The Norman Transcript

June 26, 2014

Legacy built on service, not on hopscotch

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I wasn’t recording, but driving, when I heard it, so maybe I don’t remember it perfectly, but it doesn’t much matter because all of it was ridiculous.

Former Wisconsin coach, New York Knick coach and NBA administrator Stu Jackson was asked how he would frame a LeBron James-worthy pitch, now that James’ agent (rich that it wasn’t James himself, given “The Decision”) has told the Miami Heat his client will opt out of his contract and pursue free agency (which doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be back with the Heat).

Anyway, Jackson went on and on about how the thing that’s going to appeal to James, because James wants to be thought of like a Russell, a Byrd, a Kobe, a Michael (he didn’t say Abdul-Jabbar, but it must have been an oversight) is championships. 

So, if you want to lure James to your city, you better tell him how you’re going to build around him, allowing him to chase that legacy he wants so badly. You know, a championship legacy.

Guess what?

The guy’s held a bunch of cool jobs but Jackson A) doesn’t know the history of basketball, nor B) the history of sports and C) has no idea how people with a sense of that history actually think about sports.

Because if James wants to build a legacy worthy of the game’s absolute greats, and as a championship player, he’s got one choice and one choice only and that’s to stay in Miami.

It would have been better had he stayed in Cleveland, where he could have had what most of the guys on Jackson’s list had (unbeknownst to Jackson, apparently), a career tenure with the same franchise.

But if James can stay in South Beach the rest of his career, at worst, he’ll be remembered as a guy who only hopped for greener grass once. Also, he could have 10 good years left and the Heat should be in the thick of it every season, and who wouldn’t want to play with him?

Heck, he only needs one more title to catch Bird. What Bird would still have on him, however, is class and respect. And the only way for James to continue adding that to his resume is to stay put.

But enough about James.

What’s it’s really about is legacy and what’s so quickly forgotten in the moment — thank you Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and ESPN for ruining thoughtful sports dialogue; really, where’s Bob Costas when you need him — is that you can’t leave a legacy by playing hopscotch with employers.

Has it ever happened?

Shaquille O’Neal loses a little ground by moving from Orlando to L.A., and he won all his championships in L.A. 

Dennis Rodman is remembered as an eccentric and great rebounder, but less a championship guy even though he won two with the Pistons and three with the Bulls. If he’d been in either place the whole time, his legacy would be greater.

Bob McAdoo won two titles with the Lakers coming off the bench and none with the Buffalo Braves, Knicks, Celtics, Pistons and Nets. But his legacy is wrapped up in his being an electric scorer who averaged 18.0, 20.6, 34.5, 31.1, 25.8, 26.5 and 24.8 points per game his first seven years in the league. 

His two titles are a nice footnote the way Bill Walton’s 1986 title in Boston is a nice footnote. They are not legacy builders.

Yes, there are championship legacies from players who didn’t spend their entire career in the same place, but only when they might as well have.

Babe Ruth was a Redsock, a Yankee and finally a Boston Brave, but he won all his championships in the Bronx.

Franco Harris was a Seahawk but claimed all his hardware in Pittsburgh.

Joe Montana was a Chief but was only a champion at Candlestick.

Then there are legacies built not on championships, but on continued service and they, even more than the champs, are remembered most fondly.

Brooks Robinson won two World Series but it was his career that made him Baltimore’s favorite son. 

George Brett won only one, but he’s still Mr. Kansas City.

Tony Gwynn won none but the world just mourned his passing in a way Wade Boggs and Rod Carew won’t be remembered because those guys had more than one home.

James has already messed up by leaving once. Leave twice and he’s just another mercenary. Maybe he’d win more in Houston or L.A. or Chicago, but who would care when he’s done?

Not as many.

Winning championships is terrific. Chasing them is unseemly. 

Want legacy?

Be the man in the same place for a long time, prevail and suffer, rise and fall.

Those guys are the greatest. 

The talking heads, forever in the moment and nowhere else, don’t have a vote. Or, at least, one that matters.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

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