In the sporting world, a word like “legacy” is thrown around so loosely that we sometimes forget what it actually means. In the dictionary, the word is defined by monetary or physical gifts left behind by someone in a will. There is no real mention of it in sports terms. Going through Google, I found this answer on Yahoo! Answers.
“Pretty much it means to leave a mark. Like rings, MVPs, etc. It means to have people remember you for how good you were and what you accomplished.”
So in these terms, let’s look at two athletes who are considered the best in their sports and how we view them in terms of legacy.
This past week both Lebron James and Lionel Messi had the sports world’s attention as they vied for championships. Both had won before and both were considered the greatest of this generation and possibly all-time. But this year and their moments were quite different from the past.
James had won two NBA titles with Miami after leaving Cleveland. But he returned back to Cleveland with a vision of winning a title for hometown area team (James is from nearby Akron.). Last season, the Cavaliers reached the Finals only to fall short to the Golden State Warriors. This season, the Cavaliers and Warriors faced off again.
Messi had won titles with his club team FC Barcelona but his home country Argentina had not won a major international tournament in three decades. Their next chance would come up in Copa America Centenario, a championship of the Americas hosted this year in the United States.
Like the definition above stated, legacy is about leaving a mark. Sure, we can think about the championships being won. But in the age of social media, there has to also be a moment. There has be a highlight or highlights that will be played over and over again that cements in our memory of the player’s greatness and the achievement of winning it all.
Lebron James had that moment. Sure, we’ll remember the Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit. We’ll talk about James leading everyone in all five major categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks). We’ll always remember that he made good on his promise to bring a title to Cleveland.
But it’s the block in Game Seven that will be replayed and encapsulate James’ greatness in this title run. Seeing him chase down and make that play when his team needed it the most will be the thing that will be talked about long after his playing days are over.
For Messi, the legacy may not be as stellar. For all the success that he has had, the memory of the missed penalty kick in the Copa America championship game will linger. In the biggest moment and the biggest spotlight, Messi stood alone and sailed his kicked over the crossbar. The problem for him is that this wasn’t the first time.
The 2014 World Cup final.
The 2015 Copa America final.
Does it diminish the totality of his work? Probably not.
But legacies that stand the test of time need those moments to solidify that elite status. Those moments don’t come often and they don’t come easily. But when they do happen, athletes have to capitalize. Lebron James did just that and the sports world will always have those moments to play over and over again. For Lionel Messi, unless another moment can come again for the world to see, his legacy just doesn’t have that same luster.