LeBron James, for all his fame and accolades, is as known for his late-game chokes as he is for his high-flying dunks (AHPS). On the other hand, Kobe Bryant is probably known as much — if not more — for his last second game winning shots as he is for any of his highlight reel dunks from over the years. When comparing these two NBA stars, most fans and sport psychologists would probably agree that on talent alone they are quite comparable; but when it comes to mental toughness and the ability to perform under pressure, Kobe Bryant is still worlds ahead of LBJ.
The sports-world is full of great clutch players, including current stars Derek Jeter, Eli Manning, and Tom Brady to name a few. But what about the other great players who are fantastic for 99% of the game, but then seem to disappear at the ends of games? Do you still consider them “great,” even if they seem to struggle with performing under pressure? Or do you see performing in the clutch as the difference maker, and what separates otherwise very good players from becoming great players?
For those of us old enough to remember, Michael Jordan was about as clutch as any athlete in the history of sports. Jordan won 6 NBA championships, never once losing a Finals. Amazingly, even with the entire world knowing Jordan would get the final shot at the ends of games, he still regularly came through with the winning shot. But what if Jordan would have never developed into the clutch player he was, and “only” was known for his scoring championships and MVP trophies? Would you still consider him (arguably) the greatest basketball player of all time?
You could make the same argument for NFL great Joe Montana, another player known as much for his late game heroics as he was for his amazing QB ratings. Had Montana only been a great statistical QB and only so-so in big games, would your view of him be different?
While all of the players mentioned in this article today are (or were) great players, there will always be debates about the final piece when it comes to becoming a legend — that is, the ability to succeed in the clutch. Fair or not, this is the reason why some NFL fans still do not put Dan Marino in the class of legendary QB’s because he never won a Super Bowl (even though he holds many of the NFL all-time QB passing records).
So what do you think?