Horry's career has always been a nice litmus test for the question, "Do you understand the game of basketball or not?" Nearly all of his strengths aren't things that casual fans would notice. He's the kind of guy who would be useless on the "And 1" tour. For instance, he's a terrific help defender who constantly covers for his teammates. He's big enough to handle power forwards and quick enough to handle small forwards. He picks his spots and only asserts himself in big situations when his team truly needs him. He doesn't care about stats or touches at all which gives him something in common with maybe 2 percent of the league. And he gets better when it matters. What more would you want from a supporting player?
Lord knows I've written about him enough times. I once compared him to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, explaining that "Nobody ever talks about him, but he's always there when you need him, just like the Peebee and Jay." I compared him to Nate Dogg, John Cazale and every other famous person who flew under the radar screen but always ended up in good situations. When someone asked me in a recent mailbag whether I would have Horry's career (multiple rings and rich) or Barkley/Malone's careers (no rings and obscenely rich), I opted for Horry's career (and didn't even think twice). Imagine playing on five (soon to be six) championship teams, ending up with a cool nickname, making $50 million, earning the everlasting respect of everyone who ever played with or against you and you didn't have to deal with any of the superstar BS? Have a great game, everyone notices you. Have a terrible game, nobody notices you. And that's your life. Doesn't that sound like the ultimate gig?
In a league loaded with guys who believe they're better than they actually are, Horry understands his own strengths and limitations better than anyone. That's what makes him so great. And that's why I like the poker analogy for him. He's the guy sitting at the table with a towering stack of chips, the guy who never chases a bad hand, the guy who makes your heart pound when he's staring you down. You never remember the hands he lost, but you always remember the ones he won. And when he finally cashes out and gets up from the table, you hope you never have to see him again.
Does that make him a Hall of Famer some day? Before this spring, I would have said no and then Steve Nash won the MVP. Now I'm prepared for anything. But you know where I stand. Instead of making Horry's case in full, I'm telling you a story that hasn't even happened yet. Maybe it will be this summer, maybe next summer, maybe 15 years from now. But when ESPN Classic shows Game 5 of the 2005 Finals some day and I'm calling my buddy House just to tell him, "Turn on Classic, they're showing the Robert Horry Game," I can pretty much guarantee his response:
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.