NBA Title or Bust

A Gold Medal Versus A NBA Championship

-Justin Lasher

There’s been lots of conversation recently about if it’s better to win a NBA title or a gold medal for the USA national team.  We know how Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan feel.  They are completely comfortable if they never win a NBA title, as they both place their gold medal from Rio above the NBA championship.

Everything we discuss in today’s NBA is about legacy.  A player’s legacy starts with the number of championships they’ve won.  LeBron can’t possibly surpass Michael Jordan as the best ever unless he wins 6 rings.  Kevin Durant just signed with Golden State, not for the money, but so he could win the elusive championship.  Remember Gary Payton and Karl Malone going to the Lakers?  Why?  Simply so they could cement their legacies with a championship.  You see, it has been so engrained into the everyday NBA culture that it’s all about the championships, it’s been watered down how important winning a gold medal is and can be.

In Rio, Carmelo Anthony became the all time leading scorer and rebounding in USA International basketball history.  He also became the first player to ever win three gold medals in USA basketball.  As a SU guy and a Knicks fan, this made be both extremely happy and proud.  The disappointment came with the lack of media coverage and in my opinion appreciation for exactlly what these acomplishments mean.  Carmelo has chosen to spend so many of his offseasons for the last 12 or so years working out, sacrificing his time off, risking injury playing USA basketball.  Whether it was world championships, olympics, it didn’t matter, there was constant, and that was Carmelo Anthony.  He put playing for his country an honor above himself and ultimately his NBA career.

For me, an NBA championship is not as important as an olympic gold medal.  You have a yearly opportunity to win the NBA title.  You can only win olympic gold once every four years.  It’s simple math, there are less opportunities to play for your country, therefore making it a more valuable and more important thing to win gold.

It is clear that winning a title is not a requirement to reaching the highest level as a player, the hall of fame.  Many of the league’s best players are in the hall of fame and never won a championship.  I firmly believe that a player would rather be in the hall of fame than to have won a title and not make the hall.  Players such as John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson, and Reggie Miller will go down as some of the best ever, but none ever won a title.  I don’t think if you were to ask any of these players if they feel their careers were incomplete because they didn’t win  a championship, they’d say yes.  Thus, making it a point that winning a championship just isn’t that high in importance compared to other opportunities for players, like playing for a gold medal.

Another example of it being more important playing for Team USA versus winning a title is Paul George.  During a 2014 Team USA scrimmage, George broke his leg, in what I still consider, the worst sports injury i’ve ever seen.  This cost George 76 games of his NBA career and forced him an unimaginable amount of pain, frustration, rehab and so much more.  Yet, even with all that, where was  George this year?  He was  back playing for Team USA and winning a gold medal.  If this doesn’t speak volumes of just how important a gold medal and playing for his country is, I don’t know that does.

If playing for Team USA and winning a gold medal didn’t mean so much, then why did LeBron James more or less throw his intentions to be in Toyko in 2020.  He went out of his way to compliment and flatter new coach Greg Popovich.  LeBron wants on the team, and he wants it badly.  I believe that James, realized while sitting at home for Rio, that he was missing it, and that he needed it.  You see, I believe that LeBron realizes he may not get another championship, so he is trying to cement his legacy by winning a third gold medal, like Melo.

At the end of the day, I believe that the players are beginning to truly see how important it really is to be part of a winning gold medal team.  If it didn’t mean much, why did we see tears shed in Rio after winning gold.  Donning the red, white, and blue still matters.  And winning gold in red, white, and blue trumps it all.

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