No matter the professional sports league and the moment in time, one of the pervasive conversations we have as fans centers around the question, Who is the best player? Here’s an example of such a conversation, and the direction such a conversation often takes:
Person 1: We judge quarterbacks by how many championships they win and Tom Brady has won more championships than Peyton Manning so therefore he’s better.
Person 2: Brady may have won more championships, friend, but that’s not so hard with the defenses he’s had behind him. Manning’s offenses have consistently outperformed Brady’s statistically.
Person 1: Manning’s offenses may have consistently outperformed Brady’s statistically, enemy, but being the best is all about performing in the clutch, when the chips are down, in fourth quarter, when you think you’re nervous but you might not be nervous because when you get nervous you work out and you’re not working out so you’re not sure if you’re nervous, and Brady is all about those things.
Person 2: First of all, you stole that one line from Family Guy. Second, there is basically no way to settle this because in team sports so many variables determine game outcomes and statistics and clutch performances that it’s difficult to make substantial arguments on one player’s merits versus another’s.
Person 1: All I heard you say was, “Brady is better.”
This blogger admires Person 1’s rhetorical skills, but thinks Person 2’s closing argument won the day. Debates about who the best player is on a team sport are fun, but doomed to go nowhere. For anyone who only likes those kinds of debates when Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are the ones having them on the occasional Friday afternoon, that’s where days like last Sunday can come in.
Sunday, Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in a tennis match after nearly six hours in the Australian Open Final. If Djokovic had beat Nadal in any final, it would not be important. But Djokovic beat Nadal in an Australian Open Final. The Australian Open is one of the four major tournaments held each year in professional tennis, one of tennis’ four yearly Super Bowls. Unlike the many other tournaments throughout the season, all the best players compete at these majors. If you win a couple of tournaments in which the best players all compete, people start saying you’re the best player. Which is why, perhaps, Djokovic and Nadal killed themselves trying to beat each other Sunday. They knew no flimsy argument would make people start calling them the best.