Sports Take: Does a championship make a player great?

United States players and coaches celebrate during the trophy presentation after a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match against Argentina, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

By Jarrod Leicher | Reporter

In every sport, the most exciting time of the season is when the championship happens. The World Cup, the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Stanley cup are all the pinnacle of team achievements in their respective sports.

But do they really matter, at least in the discussion of great players?

Obviously championships matter in a player’s career and how they get paid, whether they get traded or other business in sports, but when the conversation arises about who is the G.O.A.T. in any given sport, then how much do they matter?

Of the four major sports in America — football, baseball, basketball and hockey — there are many players that people say are the greatest of all time. We all know the greats of sports like Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth. But of those four only one has the most championships in their sport. Does that still make them the greatest of all time? That would be up to you.

If the number of rings matter, or at least is a priority, then the greats would be Brady in football, Bill Russell in basketball, Henri Richard in hockey and Yogi Berra in baseball. Most people would put those players in their top five or top 10 greatest, but few would say Richard is over Gretzky or Gordie Howe.

I asked a few of my friends whether or not championships matter, and most of them simply said “Yes, they do.” But one replied “Only when in comparison of other players, it might put one guy over another, but it doesn’t discount if they’re great or not.”

This is the answer that I agree with, yet it doesn’t seem like people are this consistent through every sport. Michael Jordan is not the G.O.A.T. because he has six rings, but because he changed the game of basketball and how it is played and viewed in the public. Wayne Gretzky did the same for hockey.

Greatness is not defined by winning the most. While that helps, it is defined by how they make the sport better and how great their legacy is. Champions are made every year, and the ones that win them multiple times are great, but so are the players that may not have the most rings.