Muhammad Ali once said, “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round.” Before his second fight against Sonny Liston, Ali told reporters he had dreamed he would knock Liston out in the first round. He did.
In 1969, Joe Namath’s New York Jets were facing the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Before the game, the young Namath boldy declared, “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” They did.
Before Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, Michael Jordan proclaimed, “I don’t care what happens today, don’t care what happened in the other series…. We will win Game 7.” They did.
On Saturday, Jameer Nelson told the media, “I’m not being arrogant or cocky or anything like that…. We’re going to win this game in Detroit.” Wait–Ali, Namath, Jordan…Nelson? Who is Jameer Nelson to make a guarantee? Who guarantees a win in Game 5?
This generation of athletes, enamored with the confidence of the stars they looked up to feel that they have the authority to make the same prophecies as former greats. In another example of the cockiness and arrogance (sorry Jameer) of these new professionals, guaranteeing victories has become a trend. The media loves nothing more than hearing a dumb, young player put his foot in his mouth and piss off the opposing team and fan base. The players, immersed in their own egos and hungry for the limelight, fall into the media’s trap, knowing it will mean seeing their name in the paper for an entire week, just like Mike! The qualifications an athlete needs to guarantee a victory desperately need to be revisited.
Qualification 1: The player must be the best player on his team
Earlier this year, Steelers backup safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a Week 14 victory against the then 12-0 New England Patriots. His guarantee led to a talk with his head coach and criticism by his teammates. Oh yeah, it also led to a 34-13 Patriots win and two touchdowns right over his head.
To be able to guarantee a game a player has to have control over the game’s outcome. Only the best players on a team have that control and only the very best player has the authority to speak for his whole team. Some people would argue that captains are the only people that can speak for their team. But, in professional sports, captainship is often a figurehead position, awarded based on tenure or size of contract. Who is the Celtics’ leader? Kevin Garnett, Defensive POY and MVP candidate. Who is the Celtics’ captain? Paul Pierce, crunch-time collapser. Case in point.
Qualification 2: The player must be a proven winner
The greatest violation of this rule was not committed by an individual player but by an entire franchise. In 2002, the Atlanta Hawks management guaranteed season-ticket holders that they would make the playoffs. If the team failed to reach the postseason, management promised to refund a portion of the money. Never mind the fact that the team had lost 49, 57, and 54 games in the three previous seasons. Never mind the fact that the team had never won an NBA title. Never mind the fact that the Atlanta Hawks were terrible. I don’t care if the owner was pulling a stunt to sell tickets. Losers can’t make guarantees.
Qualification 3: The game must be the final game in a championship series.
In 2003, the Kansas City Chiefs were 9-0 heading into a matchup with the NFL’s perennial losers: the Cincinnati Bengals. There was already undefeated season hype building for the Chiefs and the Bengals were supposed to be one of the gimmes left on the schedule. Then a young, brash, relatively unknown Cincinnati receiver named Chad Johnson guaranteed a victory. Then the Bengals shocked the world and won the game.
And know what happened then? Nothing. The Chiefs made the playoffs. The Bengals didn’t. The game, in the grand scheme of things, was meaningless. Guarantees shouldn’t be thrown around meaninglessly, and should NEVER be used in the regular season
Qualification 4: My mom has to know who the player is.
My mom loves basketball. She had half-season tickets to the Celtics during the Bird Era. When she moved to California to live with my dad she nearly bought a 12-foot-wide satellite dish because, back then, it was the only way she could watch all the Celtics games. She knows a star when she sees one.
But the thing about my mom is, other than Celtics players, she knows only the stars. And I mean the big stars. Lebron? Yes. Dwight Howard? No. Derek Jeter? Yes. Vladimir Guererro? No. Tom Brady? Yes. Adrian Peterson? No way.
Every sports fan has a relative or friend like my mom. Find yours.
Qualification 5: The player must put his money where his mouth is.
This qualification is my solution to this tiresome trend. From now on, players who guarantee games should have to put their game checks on the line. Because if there’s one thing young athletes care more about than what the front pages of the sports page say, it’s what the dollar amounts on their paychecks say. Players like Jameer will still talk, but, in the end, their money will talk louder.