STEVE KERR, ROBERT HORRY, CHARLES HALEY, TOM BRADY AND BILL RUSSELL
Of all the pearls — jewels — of wisdom inevitably bouncing off the vocal cords and vaulting from the tongue, moving through the lips and cascading out of the mouth of the venerable, avuncular and indomitable Herm Edwards — a football detainee and annuitant — there is one which resonates more thunderously than all the rest.
And over the years there have been some good ones.
“Your problems are never bigger than your purpose.”
“You don’t get character because you’re successful; you build character because of the hardships you face.”
“It doesn’t look pretty all the time — pretty doesn’t win.”
“Know the difference between being hurt and injured. Hurt players can play and practice. It’s going to hurt.”
“When you walk in a room and you’re late, it’s because it’s not important to you.”
“Don’t hear me. Listen.”
“When you’re thinking about sending out that tweet, I only have one piece of advice. Don’t press send.”
“Sometimes a talent can be a curse.”
“We are all a collection of our choices.”
“Nothing good happens after midnight.”
“A goal without a plan is a wish.”
“Are you interested or are you committed?”
“Your start does not determine how you are going to finish.”
“Quitting is not an option. I will not let anyone on this team quit.”
And the coup de grace? The most poignant? The simple truth, as plain as the nose on your face?
The singular Herman Edwards, Jr. quote that screams the loudest with arms raised from the highest mountain-top and echoes cavernously in every direction?
“YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME.”
It doesn’t matter the game. The level of competition is immaterial. Neither the recreational aspect nor the enjoyment quotient need be compromised or sacrificed. You can still have fun.
But “you play to win the game.”
That’s the bottom line. The quintessence. To many the apotheosis.
Nobody plays to lose, a nod to the unsavory and parasitic dimensions inherent to the ills of bribery and illegal gambling (point-shaving, etc.) notwithstanding.
Certainly people accept losing differently; people are different.
And it’s not that winning is the only thing — y’know that Lombardi time-worn adage, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” — but it’s that if you choose to play, you probably want to win.
There is at least a dash of competitive spirit in most everyone.
And then there are those whose desire to win rages like a California wildfire. The fire in the belly spreads, consuming the body and mind, the heart and soul.
Michael Jordan is one. Red Auerbach was another. You could see it in their expressions and mannerisms. Vince Lombardi. Henri Richard, “The Pocket Rocket.” Pat Summitt. Michael Phelps (if we could see his face underwater).
Bird. Magic. Kobe.
Still others win or won like mad with a certain smugness and arrogance as if asking rhetorically, “well, what did you expect? What did you think was gonna happen?”
Phil Jackson and Geno Auriemma for example. Maybe even Jack Nicklaus at times.
Neither Margaret Court nor Roger Federer nor John Wooden nor Tim Duncan ever tossed that vibe out there. They won with a certain grace and dignity about them.
And certainly not one Lawrence Peter Berra from The Hill in St. Louis, better known as Yogi. He played in 14 World Series, managed in two others, won 10 championships as a player (and lest we forget, three more as a coach) and all the while looked happy as a clam to be on the guest list, included in the festivities.
Bill Russell combined fierce and unbridled intensity with a certain stoicism which set him apart. Supremely self-confident and with good reason, he rarely displayed emotion or changed expression.
(Never mind his famed cackle).
He expected to win, won and that was that.
Eleven NBA titles in his 13-year career — nine as a player and two as a player/coach — the most of any player in league history.
And oh yes. Before embarking on his professional career, Russell led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships and was the captain of the gold-medal winning U.S. national basketball team at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.
Russell is inarguably, a top candidate, if not the likely choice in the narrative of the greatest winner in sports history. Many of the aforementioned offer formidable competition to be sure and there are others. Knute Rockne. Mickey Mantle. Martina Navratilova. Joe Montana. Wayne Gretzky. Joe DiMaggio. Joe Greene. Paul “Bear” Bryant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Sugar Ray Robinson.
Scottie Pippen deserves an honorable mention and Lance Armstrong a dishonorable one.
Steve Kerr started but 30 games in his 16-year NBA career toiling for six teams including two stints with the San Antonio Spurs.
His line was hardly even modest: 6.0 ppg; 1.2 rpg; and 1.8 apg but his value bordered on the indescribable. He finished with and still holds the highest career 3-point-shooting percentage (45.4%) in NBA history for any player with at least 250 three-pointers to their credit.
He also owned the league record for highest 3-point percentage in a single season, 1994-’95 (52.4%) until Kyle Korver wrested it away in 2009-’10 (53.6%) while with the Jazz.
