Not everybody can win a championship but there are plenty of ways to become immortals through great sporting achievements. Here's our list of the 12 hallowed sports achievements that are almost as good as winning a title.
Brad MillsBrad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Winning the Slam Dunk Contest (1985-2000)
Spud Webb, Dee Brown, Cedric Ceballos, Harold Miner, Isaiah Rider, Brent Barry - forgettable names known by any child of the 80s or 90s solely for winning basketball's biggest talent show, back when there was still enough orginality and talent to actually matter.
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Reaching No. 1 in tennis
Winning a Grand Slam is the greatest achievement in tennis but hitting No. 1 is far harder to do. There have been 53 men to win majors in the rankings era (since 1973) but only 26 to reach No. 1. And we've seen 41 women win Slams since the WTA rankings began but just 22 have hit the top spot.
But, as is the issue with many of these achievements, reaching one generally portends reaching the other. Because, chances are, if you hit No. 1 you're likely to have won a Grand Slam to get there. Only four people have bucked that trend to reach No. 1 without ever winning a major - one man (Marcelo Rios) and three women (Caroline Wozniacki, Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic).
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Getting a signature sneaker
Though Allen Iverson never won a title, he'll go down in history as having one of the best non-MJ shoes in history; 1996's The Answer, which was the top-selling shoe in Reebok history. (Though I'm not sure how much of a compliment that is.) Tracy McGrady. Grant Hill. Penny Hardaway. Kevin Durant. Gary Payton. Dikembe. Barkley. If you can't hold a trophy, at least become immortalized in some patent leather currently sitting in the closet at your mom's house, causing yearly calls in which she asks "can I throw this away?" and is quickly pooh-poohed.
Winning the Army-Navy game
From the first moment of R Day, when plebes step onto the grounds at West Point, the words "Beat Navy" echo through the United States Military Academy. It's yelled during PT. It's heard on post, in classrooms and in the barracks. In the weeks leading up the game, a plebe has to say "Beat Navy" to any passing upperclassman, meaning you might utter the rallying cry 50 times a day - thousands of times in your four years. It's the biggest thing going. Thus, there's no greater achievement in collegiate sports than being on the winning side of the Army-Navy game. For the rest of college football, it's a nice diversion without any greater meaning. For West Point and Navy, it's their Super Bowl on steroids.
Danny WildUSA TODAY Sports
Making the cover of 'Sports Illustrated'
Nothing in print is as big as it used to be and regional covers have kind of watered down the honor, but there's still something special about getting on the cover of sports' most hallowed journal. Win a Super Bowl and that ring goes in the safe, only to come out during team reunions and show-and-tell days. Get on SI and that thing goes right on the wall, a reminder of that moment when nothing in sports was bigger than you.
Winning the Ryder Cup
Given the depth of the Ryder Cup teams (12 for each side), there are always going to be plenty of players who can boast a win in golf's greatest team competition but not in the singular, quarterly majors that are the true barometer of individual greatness.
What's odd though is that we don't tend to obsess over who's won and lost Cups. We know the U.S. was the victor in 2016, but will we remember in a few years that Brooks Koepka was on the squad? It's far different for the majors, in which the numbers are golf legend: Jack, 18. Tiger, 14. Arnie, 7. Phil, 5. Rory, 4. Lee Westwood, 0. But how many Cups did Jack win? What about Tiger? Who has the most? Who's done the worst? None of it matters - it's all about the team W.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY SportsJohn David Mercer
Becoming world's fastest man
Like with the tennis ranking thing, this honor usually leads to an Olympic gold, but not always: Charles Greene, Calvin Smith, Leroy Burrell and Asafa Powell have been one but not the other. And while, if you asked them all I'm sure they'd say gold > WR, think of it this way: There have been thousands of gold medals awarded from everybody to Michael Phelps to Katie Ledecky to Michael Jordan to Flo Jo to the 25m pistol 10m air pistol trap winner. Only a handful of men can ever say that, at one moment in their lives, there was nobody on earth faster than them.
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Becoming a beloved television figure who's just about the only person left in America allowed to freely speak his mind
Failing to win a title is always going to sting (though at least Chuck can take some solace in the fact that he'd have won one if he wasn't born in the same era as MJ) but Barkley has joined a far more exclusive and revered club: He's the most honest voice in sports who, even in these days of PC triggering and thought police, can say whatever he wants without fear of repercussions.
Winning the Heisman Trophy
Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Mark Ingram, Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, Jason White, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Ron Dayne and Danny Wuerffel can all attest to the Heisman being the peak of a sporting career.
(No, Tim Tebow isn't on that list. Though his NFL career was brief, that overtime touchdown against the Steelers will be highlight-reel fodder for the rest of time. As will his Hall of Fame baseball career.)
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Making the Final Four
For some teams, the Final Four is the ultimate destination. It's a realistic, if mostly improbable, goal for almost every team in the tournament, especially now that there have been a handful of double-digit seeds to make it that far in the past few years. If you enter as a No. 7 seed, you may harbor title aspirations, of course. But when you stare at the draw, your eyes aren't going to that final line, but the one at the end of your regional. It's doable. That's the goal.
But it's odd - making the Final Four is only a pure, unsullied achievement if you actually sully things by losing your first game there, as George Mason, Wichita State and VCU did. That loss merely reaffirms the idea that simply getting there was the destination. But if you're Butler, who twice made Cinderella Final Four runs and won their national semifinals before losing in the final, then the ultimate takeaway isn't joy but devastation that Gordon Hayward's shot didn't fall against Duke and that nobody's shot fell against UConn.
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Winning a baseball MVP award
Putting MVP awards on this list is tricky. In most sports, winning MVP and not a title only shines light on the lack of championship. When you hear the names John Stockton and Patrick Ewing (guys who never won MVP), your immediate thought doesn't go to their title-less careers. Swap them with Karl Malone and Charles Barkley (both of whom won) and that changes. (Yes, enough time has passed in Ewing's career where the shortcoming that used to define him has largely become forgotten. Plus, dude won two gold medals and an NCAA title.)
If you're an NBA, NFL or NHL MVP without a title, then your success will eventually be defined by your failure. But baseball is the most individual of the team sports. It's not Mike Trout's fault if he hits .342/.451/.706 and the Angels pitching staff can't get anybody out. He did his part. The blame isn't on him and can't be assigned to him, unlikely other failed MVPs such as Alex Ovechkin, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Ovechkin. (He has three.)
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY SportsScott Rovak
Hitting a buzzer beater in a postseason game
Robert Horry. Bryce Drew. Ali Farokhmanesh. Scottie Reynolds. Tyus Edney. Derek Fisher. Tate George. Drew Nicholas. Michael Jordan. Danny Ainge. There have been bigger, more meaningful buzzer beaters in the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs (the last two national title games come to mind) but it doesn't need to be a Final Four or NBA Finals for your shot to go down in history and book a place on every highlight reel for the rest of time.