This is never more evident than in basketball. Sometimes determining the success of someone's career is easy. Mateen Cleaves was a star of stars in college basketball during the '90s. He led his Michigan State Spartans to a national title in fact. However, he never played more than mop up minutes in the NBA. His professional basketball career, by any measurements, was not successful. But it is not always that simple.
My favorite example of determining success is Kenyon Martin. He currently plays for the Denver Nuggets. He plays well, he is a solid contributer to their team and the organization. He has been a starter for them for a number of years. His numbers are not outrageous but he never seemed like that type of player. He is a defensive forward who helps in many different ways. For someone to play in the NBA for over a decade, makes millions upon millions of dollars, and be reasonably good, they must be a success. But then you forget that Kenyon Martin was the number one overall selection when he was drafted out of college. Number One. The first pick in a draft is supposed to carry a franchise to multiple titles and win scoring titles and go down in history. Kenyon Martin has done none of those things and never will. He, by standards of where he was drafted, should be described as somewhat of a disappointment. There is no way around it.
Another of my favorite examples of success from the basketball ranks is Chris Webber. He is one of the 50 most talented players in NBA history. This is not even up for debate. He is one of the best passing forwards to ever play. Also, not debatable. He made a ton of money. Let that speak for itself. Some other descriptions of Chris Webber are as follows: he never won a championship. His career was derailed and cut short by numerous injuries. Although he was one of the 50 most talented players to ever live, he was by no means one of the 50 best players to ever play. This, as was the first statement, is not up for debate. It is simply a fact. Do all these things make Chris Webber a success or a failure? Ideally, we would just say 'somewhere in between.' But that is taking the easy way out.
Ken Griffey Jr., unlike Chris Webber, is definitely one of the 50 greatest players ever to play his sport. He is a sure-fire Hall of Fame member five years after he retires. His numbers are astronomical and sit up beside the legends of the game. But wasn't he supposed to be more? Aren't people sad and disappointed now when someone mentions Griffey? 'Imagine if he didn't get hurt.' 'What if he could just have stayed healthy in Cincinnati?' Without the injuries Griffey Jr. is the greatest player of the last half century. Now, he is simply one of the best of his generation. Without the setbacks, Griffey Jr. is the world home run hitting champion (until/if Alex Rodriquez passes whatever number would have been set.) Ken Griffey Jr. had a successful career, but is it not also a bit of a disappointment? Can it be both?
In the other camp remains players such as Terrell Davis, Priest Holmes, Paul Pierce, and Roy Halladay. This list is miles long. It is of players who so clearly and defiantly surpassed all expectations. Whether they were drafted late, not drafted at all, or just turned out to be really, really, really good, no one on this list could be described as anything but a complete success. However, few of them would be described as being more talented than Chris Webber, or a better player than Ken Griffey Jr. It is all about what was expected of them.
I believe it was Peter Parker's grandfather who said it best. "With great power comes great responsibility." With tremendous talent, comes even higher expectations. Someone is a success if they live up to, or surpass expectations. On the other side of the coin, someone can be deemed a failure if they come short of what was expected of them. Whether that is fair or not is probably another column by itself. Obviously each player determines on their own how they feel about their career. I have a feeling someone like Chris Webber is very happy with his NBA life and how it turned out, even if history is not.
When it comes down to it, the individual is free to decide whether they are pleased with their output. Except for Curtis Enis. We decide for him, and we are not pleased.