Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Debate

In the beginning of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Dwight Howard was a man on a mission. He dominated the Lakers' big men, not offensively, but in the ways that it mattered most. The hustle plays. He wracked up a statistic that is often over looked by points. Howard finished the game with 21 rebounds, while his 16 points hardly complimented that.

The game, unfortunate for the Magic, turned south when that same man could not complete his mission. Orlando lost not only on the free throw line, in which they missed 15. But it was a complete gag order sent straight from the Master of Panic himself, Stan Van Gundy.

"I'll have to look at the play but it will haunt me for a long time," said Stan Van.

The play was simple and everyone watching could have anticipated what Van Gundy would presumably do. Up three following two critical missed Dwight Howard free throws, with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, the Magic would have to prevent the Lakers from tying the game. I assume at whatever cost. But they didn't.

Instead of electing to foul and put the Lakers on the free throw line, the Magic fell victim to a simple full court press break and were eventually broken by Derek Fisher.

Meanwhile, I was on facebook debating sports the way I usually do. My cousin, who I simply refer to as Jay objected when I referred to Dwight Howard as great. A statement that I would retrieve by the end of Game 4, but it certainly fueled a very interesting discussion.

Jay is at least 10 years my elder so it goes without saying that I respect him and his opinions. But at this moment in particular, we disagreed wholeheartedly. The debate in a nut shell consisted of what makes a great player. I won't speak for Jay, cause as I mentioned he's older than I am and can speak for himself. But I will lend my opinion.

Greatness consists of qualities untaught, unlearned, and apparently sometimes unappreciated. There has to be an ability to separate talent from greatness. You can be great with little talent, just as you can be talented and not so great. I could not imagine myself giving the nod to a player who leads his team in scoring and receives all the accolades that come with the honor, but does not do a single thing to better those around him and lift the team to the "great" standards that are held to the individual.

However, I can recognize, and greatly appreciate the players who are uplifting in every since of the word. Who is the old reliable? Who is the teammate you can count on? Is it your star player? Is it anybody?

Jay used Shane Battier as an example for a player who most teams would love to have, but is not considered great. I totally understand why he would say that. But he is wrong and so is anyone who doesn't quite understand how broad the definition of great is. Shane will never appear in an all star game. Nor will he ever be recognized by the voters of the Hall of Fame. But great doesn't need any of that.

I looked up the word that my cousin and I have been throwing around so aimlessly. And I discovered a reason why neither of our positions on great are incorrect but simply defined in two different ways.

Great: 1. distinguished; famous
2. of noble or lofty character
3. unusual merit; very admirable
4.important; highly significant or consequential

Jay and I debated the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki and compared it to the lack there of for Shane Battier. But that is unfair after reading the definitions. We could easily make the argument that Battier is not distinguished or famous the way Dirk is. But his noble and lofty character is unquestionable. His unusual merit and admirability cannot be debated. His importance and significance are undeniable if you have ever paid attention to him play.

I said Dirk was not great but mainly because of the greater standard that he his held to, which may be unfair to him. I watched the Dallas Mavericks take a convincing and commanding 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals before they coughed it up to what was evidently a far greater team. I have watched Dirk ridicule his teammates for their bad decisions on the court while the truth was he was unable to take advantage of the biggest opportunity of his career.

I have also watched Shane Battier quietly go about his business with the kind of character that spells out a true winner, while at the same time never distinguishing him or making him famous. True enough neither player has ever won anything to brag about, which leads me to wonder how you could think one is greater than the other simply off of talent alone.

Derek Fisher came up in the discussion a few times. Initially before his heroics in Game 4 and eventually shortly there after. Jay referred to him as replaceable and likened him with names such as Howard Eisley and Matt Maloney. I know who those guys are. But do you? Seriously, this is a great debate even if we never reach a consensus as to what great really means. Just be careful as to how narrowly measure it and be sure to think outside the box. That would be, in a word... great.

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