You can't have a debate about the best power forwards of all time without mentioning Kevin McHale. He's one of the greatest of all time, but he played in an era where things were just different.
The most money he made per season was $3.5 million. Kobe Bryant made more last year than McHale made his entire career (and it's not even close). Hell, when Kevin was playing, everyone wore the same color shoes on the court.
It's not like that anymore. A lot of guys are playing ball for reasons other than team goals. And McHale doesn't like it one bit.
Last year at the end of the year there were some guys that I’d really grown close to and felt that I knew if you asked them to lay it all on the line that they’d fight for you and they’d fight for each other. At the end of the day, that’s what this league is all about. We’ve got to get these guys willing to fight for each other and go out there and fight for the win. Whatever it takes to make that happen, they’ll do it.
Again, that is not the sexy, ‘Oh you’re in the NBA, you get paid.’ That’s why half these clowns in this league don’t win anything. They don’t realize that it comes down to how hard you’re willing to fight for each other. It’s your team. How hard are you willing to fight for it? What are you willing to do to win that game that night and then what are you willing to do to win that game the next night? You do that 82 times, then you do it another twenty-something times in the playoffs if you’re lucky and you win a championship. Because the answer is: Whatever it takes. When you have a team that says, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to win,’ you’re moving in the right direction.
Keep in mind, McHale once did this in a FINALS game. Not only that, he did that at time where all he got was a personal foul for it. If someone pulled that move today, it would be a flagrant 2 and a multi-game suspension. So his view of the league isn't the same as a lot of guys playing today.
But his point stands. A lot of guys, rightly or wrongly, approach the game with their own personal goals in mind first. There are guys in their 20's who don't care to jeopardize their careers and risk injury going crazy in regular season games. Those guys want to continue making money by compiling stats. And that's fine for them, if that's their choice.
It's not fine, though, for their teammates who are working towards winning a title. McHale continues…
It’s a grind. The NBA is a huge grind. It’s not a sexy league. Everybody thinks that it is. But it’s a grinder’s, workman’s, tough league. I always chuckle because I see people writing that it’s about something else. They’ve never played. I’ve never seen a guy who’s played in this league and had success who hasn’t said the exact same thing. It’s all people from afar or people who have never won who say it’s about something else. Talk to anybody who’s won and they’ll tell you it’s a grind and it’s all about finding a way to bring it every night.
It all boils down to a simple choice: championship or money? That doesn't mean you can't have both. But it does differentiate between the types of choices a player makes along his career.
I know how fans will react. For fans, it's championship or bust. But I find it hard to fault a guy for trying to make as much money as he can. When you have, generally speaking, less than 10 years to maybe make all of the money you're going to make for the rest of your life… it's hard to make choices that cost you cash.
But champions tend to cash in. And a guy who works his butt off for a title team has the potential to make more money and extend his career as a "good locker room guy" or "team leader off the bench." The guys coaches can point to as the "run through a wall for his team" guys do have the chance to last longer than selfish malcontents (Latrell Sprewell anyone?).
I don't know if "half these clowns" will ever get the distinction. Maybe a bunch of those clowns will be happy to live rich and ringless. That's their choice. Most of us want what Kevin McHale wants in Houston. Sometimes, though, you have to wonder if the years flying by and the money flowing into the league are eroding that attitude into something unrecognizable.