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Padanilam: Postseason success doesn’t define greatness

| Monday, April 23, 2018

Tom Brady has five Super Bowl rings. Michael Jordan won six NBA championships.

For many people, those facts alone seal their cases as the greatest athletes in the history of their respective sports. In a game where winning is the ultimate objective, they did it as well as anyone while staying elite players for extended periods of time.

But to me, the argument that winning the big games is somehow the end all, be all of greatness within a sport is rather ridiculous. Not because it doesn’t matter, but at a certain point it becomes pedantic given that many of the athletes in the discussion have won the games which matter most, often more than once.

In my opinion, it becomes nothing more than a failed attempt to objectify something which is subjective.

Consider this: Few people would consider Bill Russell, who won 11 championships and five Most Valuable Player awards, the greatest basketball player of all time. Why not? They’ll point to things such as league competitiveness or other technicalities to dismiss those achievements.

Yet, those same people will say its rings which unquestionably makes Jordan a greater player than LeBron James, as Jordan is undefeated in the Finals while James isn’t — dismissing the fact that James’ competition in those Finals have essentially all been historically better teams than any of the ones Jordan faced in the Finals, or that Jordan lost prior to the Finals many a times while James has gotten there in unprecedented fashion — the first player ever to make seven-straight trips.

Try this one on for size: Do you know what Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez both have in common? Besides being NFL quarterbacks, they have both been to the conference championships of their sport more than Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul has been to the conference championship in his. But of course, Sanchez and Cutler are maligned for lacking the ability to be winners, while Chris Paul is considered by some to be the greatest point guard of his generation.

Now, of course, some will say that such a comparison is completely ridiculous, but is it? After all, Cutler is the greatest quarterback in the history of the Chicago Bears franchise if you look at the statistical categories he leads in — although no Bears fan would ever agree with such a statement taken at face value — and he’s got more postseason success on his resume than Paul does in his storied NBA career.

Yet, of course the argument that Cutler has more “greatness” and than Paul does is ridiculous. So what about comparing him to another quarterback whose numbers during his career aligns a little bit more closely: Tony Romo. Romo, like Paul, never had the postseason success. But unlike Paul, he earned the reputation of being an overrated and much maligned quarterback across the league simply because of his lack of postseason success. People ignore the fact he holds a top-20 mark in fourth-quarter comebacks led in NFL history, which is about as accurate a measurement there can be to gauge how “clutch” a quarterback is. They ignore his statistical greatness, which is similar to Paul’s in the NBA. Instead, the narrative developed that Romo was a poor leader and overrated quarterback — a narrative which has never shaped for Paul.

But this argument isn’t to say James is better than Jordan was or that Cutler or even Romo is better than Paul — though it is certainly fun to turn an absurd argument on itself to imply Cutler is greater in his sport than Paul is in his. The point of this argument is to show that arguing postseason success defines greatness is misleading at best, idiotic at worst.

Why does Paul get so much credit for his regular-season success despite the complete and utter collapses in the playoffs on talented regular-season teams — don’t pretend that the Los Angeles Clippers weren’t just that, winning at least 50 games in five of Paul’s six seasons with the team, the exception being a 40-26 record in a strike-shortened season — while a player like Romo gets maligned for doing the exact same thing?

It’s because individual greatness is subjective. Trying to objectify it using a team-based metric such as postseason success so heavily is ridiculous. When you do it, you’re being misleading, ignorant or — in the worst of cases — stupid.

Maybe LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan. Maybe Tony Romo should be remembered as a great quarterback in his generation. Maybe Chris Paul should be remembered as the greatest point guard of his. But perhaps the opposite is true.

What we can say for sure, however, is that using postseason success to answer the question definitively is never going to yield success.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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