I recently heard an interview with famous American sports commentator Bob Costas in which he argued that Michael Jordan was not a legendary player. His argument, far from being semantic, was based on the fact that ‘legendary’ means surrounded in legend, by definition an ‘unverifiable story’. This clearly doesn’t apply to Jordan, whose entire career was very closely covered and virtually everything noteworthy that he ever did has been recorded in great detail and is available to everyone with an internet connection. He went on to contend that Julius Erving (Dr J) was actually a legendary player, as such a big part of his career took place in the ABA from which almost no video record remains.
In the volleyball version of this story, which Costas didn’t go into (probably due to lack of time), Karch Kiraly might be the Jordan, and if that holds, then the Dr J character is Aleksander Savin. For reasons of Cold War isolation, lack of general TV coverage for volleyball and our sport’s disgraceful inability to pay attention to its own history, Savin is probably even more of a legend than Dr J, in every sense. The best description of Savin that I ever heard was from one of the dozen or so Australians who actually saw him play.
“After having heard the stories for so many years we were nervous about seeing him play, thinking that he couldn’t possibly be as good as we’d built him up to be in our minds. When we got to see him live, it turned out he was even better than we had ever imagined.”
One of the specific plays that he talked about was Savin jumping with the first tempo and, finding himself out of position reaching to block the ball with one hand. I don’t know if the video clip below is the exact action he was talking about, but it is might as well be, it is even better than the one I’d pieced together in my mind.
I love how at full jump he almost attacks the ball with his left hand, showing incredible strength and balance. I also love his celebration and outright swagger!
And the question becomes, does an athlete become more or less legendary if one single clip of him surfaces on the internet?
And what if a second slightly longer highlight clip emerges? How does that affect a legend? For the record, I really love his swagger here.