So rare is the opportunity to become a champion. Many of us know that. But so rare too—and often left unpursued—is the opportunity to become legendary.
Many people think of legendary and champions as one and the same, that it is automatic. If you are one of the two, then you are both.
Sometimes, yes—a champion is a legendary athlete. Michael Jordan is a champion and a legend. Kobe Bryant is a champion and a legend. I am sure Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have long secured a seat in this hall. But while many players have been crowned champions in the history of the NBA, not every champion is legendary. Case in point: Matt Steigenga and Mark Madsen.
Who are Matt Steigenga and Mark Madsen? Who has their rookie cards and how much does it worth? Who owns and treasures Steigenga and Madsen jerseys? Who talks about them when the conversation is about their champion teams? Matt has a ring from the 1996-97 Bulls—yes, that legendary second three-peat Bulls. Mark won twice with the Lakers during the Kobe-Shaq era.
Matt Steigenga and Mark Madsen. Champions, but not legendary.
And among the legendary, not everyone wears a ring, and that is not a bad thing. They are beloved and admired, sometimes with greater fervor and esteem compared to champions who came and went as faceless shadows.
Allen Iverson is not a champion, but he is legendary because of how he influenced NBA basketball. Vince Carter is not a champion, but he achieved legendary status because he levitated in a way no one else did before him. Damian Lillard is not a champion (well, not YET), but he already achieved legendary status because of his clutch shooting and unbelievable range.
A championship is not the only path towards greatness—there is also becoming legendary, and this opportunity is now offered to Eastern Conference teams. Who will stop Brooklyn?
When the Nets signed Blake Griffin and later LaMarcus Aldridge, the task of emerging as Eastern Conference champions has become an even more daunting—impossible, even—for teams like Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.
Yes, it is easy to cower. It is easy (and convenient) to conceal the sense of hopelessness and surrender with injuries. It is easy to say “Let this fling pass. Let them have their rings. And when they disband in a year or two, let’s have a go at it ourselves.”
By then, the opportunity to become legendary is long gone. And who knows, maybe your chance for a championship as well.
Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia should not feel overwhelmed with the prospect of having to face a team that looks like it was built for an All-Star and not the Playoffs. They are the underdogs now, and this is the best chance to prove their worth as legit East contenders. Year after year, these three teams were consistent in being promising. Now is the time to fulfill a promise—a promise to be legendary. You don’t expect anything less from the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo or the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum-Jalen Brown duos. If there is a perfect time to finally end their (and the fans’) frustrations, it is now, by rising to the challenge thrown by this deadly Brooklyn collective composed of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin, and Aldridge.
Year after year they emerge favorites, and every year they always disappoint. Now as underdogs, they should try their hand at wielding the upset ax, see if they have the arm and the resolve to swing it strong enough to decapitate this six-headed monster.
Take it from the heroes of old: the bigger the monster, the bigger the glory.
A tall order, if there is one, perhaps as tall as George RR Martin’s giant Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg, who broke the north gate of The Wall, threatening to overrun Castle Black by breaching the tunnels. The question now is who will take up the mantle of the one-armed blacksmith Donal Noye (or, for those who only watched the TV series Game of Thrones, Grenn)? Who will willingly face a giant convinced he can kill something that is many times bigger and stronger than him?
To say that it is not going to be easy is a foregone conclusion. It may even end up in failure. That is why the reward is greatness. You know what they say: this is how legends are made.
You remember champion players. You don’t forget legendary teams. This season, it could be the powerhouse Nets—or maybe someone greater, someone who, against all odds, managed to slay the beast of Brooklyn.