Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Titles, trophies define sporting greatness

Published:Tuesday | May 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMOral Tracey

There is a strange theory that has been making the rounds in recent sports discourse, that the greatness of an individual player in a team sport cannot be dependent on the team winning titles and trophies.

Implicit in that flawed theory is that a player can be credibly crowned the greatest player ever in a particular sport, without winning a single title or trophy. That has got to be the 'nonsense theory' of the decade.

The claim is that the winning of titles in a team sport is more dependent on the overall strength of the team than the ability of any individual player to lead and carry that team to titles and trophies.

While agreeing that the quality of the team must be factored in, I equally contend that what truly great players do is lead and inspire their teammates and, ultimately, their team firstly to improve, and, ultimately, to lift titles and trophies. The player who is unable to do so simply cannot qualify as truly great.

This feeble theory can be better understood and put into context if it is understood where and under what circumstances it was formulated in the first place. From my memory and research, this spurious idea emanated within the ranks of some desperate local fans of Argentine and Barcelona football star, Lionel Messi, in response to the assertion made by many that Messi needs to win the World Cup title in order to cement his legacy as one of the truly great players of all time.

In a desperate bid to shift the goal post, the Messi fans resorted to crafting this imbecilic theory that winning titles do not define the greatness of individual players in a team sport.

In taking this debate beyond this individual case, though, my fundamental and unflappable principle continues to be that the very essence of sport is competing to WIN. Every serious competitor plays sport with the aim of winning. That is the motive behind every single competitive sporting activity.

How then, I ask these neophytes, can they continue to argue that a person who has, for whatever range of reasons or myriad of excuses, never won a single title or trophy be even remotely considered as the greatest player in a particular sport? It makes no logical sense and is indeed blatantly paradoxical.


If it is accepted that the aim of playing sport is to win, then failure to win means a failure to achieve the fundamental objective of playing sport. Failure to win and greatness are therefore diametrically opposite. If a player is to credibly be considered great, he or she has got to win titles and trophies.

This illogical line of thinking suggests that the statistics of individual players in a team sport is more important in determining the greatness of individual players than players achieving the ultimate goal of winning.

By this flawed theory, a NBA point guard who averages 25 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, but who never won a single title in his career, could conceivably be regarded as a greater player than a point guard who has four titles, but averages 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds for his career. That is ludicrous.

While titles and trophies should not be the lone factors, winning the ultimate prize must be the MAJOR factor in determining greatness, whether in an individual sport or in a team sport.

Titles and trophies are what define sporting greatness, with the possible exception being cricket, where despite it being a team sport, it entails highly individualistic specialist activities. When a batsman is at the crease, he is basically on his own, with minimal tangible interaction with his teammates in pursuing his objective of scoring runs. The same can be said for the bowler and the fielder. Cricket, in that sense, is a quite peculiar team sport and could be deemed an exception.

As far as most other conventional team sports are concerned, great players within a team must prove their greatness by leading their teams to titles and trophies. The ones who are unable to lift their teams to that ultimate success simply cannot be credibly considered as true greats.

In the world of sport, greatness is a function of winning, and winning is a function of greatness.

In the words of the celebrated American College Football coach Henry Russell 'Reds' Saunders, spoken in 1950, "Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY THING."