(Content warning: I’m going to use the word legacy in this article. A lot.)
“What is a legacy?” Alexander Hamilton asks in the eponymous Broadway musical written by Lin Manuel Miranda (I’m a fan, if you couldn’t tell), then explains it as “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” This definition of legacy makes sense for the play, and for Hamilton, who instituted policies that exist to this day, who is now on the $10 bill, and who eventually got a hip-hop musical written about him. But it is also significant that the line is a question.
Legacy as a concept is flexible; it means different things to different people. I never really cared about the word until three weeks ago when my son was born. Now I think about legacy a lot, and what it means to me: as a last name, as one more generation of confusing pronunciations and disease jokes, as a chance to pass on knowledge and insight and put him in a better place than I am.
But legacy does not have a flat definition, and that’s why I’m so intent on analyzing what Anthony Davis said in an otherwise non-story interview that I won’t link. We’ve talked about this on twitter ad nauseum, but to reiterate: most things in these interviews are meaningless. Davis may have already made his decision. He may still be waiting on New Orleans to put a star next to him, to give him a reason to stay here a la Tracy Chapman. Whether or not Davis has made a decision, no one outside his family and the organization will know until the offseason, so any articles about that decision, even ones that feature words from the man himself, are mostly pointless. However, that word and its ambiguity makes it worth looking at.
Davis said legacy is more important to him than money. And that tracks — people respect the Kobe Bryants and Tim Duncans of the world way more than the Joe Johnsons and Carmelo Anthonys and Chandler Parsonses of the world. But what kind of legacy matters to AD? What kind of legacy does he want to leave behind? Legacy isn’t just about championships. It’s how those championships are won. Robert Horry’s legacy will never be more valuable than someone like Steph Curry, because even though Horry won seven championships, he was always an accessory, never a feature. It’s also why Dirk’s one championship and the legacy he created means more to most than Kevin Durant’s two (and possibly counting) titles, because of the circumstances with which Durant won his titles. Although in this circumstance, I think it makes sense to look at Durant to compare with Davis’s situation.
Twenty years ago, your legacy as a champion was linked to where you won and who you won with. It’s why the initial reaction to LeBron’s decision was so negative, especially from stars of the 80s and 90s. But LeBron changed that as he built his legacy, winning two titles in Miami and a third, his biggest, in Cleveland. Maybe before LeBron, the idea of AD cementing his legacy by joining an already great team would have been soured. But because of LeBron and Durant, that isn’t the case anymore. There is precedent for leaving and maintaining a mostly untarnished reputation.
If AD is focused on legacy, joining a team like Boston, the Lakers, or even Golden State and winning championships will definitely help in doing that. But I still think the context of legacy matters, and there’s also the scope of legacy. I’m mostly talking about Reggie Miller.
Miller never won a championship. He also never left Indianapolis. He set all time records there, built a respectable Eastern Conference contender there, made the finals there. He became their king. Reggie’s legacy will always be tied to the city that loves him, no matter how many times he says “Are you kidding me?” as a commentator.
Davis can have that sort of legacy in New Orleans. If he signs the extension and the team succeeds — gets another star, makes a deep playoff run, even makes the Finals — Davis’s legacy will be cemented in the city of New Orleans. He’ll be right under Drew as local sports gods, always remembered as the guy who made his sport in his city relevant. It may not be a championship one, but it’s definitely one to be proud of.
And there’s still that chance. That small chance. If Davis stays in New Orleans, and wins it all in New Orleans? That’s the sort of legacy he cannot get anywhere else. Winning a championship in New Orleans will objectively mean more than winning it with a pre-built team. That sort of coronation would almost automatically make him an all-time great. Bringing a city its first championship in a sport means everything. It’s why LeBron was able to write his own narrative so successfully, even after leaving.
Obviously that puts the onus on the Pelicans, both now and in the offseason going forward. They need to continue their improved play since Elfrid Payton returned. They need to be active in the trade market to show Davis how serious they are. Maybe they need to shake up the front office or coaching to bring in someone who is more trusted to win. And they cannot take a signed extension as the end of the battle. If he commits to the team, the team needs to commit to him however necessary. That’s the sort of work required to create the kind of legacy Davis wants so much.
What is a legacy? It is a lot of things. For Anthony Davis right now, it is more important than money. But it could also be alluring enough for him to stay, to win, and to become a certified New Orleans legend. In the pantheon with Drew Brees, Louis Armstrong, Leah Chase. If he commits, and the team does as well, he can have a true New Orleans Legacy.