An athlete's legacy is invariably shaped by too many things athletes have no control over, which in turn warps our understanding of what greatness even is
Even if Argentina hadn’t won the men’s World Cup, Lionel Messi would still be considered one of the greatest footballers (if not the greatest footballer) of all time. This isn’t a controversial opinion given the piles of team and individual accolades Messi has accumulated in his career.
But what about when you’re not within the Top 5 all-time of your sport?
I think about guys like Charles Barkley, a no-doubter Hall of Famer who never won a championship ring (and is constantly the butt of a running joke about this). He was an undersized power forward who averaged 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game for his career. He’s one of the greatest NBA power forwards of all time. And yet, he’s somehow placed in a slightly lesser tier of greatness, and the lack of championships is often cited as the reason.
See also: Steve Nash, Ken Griffey Jr., Dan Marino, Marcel Dionne, and so on.
Winning a championship is hard, obviously and rightfully so. As fans, we assume that when a star player like Michael Jordan wins a championship, it’s because he used his exceptional skill combined with sheer will to lead his team to the promised land. But there are so many things on the path to a championship that are out of any one individual player’s control, so much luck and even more randomness. And, really, the hard part of being excellent is in the consistency and the longevity of it.
The number of championships an athlete wins is obviously not the only measure of greatness; Robert Horry is not considered an all-time great by anybody even though he has seven rings. Conversely, I don’t know that the lack of rings necessarily equates to lack of greatness.
Because today's date — 12/21 — is a palindrome, we decided that we were going to have a bit of fun with the questions this week. Questions today are decidedly, uh, palindromical.
An example question: A Brooklyn Net currently shooting better than 50% on his three-point attempts; the late career jersey number of the Toronto Raptors' single season record for FT%.
The Raptors single-season record holder for FT% is Jose Calderon, who wore #8 in Toronto but #81 in Detroit and Cleveland. So the second half is "81." Do you need to know that the player in the first question is Yuta Watanabe to solve this? No, but if you did, and you knew that he wore #18, then you wouldn't need to figure out the other half (i.e. if, for some reason, you didn’t pay attention to Calderon’s late-career stints in the Midwest). That said, “a Brooklyn Net" doesn’t necessarily identify Watanabe straight up. At any rate, the palindromical answer is: 1881.
NFL jersey numbers of: the league’s career leader in postseason passes intercepted; the player with the second-most career rushing yards; the "Honey Badger"; the 2015 MVP.
MLB jersey numbers of: the batter with the most hits in 1990s; the only 24x All-Star who won 3x MVP; the pitcher the Blue Jays got from Cleveland for Josh Donaldson; Dwight Gooden’s nephew upon reaching the majors.
NBA jersey numbers of: the Philadelphia 76ers’ career blocks leader; the current league leader in total assists; a guy currently being paid $10,183,800 to not play for a Western Conference power; Amir Johnson as a Celtic; a Brooklyn Net with the same name as a famous racist.
NHL jersey numbers of: Al Iafrate as a Maple Leaf; the tallest player in NHL history, in his final season; the tallest player in NHL history in his first season. Then, the number of Hart Trophies won by: Mario Lemieux; and Bobby Orr. Then, the number of Vezina Trophies won by Patrick Roy. Then, the number of Conn Smythe Trophies won by Patrick Roy.
Answers from last week’s issue
In the Super Bowl era, four teams have started an NFL season 14-0. Each time the team made it to the Super Bowl, but which team is the only one that went on to win it?
This is a bit of a trick question, because the 1972 Miami Dolphins also ended the season 14-0 (the NFL was on a 14-game schedule at the time). The other teams that started 14-0 were the 2007 Patriots, 2009 Colts, and 2015 Panthers — all Super Bowl losers.
Only one NBA team has retired both #12 and #14 where the two players in question played together on that team at the same time. They shared a backcourt for 6½ seasons, and made two straight NBA Finals appearances. Who are they?
The Utah Jazz have retired the numbers of noted anti-vaxxer John Stockton and Jeff “Horny” Hornacek.
Five forwards have won 4+ Stanley Cups while wearing the #14 shirt. None of them ever scored 40 goals or 80 points in their career. Who are they?
Claude Provost (Canadiens 9x), Dave Keon (Maple Leafs 4x), Bob Bourne (Islanders 4x), Craig MacTavish (Oilers 4x), and Chris Kunitz (Anaheim, Penguins 3x) are the droids we’re looking for.
Twenty pitchers have ever recorded a season of 14+ wins and 12+ saves. The last time this happened was in 1986, when the pitcher was his team’s closer. Six years later, he made his only acting appearance, in a sitcom episode with one of his teammates. Who is he?
The episode in question aired in 1992, but it was not Homer at the Bat. In the Seinfeld episode The Boyfriend, Elaine begins dating Mets legend Keith Hernandez, who is accused by Newman and Kramer of spitting on them after a game. It turns out there was a second spitter on a grassy knoll outside Shea Stadium: Mets closer Roger McDowell.
Many thanks to Kylian Mbappé for being named his name and to you for being named your name, unless your name is Steve Cohen, because we get it, you’re rich, like really really rich, but can you just fucking stop?
Until next week, be the Ezequiel Carrera you wish to see in the world.