Overtime: Rewarding Greatness in Sports


Liverpool FC is on its way to a historic season, and not all fans are happy for them. (Courtesy of Flickr)

This article comes at an interesting time in the sports world. Zion Williamson has made a thunderous debut in the NBA, the Australian Open has been a rollercoaster of surprises and perhaps the biggest national sporting event is quickly approaching: Super Bowl LIV. Instead, I am going to a place that rarely gets discussed in the States: the Premier League and Liverpool.

My relationship with soccer has varied over the years. I played as a young child like many others and loved playing the sport until the beginning of high school. All the while, though, I was never an avid watcher. The World Cup — the biggest sporting event there is next to the Olympics — was a quadrennial phenomenon and Champions League finals a delight, but these events were few and far between, and I never really engaged with soccer outside the field itself.

For whatever reason, that relationship changed this past year and I developed a new appreciation for soccer. Maybe it was seeing the United States women claim another trophy in the 2019 World Cup, the stunning comeback by Lucas Moura and Tottenham or the dramatic collapse of Barcelona at Anfield in the Champions League. I think it is the latter that sparked my interest, not solely Liverpool’s victory on the biggest stage in club soccer, but the incredible streak they maintain today. Incredible is an understatement: I should say historic.

For those who may be unaware, after a late win against the Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool extended an unbeaten streak in perhaps the toughest league in professional soccer — the Premier League — to 40 matches, now the second-longest of all time. Liverpool has not dropped a game in the Premier League in a calendar year, boasting a 22-1 record this season and leading the table by 16 points. That is not to mention winning the FIFA Club World Cup, making their way through the FA Cup and actively defending their title in the Champions League. They are one of the busiest clubs in soccer, yet they have remained nearly invincible.

I bring this up not just to note Liverpool’s unbelievable run of success, but also to reignite a larger conversation surrounding “greatness” as a whole.

As a longtime fan of Stephen Curry, I have been lucky to witness an equally impressive run of success these past few seasons. The Warriors advanced to five consecutive NBA Finals and hoisted two trophies. Yet their success was always considered with an asterisk.

While the 2015 title was celebrated across the country, as the Warriors drafted a team from the ground up to win their first championship in 40 years after years of struggle, the dynamic changed with the arrival of Kevin Durant. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the decision, it dominated the conversation around the league. Instead of celebrating the Warriors’ team-oriented way of playing basketball, fun exuding from the court and ultimate victories, we did the opposite, saying that the trophies were undeserved or insignificant and waiting for the day it all collapsed.

A similar story could be told for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. I have always liked James and followed him to the Heat — my favorite team in the league — and was equally lucky to witness James lead the Heat to back-to-back titles in four Finals appearances. Yet the celebrations for the Heat occurred through a similar lens, one that discredited James for joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a “big three,” inspiring teams like the Warriors to take shape in the future. People continually resented his time with the Heat instead of appreciating perhaps the greatest basketball player to ever live. Similarly, the 3-6 Finals record of a man who — on many occasions single-handedly — led a team to eight straight championship appearances continues to loom over his head in comparison to Michael Jordan.

Thankfully, James would find salvation by bringing a trophy to Cleveland. Durant looks to do the same for Brooklyn, but attempts to slight these two historically great players persist today.

This is why Liverpool’s run of success has been particularly fascinating. We all like to see underdogs with an unexpected rise to victory, such as Leicester City with an unprecedented title run in the 2016 Premier League or the Toronto Raptors earning their first NBA Finals trophy to end the Warriors’ reign of terror. These victories come without any asterisks and fans embrace them, especially because they do not happen very often. The same is true for the greatest teams, yet they rarely receive the same treatment.

Fortunately for Liverpool, that does not seem to be the case. The run of the Reds may have fans enraged and teams dumbfounded in attempts to stop them, but it has not been unrewarded like many other dynastic teams. It has come with admiration, just as it should have.

I have to say, though, despite Liverpool’s impressive run and my admiration for Jurgen Klopp’s squad, which has a few favorite footballers of mine, I want to see them lose a match. When it is not your favorite team, greatness is not all that fun. I guess I am just like everyone else, but while we may not like it, we should all take the time to appreciate greatness because, despite its frustrations, it will always be missed when it is over.