Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson sat courtside at the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
So did John Stockton.
All of them NBA superstars, to be sure. But without the 14 combined NBA titles won by MJ (six), Magic (five) and Bird (three), would they be viewed in the same light?
They’d be looked upon in similar fashion to Stockton, someone who compiled awe-inspiring individual achievements, but never won a title.
Although still thought of as great players, they wouldn’t be considered living legends.
Ernie Banks isn’t recalled for his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Cubs as much as he is for not ever playing in a World Series. Take away the titles from Bird, MJ and Magic and they’d fall into the same category as Dominique Wilkins, a superior player who never sipped championship nectar.
That’s the nature of the beast.
The Buffalo Bills aren’t remembered as the only team to play in four consecutive Super Bowls, they are remembered as the only team to lose four consecutive Super Bowls.
It’s the same in all sports — players and teams are ultimately measured by the titles on the resume. It’s why Joe Montana is a more revered quarterback than Dan Marino and why Shaquille O’Neal will always be a bigger deal than Charles Barkley.
In the National Hockey League, Marcel Dionne is the poster child for championship droughts. He won everything there was to win on the ice, except for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup.
Dionne, fourth in career goals with 731 and fifth on the all-time scoring list with 1,771 career points, never even skated in a final. Or a semifinal, for that matter. During his 18-season career, Dionne’s teams didn't advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.
“The game rewards you with all kinds of things,” Dionne said.
But it remembers you in just one fashion — as a champion, or as an also-ran.
In today’s game, there’s no doubt that Washington Capitals right winger Alexander Ovechkin is the NHL’s most dynamic and exciting player. His explosiveness and passion for the game are always worth the price of admission.
“He's taken it to another level that I haven't seen,” NBC Sports' Mike Milbury said. “When you see him jumping up against the glass and the enthusiasm that he demonstrates with his teammates, whether it's him scoring a goal or not doesn't seem to matter to this guy.
“There's no question he's as electrifying a player as I've seen.”
What Ovechkin hasn’t done is win in the playoffs.
Forget a championship. He’s still looking to capture his first postseason series, with his Capitals taking on the New York Rangers in the first round. And until he does, he’ll just be another performer like Dionne, Banks, Stockton and Marino.
Great player. But not legendary.
Legends are created by postseason superlatives.
“It's the only accomplishment that really matters,” longtime Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman said of winning the Stanley Cup, which he garnered three times as a player.
From within, and from outside sources.
“It was really embarrassing,” Yzerman said. “The setbacks made you wonder. You begin doubting yourself.”
One spring, after another unceremonious early playoff exit, Yzerman sought refuge in Las Vegas, seeking to get lost in the crowds. He approached a craps table and began playing.
Two men at the same table recognized Yzerman. “We’d better move,” one said to the other. “This table’s obviously a loser.”
Like Ovechkin, Yzerman posted a 60-goal season, lit up the league with his brilliance. But he waited 14 long years to lift his first Stanley Cup.
“When you first come into the league, you want to make your mark individually,” said former Detroit coach Dave Lewis, a teammate of Yzerman's during those early years in Detroit. “And Stevie did that.
“Through the years, you learn that to win and be successful, you have to be a more all-around player.”
PHT: After the Rangers and Bruins face off in Game 3 of their series (7:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN), the Kings and Sharks play (10 ET; Live Extra, NBCSN) Game 4 of theirs.
Alexander the Great
Take a look at Capitals star and two-time MVP Alexander Ovechkin
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
Highlights: Red Wings top Blackhawks in Game 3
The Detroit Red Wings returned home tied at one in their Western Conference semifinals series with the Chicago Blackhawks. After a physical, but scoreless first period that was dominated by the Blackhawks, the Red Wings jumped out to a two goal lead by scoring twice in 31 seconds. Detroit ended up winning the game 3-1 and now have a 2-1 lead in the series.
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