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Count Tha Ringz, and Other Things

I asked the question on Twitter last night: in what sport is the whole “count tha ringz” discussion the most prevalent? What ensued was a pretty insightful chat (as much as 140 characters at a time will allow) with J.O. Applegate1, James Griffo and Jared Wade, which took the conversation into a few directions and left us with no answers, just observations to think about.

And so I thought about them, and here are a few more thoughts.

First, the “count tha ringz” reference just refers to a particular segment of basketball fans that will use championships as the measuring stick when comparing two individual players. The most common example, of course, is Kobe against LeBron. In this argument, Kobe is 5, LeBron is 1.

I’m not interested at all in validating or arguing against that train of thought. I think it’s pretty clear the fallacy in that. But I posed the question because it was curious to me just how important championships are in sports, when it comes to defining an individual, and how it differs across the various sports.

Taking basketball as the basis for argument, the first comparison is football. In the same way that we scrutinized LeBron or celebrate Kobe for their team success, quarterbacks in the NFL fall to the same fate. Peyton Manning is one of the greatest, but his career playoff record and just one championship falls short in comparison to say, a Tom Brady. But in that same line of thinking, Ben Roethlisberger is not a better quarterback than Manning, but if you do a ring count, he’s ahead.

And that leads to another question, which is how much an individual can be responsible for his team’s success, especially in the post-season, across the sports.

It would seem in basketball, the most individual of sports, the influence is the highest, whereas in football, the fact that two different sets of players are responsible for offense and defense respectively means there’s a more diluted responsibility for each individual player as an overall.

Which brought last night’s conversation to baseball, and made me realize this obvious but still fascinating truth: baseball players are rarely burdened with the stigma of “he’s never won a World Series”, and owing to the fact that the playoffs are constructed as one giant small sample size tournament, individual pitchers and hitters can erase all criticism by simply doing well in the playoffs regardless of whether the team wins.

It reminds me of the Barry Bonds’ post-season in 2002, when he tied or set records for home runs and walks in the playoffs and in the World Series. Of course, the Giants ended up losing in seven games to Anaheim. But no one laments that Bonds never won the World Series as something he could’ve controlled, but more as a disappointment that it’s not something on his resume.

Compare that to the most obvious example of LeBron in Cleveland. Everyone remembers the Game 5 loss to the Celtics. But when you consider everything else – I mean, check out what he did in the 2009 Conference Finals against Orlando – he was actually great in the post-season even when he wasn’t winning the title, except, well, that he wasn’t winning the title, which supersedes all the other points.

What does this all mean though, and why does it matter? I think I’m giving this a lot of thought because when I scale it all back, the larger point of following sports, and watching teams compete is to see who will win the championship.

But more and more, winning the championship means so little in the way we evaluate players. And seeing the difference across how we evaluate players and championships across the sports makes me think whether there’s some sort of inequality in the way we are assessing the different sports, or am I overthinking and it’s just a matter of the sports being different, and as such, the way we approach it varies as well?

I’m going to think about this a little more, and probably come back to it. For now, just count tha ringz.

Footnotes:

1 In a strange coincidence, J.O. Applegate has a Count Tha’ Ringzz!!! t-shirt for sale.

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