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The Thick Line Between A Superstar and A Winner

Kobe Bryant.

Alex Rodriguez.

Much has been made and analyzed about these two athletes regarding their constant pursue of excellence, championships and their own happiness. For Kobe, its about wanting to be on a team that has a chance to contend for a championship. A team that is not rebuilding and is committed to winning. Bryant has made his demands clear through the media and his own actions. He wants to win. Can you blame him?

However, Kobe had that opportunity. It wasn't too long ago Kobe had a seven-foot monster named Shaquille O'Neal. Following a crushing defeat in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons, Kobe wanted the spotlight. Kobe wanted the Lakers to be his. His team, and his only, like a spoiled child that wanted his toys back. He ruined what could've been a long run of dominance by the two superstars over the NBA scene. Kobe had what he wanted.

What Kobe is seeking is the power to dictate the terms of his own trade, while ending up on a contending team, where he is the main focus. After all, Kobe is a superstar.

Then there is Alex Rodriguez. Alex, the star-crossed athlete that has such a twisted dynamic that has never been seen before. Unlike Bryant, Alex does not have a core fan base which adores him unconditionally the way that Los Angeles embraces Bryant. A-Rod was on the track to garnering such a fan base until he alienated New Yorkers, opting out of what seems now like a destined divorce between the two sides.

A-Rod claims he wants to play for a city and organization where he can win a World Championship. A-Rod claims he wants to be linked to a franchise as he pursues almost all of baseball's greatest records. A-Rod wants to win. Can you blame him?

Nonetheless, like fellow superstar Kobe Bryant, A-Rod had what he claims he wants. A-Rod was embraced this year by the biggest market in all of North America. He plays for an organization that contends every year and is devoted, almost religiously obsessed with pursuing a World Championship. A-Rod could've cemented his name amongst the greats in the sport and have a plaque amongst the Yankee greats. A-Rod had what he wanted.

A-Rod is seeking is money, period. His sheer lack of respect for those participating in the World Series by announcing his free agency (Which has been the only breath of his name heard during a game in late October) proves that A-Rod is about one person, A-Rod. After all, he is a superstar, he should be paid like one.

Now granted, Rodriguez and Bryant are the greatest players in their sport respectively. However, one has to ponder, why is there so much turmoil around them? Why do so many people hate them? And in A-Rod's case, why are teams giving him away? This would never be the case with Michael Jordan.

The Answer is simple. They're not winners. I said it.

Winners are athletes that put the game first, and team success above everything. Winners are guys such as Derek Jeter, John Elway, Wayne Gretzky, Bret Favre and yes I must admit as a Knick fan, Michael Jordan. These player's unparalleled understanding of the word "Team" is matched by few and comprehended by even less. Bryant and Rodriguez surely are far from grasping that. Actually, not even in the ballpark. Which is why their motives are so transparent.

Bryant and Rodriguez both need to take notes from this generation's most underrated winner, Tim Duncan. He's not a sexy name amongst the masses, however, his lack of personality, flair, charisma and self-indulging attitude is made up in one thing, and on thing only - success. Multiple NBA Championships (1999,2003,2005,2007), NBA Finals MVP (1999,2003,2005), NBA MVP (2002,2003), NBA Rookie of the Year (1999), and NBA All-Star Game Co-MVP (2000). Duncan has humbled himself enough to learn from players the likes of David Robinson, and a great basketball mind in Greg Popovich. Duncan has taken less than his market value to help the Spurs fiscally surround him with players that make up the NBA's best basketball organization, a gesture A-Rod may find comical. He does it quietly, with heart, with skill, with integrity and with class.

So Bryant can keep the headlines and the back pages of the papers. A-Rod can keep counting his money and wishing for a spot in the hearts of baseball fans. Tim Duncan will keep quiet, and collect hardware. Year, after year, after year. For after all, he isn't a superstar, he is a winner.

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