There is no more ridiculous or annoying argument in sports than “count the ringzzzzz.” Yes Kobe Bryant fans, I’m looking at you.
Basketball remains a team sport — Bill Russell was a great player but he has 11 rings because he was on a great team. We’ve mythologized Michael Jordan into a superhuman player (and he was no doubt one of the all-time greats) but forget the first year he ditched the Bulls to play baseball they won 55 games without him. He lifted that team up, but he didn’t win six rings alone. Karl Malone and John Stockton deserve more credit than some give them just because of the ring thing. This list goes on and on and on.
Steve Nash doesn’t have any rings and very likely will leave the game without one, so you can say of course he thinks the argument is overblown — but he’s right, the argument has become overblown. Here is Nash talking about it with the brilliant Zach Lowe of Grantland (you should read the entire Q&A, it’s fantastic).
“We’re in an age in North America where it’s championship or bust. I don’t think it was like that when I first came into the league.”
“I don’t know. I never felt it was like that. But now, with all these media outlets online, there’s gotta be a “take,” there’s gotta be a story, and there’s gotta be a winner and a loser. It has to be black-and-white. Even if someone doesn’t even necessarily believe it wholeheartedly, they have to pick a side and go with it. I want there to be one winner, and I want that team to be upheld as the most important thing. But there are other things. There are other factors. I don’t end everything right there. And I agree with you on the Spurs. You could say they choked. You could also say a million things happened. Maybe you could say Miami choked by not winning in five games. It’s myopic to go with these narratives….
“I don’t know where that came from. When I came into the league, it was different than it is now. I mean, I get it. I’m OK with it. I just don’t subscribe to it. I want to win. I’ve had some opportunities, and we had some bad luck. I don’t even look at it so much as bad luck. Things just happen. You could say it’s bad luck, but you could also say that if I made every shot, we would have won. Nothing is black-and-white, except for winning and losing, and maybe that’s why people gravitate to that so much. I find it much more interesting to look at the details.”
In a world of uncertainty and shifting sands, we tend to gravitate toward what we believe to be certain. Nash is right, winning and losing is black and white and there is an appeal to that. But life is lived in shades of grey — things are usually more complicated than we tend to believe. It takes a great team to win a title, but then that team needs some luck, too. Not just the Heat, but also the 90s Bulls and the 80s Lakers and all the rest.
Unfortunately, I don’t see nuance becoming a sports narrative again, if it ever really was.