July 05, 2011
You'll see this a lot from players, both current and retired. "I feel as if I'm the best at [whatever skill they prize the highest]." Then when they hear this sort of braggadocio coming out of their mouths, they immediately switch to, "Well, this is the sort of attitude you have to have if you want to be successful at this level."
They're not wrong. There's something inherent in most successful pro players that has them consistently thinking, no matter the mitigating factors, that that next shot is going in the net. Or that the next attempt shot in their face will be summarily sent into the 10th row.
It's not the smartest attitude to boast, but it helps make up for the other 90 percent of the time, avoid the willies, insure self-confidence when things aren't going well, and steel themselves for when it's a wide-open shot they should make. I remember reading Reggie Miller tell a journalist that he gets ticked off at himself when he doesn't make an absurd amount of his wide-open looks, something like 75 to 80 percent, even if they're from 25 feet away. Why wouldn't he far eclipse his usual averages, he thought? He's wide open!
The latest to come clean with this line of thinking is former Dallas, Milwaukee, but mostly Seattle sharpshooter Dale Ellis, who had this to say to the Boston Globe over the weekend:
"I'm the best shooter of all time,'' he said. "I know that from the jump. I set the standard. I gave them something to shoot for. I was the first player in the history of the game to get 1,000 3-pointers. To be able to play on that level, you have to have that attitude about yourself. You can say it's arrogant or cocky or whatever, but that's OK. There's no way you can compete without it. There's no way you can excel without that confidence level.''
"I'm the best," followed immediately by "I mean, I set the template for all to follow," followed by, "Well, this was and is a necessary attitude that I need."
He's right about the template, and that it was a necessary attitude, but Ellis doesn't have to keep pretending he's the best ever, and he certainly doesn't need that attitude now, 11 years after retiring. It's unfortunate that current fans often don't remember just how brilliant Ellis was, and as a 3-point pioneer, he was the guy. Not Larry Bird, not anyone else, not even close. It was Ellis.
But he's also ranked 24th all time in 3-point percentage, at 40.3 percent -- though those looking to nit-pick should note that he actually shot below his averages when the line was moved in to 22 feet from 1994-1997. He's ranked 84th in True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for 2-pointers and free throws) with about 30 or so pure shooters (that is to say, those whose stats aren't pumped up by dunks or high-percentage drives) ranked ahead of him.
So teach, Dr. Ellis (who made a point to say some really complimentary things about Ray Allen(notes) the person, and the player, in Gary Washburn's column, and some smart things about the labor impasse to Marc Spears on Friday). You were the guy that made this shot that you could hit at a 40 percent clip and that was worth a whole extra point such a force. You were a groundbreaker, and you needed that attitude back then. You just don't, anymore.
And let's let history, and not bluster, decide who was really the best.