(At this writing after 15 games in 2018-’19 Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets has made 40 of 76 3-point attempts or 52.6% of his tries).
Kerr understood and embraced the notion that basketball is a team sport and that each player had a role. He knew his and certainly performed it superbly.
He is perhaps best remembered for hitting a 17-footer with the score tied at 86 and under ten seconds to go in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Jazz which secured the Bulls’ fifth title; he has stated that this was the signature moment of his memorable career.
After Chicago won it again in ’98 with Kerr contributing in his inimitable fashion, he moved on to the Spurs in January of ’99. When San Antonio won their first NBA title that spring Kerr became one of only two players in league history to have won four championships with two different teams in consecutive seasons. (The other? Frank Saul with the Rochester Royals and Minneapolis Lakers 1951-’54).
He was a five-time champion as a player (1996-’98 as a Chicago Bull; 1999 & 2003 with the Spurs) and has added three more titles thus far to his full satchel as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors (2015; 2017; 2018).
A silent assassin.
Robert Horry once had an altercation on the bench with his then-coach Danny Ainge during which he threw a towel in Ainge’s face while showering him with a toxic stream of invective.
Seems “Big Shot Bob” didn’t cotton to Ainge’s decision to remove him after he missed a three-pointer late in a January 1997 game against the Celtics in Boston.
Good thing for Horry who was fined, suspended and summarily shipped to the Lakers where he continued his assault on winning.
An assault like none other.
Horry made a poor choice in the Ainge episode but he hung around long enough to play 16 seasons in the NBA and win seven championships, the most of any player unassociated with the renowned Boston Celtics teams of the 60s.
He is one of only two players in history to have won titles with three teams: 2 with the Houston Rockets; 3 with the Lakers; and 2 with the Spurs.
Sidebar: [John “Spider” Salley of Brooklyn and Georgia Tech notoriety was the first, winning NBA championships with Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles. Further, “Spider” and Tim Duncan are the only two to win a championship in three decades].
Horry is widely considered to be one of the greatest clutch NBA performers and winners of all time.
Charles Haley’s timing was impeccable. A fourth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1986 (96th. overall) out of the Division I-AA football factory known as James Madison, Haley managed to play for the ’Niners and the Dallas Cowboys when both franchises were at their respective peaks.
And as a 5-time Pro Bowler (1988; 1990; 1991; 1994; 1995), 2-time First Team All-Pro (1990; 1994) and 2-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1990; 1994) he had a big hand in their success.
He made 500 tackles in his storied career, registered 100.5 sacks and forced 26 fumbles on the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A specialty outside linebacker who morphed into a feared pass-rusher and then finally a full-fledged monster defensive end, Haley was a versatile defensive player who became the NFL’s first five-time Super Bowl champion (and is one of only two such players) — two with the 49ers (XXIII; XXIV) and three with Dallas (XXVII; XXVIII; and XXX).
He was a starter in all five championship contests.
The other player with five Super Bowl championship rings is Tom Brady of course. And he is the only player to have won them with a single franchise.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots in 2000 (199th. overall) Brady was the steal of the century, millenium or since B.C.
In his 16 seasons as a starter he has quarterbacked the Patriots to eight — that’s correct, eight — Super Bowl appearances, the most for any player in history.
He and Kurt Warner are the only two QBs to win the Super Bowl in their first season as starters and his list of subsequent gridiron accomplishments are too numerous to detail.
They defy logic.
Suffice to say that four Super Bowl MVP awards (XXXVI; XXXVIII; XLIX; and LI), the most ever by a player; three league MVPs (2007; 2010; and 2017); 13 Pro Bowls; and more division titles (15) than any other quarterback in NFL history only begin to scratch the surface of Brady’s legacy.
He has never had a losing season as a starting quarterback in the NFL and he is the first and only QB to reach 200 regular-season wins. His combined total of regular-season and postseason wins — 249 — are also the most of any quarterback in league annals.
Winning can assume many forms.
Near-perfection, winning ugly and all that is in between.
But a win is a win no matter how you slice it.
And a loss is a loss.
You learn from both.
And remaining humble in the face of either result is prescient; what goes around comes around.
Further, there is a great deal to be said for exemplifying good sportsmanship.
Nobody wins all the time.
But if you’re gonna play…
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2018.]
ADDENDUM: Brady — now a proud member of the historically downtrodden Tampa Bay Buccaneers — has played in nine Super Bowls, winning 6. He has 219 regular-season wins and 30 in the playoffs for an aggregate total of 249.
Following Brady in regular-season wins are Brett Favre and Peyton Manning tied with 186; Joe Montana (16), Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, and Manning (14 each) trail Brady’s 30 career playoff wins.