Navy SEAL's call coming in second "first loser." In their line of work coming in second sometimes means death, luckily basketball is not that dangerous. But, the point stands. Do you know who lost the 2003 Finals? Can you remember who came in second in the dunk contest in 1998?
That's why playing tennis in the age of Roger Federer, being in the best shape of your life and having Michael Phelps in the lane next to you or playing the Patriots in the Superbowl is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time (unless you are the NY Giants). We often underrate some amazing players because they had the bad luck of playing at the same time a once in a generation player was dominating.
One of the people that can understand this very well is Dominique Wilkins. His nickname is "The Human Highlight Reel," one of the greatest dunkers ever; an incredible athlete just happened to have the misfortune of playing in the league at the same time as Michael Jeffrey Jordan, Earvin Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Any other time, any other era and 'Nique would be more appreciated.
Let me put it this way, imagine Westbrook playing in 1992. He would be the second most athletic guy, second in wild energy and drive. His narrative is much different, while his performance is the same. We remember players in the context of the era, and as much there is one ball, there is also only so many headlines, only one dunk champion and one trophy in the end.
That is why we have players to remind us how great some of their competitors were. They understand how close games are and a few shots here. A block there and history would be completely different.
Dominique's will always be remembered a Hawk. He played 13 seasons in Atlanta and averaged 26.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and was one of the best in-game dunkers ever to play in the league.
The best ways to measure a players impact is to google many superstars that come after he said "I always wanted to be like "Nique." Dominique has quite a list.
stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference