By Daniel Johnson, Staff Writer
Published in print Sept. 24, 2014
Within this year, the sporting world lost two of the greatest leaders to have mentored and lead their teams in the nation’s history.
The National Basketball Association lost Dr. Jack Ramsey to cancer, and two months later; the National Football League lost coach Chuck Noll to natural causes.
The two coaches, aside from being innovative leaders and having successful careers, could not be anymore opposite as Ramsey was the charismatic, lively coach of the Portland Trailblazers of the late 70s who formed a run and gun type of offense made famous by Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s.
On the football spectrum, Noll led by example for one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the same period and was one of the first coaches in the NFL who gave African Americans opportunities in the NFL. Noll hired the first black assistant coach and starting the first black quarterback in league history.
Strong leadership seen by the sidelines from these two great leaders was also seen on the field in recent memory in two recent players in the sporting world who have and are set to retire, Chauncey Billups and Derek Jeter. Next to Tiger Woods, there might not be a more successful athlete of the 2000s than Derek Jeter.
Jeter plays for the most well known sports franchise in the world, the New York Yankees, and in the Mecca for sports and media, New York City. Similar to Noll, Jeter was the engine for one of the most successful dynasties in sports, winning three straight World Series and four out of five years from 1996-2000.
Also akin to Noll, Jeter stayed out the spotlight and tried his best to protect his brand to the consumer. In the era of mass media and where everyone has a camera, not once has Derek Jeter done something that could alienate the casual fans like Woods and Kobe Bryant have done.
What makes Jeter’s career more impressive is the era he played in. From his rookie year in 1996 to 2014, baseball’s steroids era casted a shadow over the game.
Some of the best players of the era, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, destroyed the trust fans had for players. Out of the shadow, came a player like Derek Jeter, a player who was not hitting 50 home runs a year and was not playing his best baseball in his late-30s as his contemporaries had done.
Jeter was the shining face of Major League Baseball in one it’s darkest times.
Across the sporting world, from baseball to basketball, chances are that the casual fan could name off many players in the NBA before you heard Chauncey Billups’ name.
Unlike Derek Jeter, Billups was far from the face of his sport. Billups was not even the best at his position (Point Guard) in his era. Still, Billups can say something that his peer point guards Jason Kidd and Steve Nash cannot say.
In the 2004 NBA Finals, against the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers, Billups led the Pistons to their first championship in Detroit since the famous “Bad Boys” era of the 1980s. Billiups leadership style can be exemplified in the famous story that occurred on the team’s trip back to Detroit.
Following a heart-breaking loss in Game 2, the best of seven series was tied 1-1 and with the next three games in Detroit, Billups told his teammates and coaches “Were not coming back to LA”.
They did not go back to Los Angeles as the Pistons won the next three games of the series to win the championship.
Like Dr. Jack Ramsey, Billups was a mainstay in the NBA postseason. While Ramsey went to at least the Conference Semifinals five straight times, Billups impressively led both the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets to the Conference Finals seven straight times.
His leadership was further cemented during the streak when Billups was traded to the Nuggets for superstar Allen Iverson, who was considered more talented. While the Pistons lost in the first round in Iverson’s first year, Billups would lead the Nuggets to the Conference Finals.
With the retirement of these two anchors of the sporting landscape for more than a decade, while we should appreciate Billups’ jump shot and Jeter’s smooth swing, the greatest attribute of both players was their stirring leadership which caused their teams to win a combined six championships.