It irritates me when someone says so-and-so isn’t a great player because he never won any championships.
I will be the first to admit that being a top player on a championship team never hurts when evaluating how great he is, but teams win championships, players don’t. Sometimes an outstanding player can carry a team to a championship, but there are times that the player can only do so much and the other team is just better.
One example of a guy carrying his team to a championship is Rick Barry and the 1975 Golden State Warriors. The team was far from great and without Barry, they may have been below .500. Another is Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers; he was criticized from not winning a title his first time with Cleveland, but they never reach the final without him and that is significant.
John Elway is another example. Without him, the Denver Broncos never get to the Super Bowl in the 1980’s and they do not beat the Cleveland Browns in 1986 and 1987. He won two Super Bowls in the late 1990’s, but he did not have to carry the team the way he did ten years earlier.
Sonny Jurgensen is a Hall of Fame quarterback who never won a championship, but played on Washington Redskin and Philadelphia Eagle teams that were average and below average. The Redskin defense was porous and they had no running game. But trade places with Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers still win those championships. The same goes for Dan Marino trading places with Joe Montana. This does not diminish what Starr and Montana did, but you have to have good players around great players.
Moving to hockey, New York Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist has not won a Stanley Cup while being one of the best goalies in the league. Some are critical of that and say he should not be called The King if he hasn’t won a championship. First, he did not name himself the King and second, he did win two championships playing for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League in 2003 and 2005. Third, the Rangers have had success, but they usually were not near the top of the NHL, the best years being 2012 through 2015. The Rangers usually lost to a better team.
Ernie Banks is one of baseball’s greats in the 1950’s and 1960’s, playing for the Chicago Cubs. Any baseball fan would know that when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, it was the first time in over 100 years, which means Ernie Banks never won a championship. In fact, Banks played on some terrible teams. In his first thirteen full seasons, the Cubs had losing records in twelve and finished 82-80 in 1963 for their only winning season. Does that mean Banks was not a great player? Of course not.
Great players are great because they perform at the highest level over a period of time. Winning championships is icing on the cake – it is not the sole determining factor regarding whether a player is great or not.