Bill Russell has 11 rings.
Kobe has five. MJ has six rings.
Would you believe Robert freakin’ Horry has seven rings?
Dirk’s got one now.
Lebron is ringless.
There’s no simpler statistic in basketball than “rings”. They are the metric by which we separate transcendent players from great ones. They are the dominant consideration when judging the success or failure of a player’s career. They are the ultimate trump card in any argument about who’s better than who.
Rings help us understand the careers of players. They are central to how we construct the history of the sport.
So why does Mark Cuban want to do away with them?
Despite our desire to preserve tradition in sports, Cuban is actually on to something here.
It’s completely irrational to give a grown man a piece of expensive jewelry for winning a sports championship. A vanity ring is useless to a contemporary man. It might as well be an amorphous clump of rare metal, because it’s going to serve the exact same purpose.
But for some reason, the ring is the ultimate sign of distinction in this one tiny section of society.
European soccer players, Olympians, and Little Leaguers all compete for medals. Only American athletes in the four major professional sports compete for rings.
It makes no sense.
To take it a step further, the rings that go on the fingers on championship players have very little to do with the “rings” we reference when we talk about sports.
The term “rings” is purely symbolic. When we say that Kobe has five rings, we’re referring to the characteristics that make him a perennial champion. We’re not referring to five actual metal loops sitting somewhere in his house.
Granted, the genesis of the term “rings” could not have happened had teams not originally given out jewelry for titles.
But now a “ring” is its own, powerful entity. Having a ring no longer depends on your ability to put it on your finger.
So while it’s hard to despise with tradition, Cuban can do what he wants and it won’t affect the legacies of his players.
He can give his team Range Rovers or diamond watches, and Dirk, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry still won their rings.
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