How Is 'Legendary' Defined In The NBA?

By John Beauchamp
Greatest of All Time
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the history of the NBA, there have been several players that can be called legends; for example, Bill RussellWilt ChamberlainMagic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and, of course, Michael Jordan. What separates these players from others? Kareem has the most points and MVP’s, so why shouldn’t he best considered the best? Russell has the most championships, so what about him? Jordan doesn’t have the most rings, doesn’t have the most points, and doesn’t have the most MVP’s, so why is he separated from the rest?

Players like Russell aren’t considered to be the best because of the era he played in. Sure, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor came around late in his career, but a that point, they were just preparing for their future. Russell was a 6-foot-9 center — he wouldn’t stand a chance going up against Dwight Howard. During Russell’s time, he was a big guy and a great player, but there was no 3-point line until 1967, which made it harder for teams to score if they didn’t have a big man. However, Russell only played 13 seasons, which is a short career today, but he won the NBA Finals 11 of those 13 seasons, which deserves much respect.

Today, players’ career are lasting longer than ever; this season, Kobe Bryant will be entering his 17th year in the NBA. Does the ratio of seasons to rings hurt a players legacy, or does the time alone give a player more respect by lasting longer than others? Bryant has been considered to be the greatest player of all time already, but he only has one MVP; one may as why should he be there. Bryant is probably the toughest player to ever play the game. Bryant has suffered from gruesome injuries and been able to come back with a vengeance countless time. This past season, Bryant suffered from a torn Achilles on a foul during a game. Instead of leaving the game immediately, he went ahead and gave his team two points off of free throws.

You can say Bryant couldn’t have won without Shaquille O’Neal, and that may be true, but Shaq couldn’t have won without Bryant either, just as Jordan couldn’t have won without Scotty Pippen and Lebron James couldn’t have won without Dwyane Wade. Players can’t win by themselves, it’s impossible. There will always be other teammates that are vital to the success of the team, but some more just more vital than others.

MVP’s and championships can’t define a player’s legacy by themselves, as there are so many other components that determine a player’s legacy. How did the player respond to pressure? Did the player show leadership to their team? Did the player make the buzzer-beater? Did they overcome an impossible injury? MVP’s and championships play a massive role in all of this (probably 85 percent of it all), but if a player is going to be called the best, they need all of it, the full 100 percent.

So now ask yourself, did this player show these qualities? Which player overcame an injury at a pivotal time? Jordan’s flu game, Bryant’s ankle sprain in the 2000 NBA Finals, and James’ leg cramps during the 2012 NBA Finals — are these are great examples of an injury or illness overcame?

Before his first championship, James was always criticized, being told that he might never win a ring, especially after the Miami Heat‘s loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. James and the Heat would make the Final a second year in a row and, and James would finally prove that he could win it all.

Much pressure was put on Bryant for several years after the departure of Shaq, being told that he couldn’t win without him.For years, the Los Angeles Lakers had struggled to get through the playoffs, but the Lakers would make a trade to get foward Pau Gasol; this would send the Lakers to the NBA Finals, which they would lose to the Boston Celtics. That offseason, they would get Metta World Peace, which built the team to go on and win two championship in a row.

These things just go to show how Bryant and James responded to the pressure they faced a certain points in their career.

So, MVP’s and Championships aren’t everything in determining a players’ career. They must always face obstacles to prove how great they really are.

John Beauchamp is a multi-sport writer for RantSports, email any questions or concerns to, follow him on Twitter @John_Beauchamp or just add him to your network on Google

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