Yesterday Kelly Slater clinched his record 11th world title on the ASP World Tour. He did so in pure Kelly fashion; catching a wave in the dying minutes of his round 3 heat and doing what only Kelly can do. He linked together a set of solid turns, displacing water and spraying it high into the California skyline. Everyone knew what happened on the face of that wave was solid, but it was not a guarantee that it would be enough to overtake the lead built up by Dan Ross earlier in the heat. As the scores dropped and the tension rose, enough numbers were finally displayed that sentimental anticipation became mathematical reality.
King Kelly had once again done the impossible. Defeating someone who was only a grom when he spent his first season on tour, but then again that is something that has been happening for years at this point. So with that in mind let’s reflect for a moment, not only on what Kelly has done by winning 11 titles but the dominating fashion in which he has done so.
For starters, 11 titles let’s break that down. I think Kelly’s girlfriend Kalani Miller’s post heat t-shirt said it best, Jordan + Kobe = Slater. Like it or not, Kelly Slater has accomplished on his own what 2 of the greatest basketball icons of our time accomplished together. Not only did it take 2 greats, competing at different times they both had great teams behind them. The only thing Kelly had behind him on his road to 11 was a hungry pack of the world’s best up and coming surfers looking to dethrone a god.
There is literally a generation of surfers who have grown up with Kelly on top and have dreamt of nothing more than knocking him down. Unlike Roger Federer, possibly the greatest tennis player of all time, this has been impossible. RF, like Sampras and Borg before him had his time in the sun and then succumb to not only the pressure of being on top, but the next wave of young talent.
Slater has withstood wave after wave of this talent, and in the process defying not only time and age but also the mountain of pressure and expectation that comes with being the youngest, oldest and winning-est wave rider of all time. With the exception of Andy Irons who was taken from us much to quickly last year the collective professional surf world has been but a blip on Kelly’s competitive radar for the last 20 years. Sure there were years in the last 20 when he didn’t win the title (’91, ’93, ’99, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’07, ’09) but you need to factor into that his hiatus, the death of his father, and the inevitable hangover that comes after just 1 championship.
Think how rare it is to see ANY repeat champion, let alone a 5-peat. In the history of pro sports (in North America) there has been 1 in each of the major sports. The Celtics (59-66) won 8 straight, the Montreal Canadiens (56-60), and the New York Yankees (49-53). And now, as I always do I will present my argument. None of these came in the “common era” where athleticism is at at a much higher level and competitive sports in general have become much more of a profession. By this I mean, I don’t believe the 1957 Montreal Canadiens were training every day, year round trying to defend their title. Oh yeah, and they were also only playing against 5 other teams. The Celtics and Yankees also had the advantage of being able to eliminate the weak links on their team and grow their squad to properly adapt and accomplish the feats they did.
When it comes to individual athletes, NO ONE has ever done what Kelly has. Jack Nicklaus spent just over 20 years on the PGA tour, but was far from being the undisputed best for more than half of those years. And as a final piece to this short discussion I dare you to compare the physical aspects of these two sports. For example, Occy would get absolutely dominated on the current tour, while golfers of advanced age still shoot low scores that would be competitive on the PGA.
Kelly Slater is the greatest athlete of all time. If you want to dispute this fact with me, I welcome you to it. Show me a pro athlete in any discipline who has dominated the highest level of their sport for more than half of their career that also spanned 2 decades. In addition to the physical ability needed to compete for the “Greatest Athlete Of All Time” award the candidate must also be the face of their sport, like Jordan, Tiger, or Wayne Gretzky but they must also have taken a sport that was not well known prior to them arriving on the scene and making it an internationally recognized and respected discipline a la Tony Hawk.
Ok, go… Told you he is the greatest ever.
Call him what you want. Ke11y, KS11, Robert Kelly Slater…
I am calling him The Greatest Ever.
Slater photos : Surfer Magazine