Monday, June 20, 2005

Of 'big shots' and 'the little things': the Robert Horry question

Now I will be the first to admit that I am not much of a basketball historian. I don't usually do well placing things in context, for instance any argument involving the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But I do know sensationalistic windsock-ery, the grabbing of an immediate story and running it into the ground with hyperbole until the next one comes along. And this whole Robert Horry for the Hall of Fame is just an example of that.

Starting with Bill Simmons, who with his undeniable influence on the blogosphere got the ball rolling last week:

A legitimate question: Since Robert Horry has been the third-best player in the series, and he's probably headed for Ring No. 6 … do we need to start thinking about him as a potential Hall of Famer? Clearly, he's been one of the more important team players of the last 35 years, right up there with Dennis Johnson, Michael Cooper, Dennis Rodman, Bobby Jones and everyone else. So why wouldn't we start recognizing these guys in the Hall of Fame? Couldn't we create a spot for indispensable team players who did all the Little Things over a prolonged period of time? Like their own little wing?

Only Simmons can juxtapose a 'legitimate question'  with such a tounge-in-cheek delivery. It's clear that he isn't propping up Horry as a 'real' hall of famer, to be sure.

But completely in the opposite direction was Felix Gillette of Slate:

Horry's reputation as a great team player is a bit of a mix-up. It's more accurate to say he's been the teammate of great players: Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston, Shaquille O'Neal in Los Angeles, and Tim Duncan in San Antonio. Horry has made his career coasting on other player's coattails. He's 6-feet-10, yet he lets his teammates scrap in the paint for offensive rebounds while he hovers vulturelike at the three-point line. On offense, he's incapable of creating an open shot for himself. Instead, he stands around waiting for the defense to double-team his superstar teammate, hoping for an open look.

He makes a compelling case: a guy who would be an afterthought if he wasn't put in these 'clutch' situations. And furthermore his title-winning performances overshadow the times that he failed to come through (like when he went 2-38 in the 2003 playoffs):

Horry's true genius isn't his clutch shooting. It's his understanding of roundball amnesia. After sinking a buzzer-beater against Sacramento in the 2002 playoffs, Horry explained his philosophy. "If I hit it we win, if I miss y'all are going to blame the stars for losing the game anyway," he told the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon. "There's no pressure on me." Horry has none of the guts and gets all of the glory.

Overall I found it a very interesting read, especially since it was so in the face of present-day opinion, yet making an excellent and well-reasoned point. Loved it.

Hnk_jr of Supersonics versus the World didn't feel that way, and takes Gillete to task, and offering this for the 'none of the guts and all of the glory' idea:

Did Gillette see what happened to Shaq this year? That's what happens when a great player is surrounded by people (like Eddie Jones, Dooling, and even an overeager Wade) who, in crucial 4th quarter situations, make one too many extra passes, bobble the ball, or take a shot that isn't makeable. Horry doesn't do those things. He serves a to cement team chemistry, not destroy it through his own cowardice.

The post completely savages Gillette's article, but for the record while I'm mostly in Gillette's corner I will give Hnk_jr the point there. While Horry undoubtedly makes his moments off the backs of others, there are plenty of other players in that situation who do not come through. What Horry has displayed in many (and not all, mind you) big moments is a skill that all championship teams need. But the Hall of Fame?

And then Game 5 happened, and what started as a cute idea gets all blowed up.

Daily Quickie's Dan Shanoff: "In a league where rings are the only thing, he's about to get his sixth, playing a clutch role in all of them. Any player with six rings who contributes as crucially (if not prolifically) deserves a place in the Basketball H.O.F."

S.A. Spurs Blog: "Robert Horry just assured himself a spot in the NBA Hall of Fame, right (assuming the NBA smartens up and starts their own separate from the joke that is the Basketball Hall of Fame)? We can just end the whole debate, right? What else would he have to do?"

There are others you can find in the aftermath of Game 5, I'm sure.

Give me the Rock keeps the sanity, saying what I'm thinking:

Horry has also had the good fortune of playing with people like Hakeem, Shaq, Kobe, and Duncan. I’m sure that if he’d played for the Hawks, Grizzlies, and Clippers instead of the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs there would be approximately 0 articles/posts about him at this point. I’m sure that he wouldn’t deny that either. I bet he realizes that he’s had it good, but it also seems like he appreciates that. At the same time, I think he (and his teammates) recognize that he’s a much better role player than a lot of the other guys out there to choose from. (The above mentioned Eddie Jones and Dooling) Maybe I’ll take a page from the Bill Simmons playbook and do an analysis of the best role player of all time.

Nobody who saw Game 5, or that shot against the Kings in '03, or the dozen other 'big shot' moments from Big Shot Rob could deny his effect on a championship team. The little things, the intangibles, knowing one's role, showing no fear in the big moment. Horry does all this and may very well be the best of all time at it.

However, the little things do not win championships. Big things do.

Hakeem wins championships. Shaq and Kobe win championships. If the Spurs hold off the Pistons, the championship will be because of big things like Tim Duncan. Horry (and players like him) can put a great team to championship level, but without the big things, there is no place for what Robert Horry does.

The little things sometimes go from being undervalued to overvalued, and campaigning Robert Horry for the Hall of Fame is an example of that. If they did make a wing for role players, you could probably not only have Horry in it, but you'd consider naming it after him. Because Big Shot Rob has many Hall of Fame moments, and it's a pretty fine way to make a career. But big moments shouldn't overshadow what made them big in the first place.