of rings.
I rest my case.