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Appreciating greatness (while we still have it)

By Rodrigo Verney, February 12 2024—

Greatness is not a very well-defined term in sports. It’s not a word one can find in the handbook, it is more about a feeling. It’s almost indescribable, but every sports fan knows when they are witnessing it. Whether greatness comes in the form of a triumphant last-second shot to win it all or a head nod of acknowledgement of how unstoppable that one player is, it is important to recognize it when it’s here before we are only left with tapes of an era we all could have experienced.

There is a continuous discourse within the sports community dedicated to finding the greatest of all time. The conversation is never-ending and it’s best left as great small talk at a bar with friends. However, the most dedicated sports fans do keep a long tab on it to make sure they are left with an undisputed winner. 

The problem is that athletes are humans at the end of the day and, as such, they can never be properly ranked. Who’s to say that Cale Makar and Devon Toews are a better duo than Ray Bourque and Rob Blake? They played in completely different eras with different pressures and teams. It is a discourse that is, and forever will be, impossible to generate a definitive answer as it will constantly be challenged for as long as sports exist.

So, it is necessary that every sports fan when faced with this conundrum lets go of their will to defend a certain player at a certain time when a new player proves themselves or breaks a record. Enjoy the moment for what it is. We are all tired of hearing about the Michael Jordan versus LeBron James debate every time the latter sets a new standard in today’s basketball. 

A player or team that is breaking the mould is still on their way to success. A better comparison would come from judging them after their time has passed. Sports are not a linear endeavour in which the present is better than the past. It is made up of different eras that represent different moments in time. 

Comparing greats from the same era can also be complicated. Oftentimes the media will point to two people who play the same position and try to compare their recent accolades as a means to be more fairly represented by them. Despite this effort, it is still incredibly difficult to match these players due to how much more dynamic the leagues have become. Players constantly shift positions across a multitude of different sports, much more than in previous eras.

There is no need to waste the appreciation that one could have with pointless debates that don’t push the culture forward. We admire the greats specifically because greatness is hard to come across. It is a single moment in time that doesn’t wait for a specific player or team. So enjoy it while it is here. It is fleeting but lives in our memories forever as a reminder that we can be better.

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