Fans of any sport, if asked which player is the greatest of all time, will probably reply with some names from the past. It’s a tall order for a current generation player to transcend the shackles of constant scrutiny placed upon him by the information age and rise above being a superstar to being indisputably the greatest of all time. One would think that being in possession of more facts and figures and access to all sorts of statistical analysis tools allows for the creation of legends. But there is a downside to this overwhelming flow of information – it is too much information.
Sherlock Holmes once said,“I think I err when I explain myself.” He felt that his incisive deductions were not as impressive once they were explained and laid bare. A mystery once explained ceases to remain as such.
One of the prime appeals of the Wild West legends has been that those heroes were secretive creatures shrouded in mystery. The darkness is only intriguing because it is in the dark. A legend grows through fleeting remnants of superlatives passed on in hushed tones, magnified with each retelling of the story. There is an inscrutable aura around legends which makes them nigh untouchable.
Imagine having a Truman show-like, 24/7 insight into the life of your preferred legend. Some mystique is bound to fall off when you see that they brush their teeth and prepare their breakfast just like you do. The cloak of secrecy drops when you realize that even the best of us have access to just 24 hours every single day, and the only thing that sets them apart is how they use those hours.
There is a story of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault grabbing a dime off the top of a backboard. Earl was in the neighbourhood of 5″11 and 6″1 and the backboard stands tall at over 12 feet. He would need a vertical leap of 60 inches to accomplish the feat. And yet, against all logic, the mythical tale persists, passed on as an old wives’ tale. Dwight Howard was approached numerous times to replicate the feat he boasted of, but he’s evaded the requests citing various reasons – not cleared by his team, busy with appointments, being less than 100%. And of course, all this was before his back injury.
Playing in the age of mobile cameras, there is barely any room for doubt that Howard can’t touch the top of the backboard. In this day and age when even the smallest of exploits find their way to YouTube, it seems incomprehensible that Howard made a jump that high without a single camera being present. And the presence of such transparency is a bright spotlight washing away the shadows in which urban tales thrive.
In these times, urban legends don’t find it easy to thrive, but that doesn’t mean that a legendary player cannot thrive any more. If a player comes along who is good enough, he or she should still be able to transcend the transparency of this age and preserve enough mystique to go with the requisite talent to become a legend. Kobe Bryant has assumed legendary status, and yet he shall never surpass Michael Jordan in our collective minds. But think about this for a moment; if Kobe dropped the 81 point game two decades ago and if he made two free throws with a torn Achilles’ back when his every move wasn’t documented and dissected through the digital and social media, there is a chance that his achievements would be magnified more. Not to suggest that they would outshine Jordan’s achievements, but they would stand even higher in the annals of history then they are now. Remember the hoopla when Kobe announced his presence on Twitter? That was a case of a hitherto inaccessible legend opening up to the fans directly. It made him seem accessible. That kind of interpersonal interaction was never thought of back in the pre-Twitter days.
There is no way to pin down what kind of impact that kind of communication can have on one’s legacy. But one can safely say that it demystifies the legends of our time, and perhaps even limits the extent to which their legacies will leave an imprint. But maybe it can work the other way around as well; in an era where every move is documented through 140 characters or less, there is little that slips by. It’s only at the end of the career of a superstar, after being inducted into the hall of fame, that we can comment on their legacies and compare how different it was for the stars of yesteryear.