Steinberg: How to define greatness

June 23, 2012

In the film "The Wizard of Oz", the scarecrow elucidates great thoughts and shows astute judgment throughout the movie but feels inadequate because he hasn't got a brain. The wizard hands him a diploma recognizing his academic prowess and he immediately is filled with an internal sense of erudition and wisdom.

What is it in athletic performance that signifies iconic greatness?

America loves winners, and ultimate greatness is conferred on players who perform dramatically in winning a championship. Whether it is a high school, collegiate or professional team and whether it is a league championship, a state championship, the Super Bowl or NBA championship, it is playing a critical role in bringing a team to penultimate achievement which defines "greatness."

Consider the curious case of Miami Heat star LeBron James. Here is a man who has dominated basketball play at every level. He has won three MVP awards as the best player in the NBA. He has played in eight All-Star games. He was the first pick in the 2003 Draft and Rookie of the Year.


When he left the Cleveland Cavaliers the team dropped back into mediocrity. And, because he entered the NBA directly from high school, after nine years he is still in his prime.

But in last year's championship series he underperformed and the Heat lost to the Mavericks and the talk radio shows and sports press were filled with criticism. He was seen as lacking because he couldn't elevate his level of play and lead his team to victory.

"LeBron can't win the Big One!."

Until this year when he completely controlled the NBA Finals with a spectacular performance and the Heat won the championship. The airwaves and sports press are filled with testimonials this week, some arguing that James is not only great, but perhaps the greatest player ever.

Kevin Durant led the Western Conference in scoring for the last three years for Oklahoma City . He was NBA Rookie of the Year. He is largely responsible for the success of the younger Thunder team and is considered among the most dynamic of young NBA stars. He now carries the stigma of "can't win the big one."

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