Sports stars are set apart from the rest of us by their ability to overcome pain in important situations. While we all go through this at times in our lives, they are put in the national spotlight at the times of their weakest. Whether we know anything is wrong or it's revealed to us later, their ability to overcome otherwise debilitating injuries makes their performances memorable. For these four players, the championships that resulted from their gutting it out make them the most memorable.
His impact was quickly felt as Reed scored the first two buckets of the game. His scores helped send the MSG crowd into a fervor. While Reed came out shortly after, his leg injury too much him, the damage was already done. Reed coming out and taking over the first part of the game was enough to shake the Lakers and put them on their heels where they remained the rest of the game. The Knicks won Game 7 113-99. The Knicks won their first NBA title.
The Dodgers were down and it looked to be for the count. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, the Athletics had their closer Dennis Eckersley in. He was the AL's leader in saves with 45 in the regular season when up limped Kirk Gibson to the plate, inserted as a pinch hitter to everyone's surprise. With a man on Gibson was brought in to end the game. After running the count to 3-2, Eckersley let loose a back door slider that Gibson gently reached out and powered over the fence using only his upper body, foregoing his injured lower body and causing Dodgers announcer Vin Scully to famously proclaim, "I can't believe what I just saw!" The 5-4 Dodgers win in Game 1 powered Los Angeles to the 4-1 World Series win.
With the second quarter being watched as a spectator, he hoped and prayed that the symptoms would fade. His one play, as a decoy, helped set up a John Elway rushing touchdown but he couldn't see anything. He did his best to contribute while his head pounded and his team struggled to stay ahead by a scant field goal. It wasn't until after the second quarter and the half time show were over that the symptoms slowly began to fade. Davis sucked it up, however, and came back into the game. His pounding head didn't stop him from rushing for 157 yards, scoring three touchdowns, and winning MVP.
His sacrifice, for his future and his ability to run in the future, would ultimately pay off. Through 23 games in the 2002 Playoffs (series against the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Carolina Hurricanes) he was more than just a body in the line up. Through the Finals he was responsible for six goals and seventeen assists. On one knee Steve Yzerman averaged a point per game. It all came to a head in Game 5 of the Finals where he assisted on the final two goals scored by the Red Wings. With one knee he still found the strength to lift the 30 lbs of trophy over his head for the last time as a player.
There have been other great gusty performances that deserve mention here: Tiger Woods winning the 2008 US Open in a playoff with Rocco Mediate on a torn ACL, Kerri Strug helping the US to gold in 1996 despite a broken ankle, Lance Armstrong winning the 2003 Tour de France with a broken collar bone, Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in the Finals against the Utah Jazz despite an awful flu keeping him bedridden, Curt Schilling pitching on one good ankle and one surgically repaired ankle to help beat the Yankees when down 3-0 in the series. Then there's perhaps the gutsiest of all.
Should the Celtics do the improbable and come back to the beat the Heat from down 3-1, then go on to the win the NBA title this year perhaps Rajon Rondo's incredible come back from a dislocated elbow will rank amongst these players in the history of gutsy performances. Until then he will be but a footnote that is remembered with the almost was and could have beens. For the players above their injuries and over coming made them well known. Their championships made them legends.