Our Daily Dread: The almighty ring

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Bryant Gumbel’s signoff commentary from Wednesday night’s “Real Sports” on HBO dealt with something that’s been causing me to grind my teeth at night — well, I do that anyway, which is why I need a new mouth guard, but it’s for other reasons, really, but this contributes to it ….

Gumbel said:

“Finally tonight, a few words about championship rings.

“Just when did they become the all-important barometer of who does or doesn’t count in sports? When did they supersede personal excellence or exemplary character as a standard of greatness?

“I got to thinking about that the other night after the self-anointed chosen one, LeBron James, embarrassed himself as he tried to make his decision to seek rings in Miami sound like a search for the Holy Grail. It’s when he essentially admitted to placing a higher priority on winning than anything else.

“LeBron’s decision is typical of our immediate gratification era, but it flies in the face of history. Even though he never won a title, Dan Marino is still the biggest hero in Florida. And in Boston, all those Celtics championships are dimmed by the unforgettable brilliance of Ted Williams, who never won anything. In Chicago, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus have legendary status despite playing on losing teams. And even in the NBA, where guys seem obsessed with being viewed as ‘the man’, real men like Barkley, Ewing and Baylor are ringless, but revered.

“Despite such evidence to the contrary, LeBron James seems to think he needs a ring to change his life and secure his legacy. Maybe he’ll get one, maybe he won’t, but it’s probable that no amount of rings will ever remove the stench he wallowed in last week. LeBron may yet find that in the court of public opinion, just as putting on a tux can’t make a guy a gentleman, winning a ring can’t make one truly a champion.”

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We’ve got a different spin.

When did athletes start talking about winning a championship ring?

What’s so wrong about just winning a championship?

I hear Little League kids today talking about “winning the ring.” And college athletes.

It’s not a reference to the old “brass ring,” a phrase people that age don’t even know about any more — ask your grandparents, it has to do with riding a carousel. It’s about the pursuit of a piece of jewelry that most won’t even wear because of the fear that it’ll be stolen. So they put it in a safe deposit box.

So, then, why is acquiring a ring so important if you don’t even show it off? Because that’s called modesty. Not calling attention to yourself. And a fear of some crazy guy holding you up and swiping it.

Rings can be used as collateral, apparently. Ask a pawn shop owner. Rings can be resold on eBay. Or maybe they’re reproductions. We’re not sure.

We turned on the ESPY Awards last night for about 10 seconds — long enough to hear Seth Meyers tell a joke: Congradulations to Phil Jackson for winning his 11th championship. Eleven rings. One for each finger and we don’t want to know where he’s going to put this new one.

Great, a penis joke is now associated with winning a ring.

The bottom line: You can’t be totally satisfied with knowing you’ve won a championship. You need the “ring ceremony” to validate it? Ask the Lakers players when they open the 2010-11 season with another big to-do about it. Ring in the new year, the headlines will say.

Satisfaction sure takes a lot of extra work these days.

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