Black Enterprise: Jalen Rose: A Ring Doesn’t Make a Champion
June 20, 2011
by Andreas Hale Posted: June 20, 2011
Overnight, LeBron James went from hero to villain. Although the Ohio native’s decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach was met with much criticism by fans and sports critics, it was a calculated move to win a championship. James and the Miami Heat were able to make it to the NBA Finals in his first year with the team, but they still fell short of their goal.
In the wake of James’ failure to secure a championship, sports enthusiasts have begun to question the focus of today’s professional athlete. Gone are the days of teams slowly building up a competitive franchise. Now, in an effort to expedite the process, rosters are stacked with multiple All-Stars and the business of basketball seems to have trumped the sport itself.
BlackEnterprise.com sat down with former NBA player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose to discuss the League’s current “Big 3” syndrome and whether or not if LeBron James can repair his fractured image.
BlackEnterprise.com: Do you feel today’s professional athletes are more concerned with a championship as the defining moment of their career than generations past?
Jalen Rose: The NBA has become such a bottom line business where everybody is a critic…. Today, an NBA championship is how we judge our players and LeBron James is currently in the hot seat. If you don’t win a championship, people feel like your career is a failure. Players have decided to take that off the table and put themselves in a position to get a championship and silence the critics.
With Michael Jordon being regarded as arguably the best player to play the game because of his six championships, has that played a role in being the holy grail of achievement for players to achieve not just one championship but several?
Success is about realistic expectations in life. A lot of markets like the Yankees [in the MLB], and the Lakers and Celtics [in the NBA] have fans that expect them to win championships because their owners have created that expectation. But a lot of people and players feel like nobody will ever top Jordan’s six rings. He’s the only guy to have six championships and six NBA Finals MVPs in six tries. If the Heat win and Dwyane Wade gets MVP, that’s a knock against LeBron in his pursuit of Jordan. That’s how people analyze the game today and it’s unfortunate.
Do you believe that more teams will follow the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat formula and build their own “Big 3” as a way to get a ring?
This year’s Dallas Mavericks and the 2004 Detroit Pistons are the only two teams that have won without having multiple hall-of-famers playing at all-star levels. Larry Bird played with Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale. Magic Johnson never won a championship without Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Jordan didn’t win without Scottie Pippen. Shaq had Kobe and Dwyane Wade. If you want to be a dynasty, you need the parts to win multiple championships… Before Michael Jordan entered GOAT status, there used to be an argument about who was better out of him and Dominique Wilkins. Then the Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen, hired Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan’s career took off. He didn’t have to leave the Bulls, it was built in. On the other side, Shaq had to leave Orlando to get what he got in LA.
But does it soil a player’s legacy when he leaves his team to join someone else’s just to win a championship?
It doesn’t diminish it at all. LeBron could have stayed in Cleveland, put up big numbers, won another MVP and been a great Samaritan, but people would have said that he doesn’t have any championships. When you talk about the greatest players of all time, the only reason that Karl Malone and John Stockton’s name doesn’t come up is because they didn’t win a championship. Karl Malone has scored the second most points in NBA history but we’ll put Tim Duncan in front of him because he has four championships.
Do you think players are losing their patience in the game and are rushing to get a ring?
Yes, but losing patience starts with the players, the media and the organizations that don’t keep teams together. In the ’80s and ’90s you could groom a Scottie Pippen until he became a major player. You can groom a team until they had the type of chemistry and cohesion it takes to make a run. Today, your window of opportunity is smaller. They give a team two or three years and now they’re breaking them up. The Miami Heat lost this year and there are actually idiots out there saying that they need to get rid of one of the big three already. [The Chicago Bulls’] Derrick Rose won the MVP this year and in two years people are going to look at him and not care about any of his accomplishments if he has no rings. The same can be said about [The Oklahoma City Thunder’s] Kevin Durant. We’ll also have to see what happens with this collective bargaining agreement. If it starts to cost guys $15-20 million of their max deal to leave, they will be staying where they’re at.
Do you feel that we’re going to see the gap widen between the big market powerhouses like New York, Los Angeles and Miami, and the smaller markets like Minnesota, Sacramento and Golden State?
People hate when I tell the truth but the NBA has always been this way. The NBA has always been about dynasties. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s it was about Celtics and the Lakers. In the 90’s the Rockets and Pistons snuck a couple and the Bulls won six. Then Shaq [O’Neal] and Tim Duncan took four, Kobe Bryant was a part of five… That’s all of the rings.
In your opinion, what defines a champion?
A champion has zero to do with the score of the game and who wins at the end of the season. A champion is your love and passion for the game, your ability to sacrifice and be a good teammate, play for the right reasons and then look at the score and hope your team is ahead when it is all said and done. There are champions who don’t have rings and there are guys who really didn’t deserve the rings that they got. Look at some of the players that have rings. There are players walking around with two or three rings saying, “Hey, look at my rings!” Go pull up their stats; six points and one rebound? What that means is they were a vital part but somebody else could have filled that role.
What can LeBron James do repair his damaged image in the next NBA season?
He can’t change anyone who has a negative perception of him until he wins two championships. If [Miami] wins a championship next year, the first thing they’ll say is that he only has as many as Dirk [Nowitzki]. When we see him holding up a championship trophy in his left and in his right hand, a lot of people will bow down. But until then the sharks are going to be out. That’s unfortunate because since Michael Jordan, some of the best things to happen in the NBA are Tim Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Allen Iverson and LeBron James. Two of them don’t have rings. Since he retired, we treat Allen Iverson like he never existed.
And he took a 76ers team that wasn’t much to the NBA Finals…
That’s what I’m trying to tell you about LeBron. He took the Cavs to the championship in his third year!
If LeBron doesn’t win a championship, does he suffer the same fate as Allen Iverson?
That’s why I gave you that example. Allen just retired two years ago. You haven’t heard his name since I just said it. When we talk about great players, his name doesn’t even come up and that’s sad. Without a ring, people will just look at his stats on a piece of paper and compare him to other players who averaged what he averaged.
The other thing that has people mad at LeBron is the fact that he decided to become more than a jock. By having a marketing firm that manages other athletes and trying to become a billion dollar athlete who can hang out with Warren Buffett and take pictures with Jay-Z, he has become a villain. People want him to shut up and play basketball. When people talk about him, what do they say? He needs to get in the gym, stop doing commercials and stop tweeting.
With all of the pressure of winning a ring and landing the biggest endorsement deal, what happens to the love of the game?
The love gets distorted when I’m LeBron James and I’m doing all of the right things. [The ESPN Special] “The Decision” was ill timed. If I’m from Ohio, I understand why people are upset with him. But everyone else takes it over the top. He’s a two time MVP, rookie of the year and has a gold medal. He’s arguably the best player in the game who took the Cavs to the finals. What does that mean to the public? Nothing! That’s what happens to the love. How can you love something that doesn’t love you back?