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It seems to be a growing trend across all of the major sporting leagues in the United States that aging veterans seem to spend the final years of their career doing anything they can to put one more championship ring on their finger.
Players who were once dominant, but that father time may have finally caught up with, often claim in their last years that they are ready to take a diminished role in order to help a team win. This humble attitude rings true when the contract is signed, but often hits a snag once the games begin.
One of the most recent examples of this has been seen with recently retired center Shaquille O’ Neal. In his last four seasons in the NBA he saw stints with Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston all end in disappointing fashion.
In Shaq’s case, injuries got the best of him, which is both understandable and commonplace for athletes that are in their upper 30′s or even 40′s. Unfortunately some of these chases end in an even uglier fashion.
Let’s take Ricky Henderson for example. He was so sure that he could still play the game and run the bases like he used to, that he spend the last years of his career playing for the Newark Bears in the Independent Atlantic League while desperately trying to prove that he could still contribute to a Major League club. A failed attempt.
There are countless other examples that I could run through. Brett Favre with the Vikings, Karl Malone with the Lakers, and even David Beckham with the L.A. Galaxy are just some off the top of my head that didn’t quite live up to what they once were. This is not to say they weren’t contributing, but it is surely to say that they weren’t doing exactly what they thought they could do for the team.
I admire the fact that these athletes still believe that they can go out and perform to their prime potential even in their later years. To be honest, in the same position I could see myself making a similar decision.
I also respect the fact that these people are used to living a lavish lifestyle, and a multi-million dollar contract is nearly impossible to walk away from no matter how old you may be.
What is tough for me and many other sports fans to see is when these players do one of two things. Sometimes, as sad as it is, they find a way to embarrass themselves, and somewhat tarnish their greatest moments.
As mentioned before, Brett Favre is the most obvious example of this phenomenon. His ridiculous faux retirements and countless comebacks put a terrible taste in most fans mouths. Many Packers fans turned on him, and many Jets and Vikings fans were disappointed when they saw his limited production on the field.
I actually am a big Brett Favre fan when I take in the entire arc of his career. That being said, I, and many other fans I’m sure, wish he would have just hung up the cleats after his days in Green Bay. Having the itch to play is one thing, but his antics were something else altogether.
The second thing I hate to see is when an aging vet still can’t accept a reserve role to help the team. All too often they still believe that they could be the dynamic starters they once were, even when that is clearly no longer the case. The ego gets in the way.
Last season in Germany, 32 year old Miroslav Klose demanded a starting spot on Bayern Munich. He insisted he was in top shape. The sad truth however was that Mario Gomez is a rising star for the team, and at 25 years old, he is the clear choice for the future. As tough as it may be for some former stars to accept that their prime has passed them by, any humble qualities go out the window with an act like this.
It is incredibly difficult to say what should be done in such a situation. As a fan however it is equally difficult to see some athletes make the choices they do and fail in the latter years of their career.
Another key example is about to happen before our eyes in the upcoming NBA season.
Last week the news was broken that former Philadelphia 76′ers guard Allen Iverson wanted to make a return to the NBA to finish his career “the right way.”
I refuse to bash him just yet, because I fully understand why he would want to end his fantastic career in the NBA rather than in the Turkish league, but I am surely not expecting a complete success here.
The sad truth is that so many things can go wrong with this kind of move. Maybe Iverson will be one of the few exceptions to the rule given just how dynamic he once was. Maybe he can accept a diminished role compared to his 40 minute days of years past. Maybe he can finally get that championship he has always been yearning for.