Can you break a non-record? History vs. Hysteria

Not long ago, DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls had what was termed as a “record-breaking” performance in a game against Sacramento.

Now I wouldn’t know DeRozan if he walked in the door – I thought he still played for Toronto; turns out that was two teams ago – but I was intrigued because the headlines alerted me to the fact that he’d broken the record of Wilt Chamberlain.

Of course we all know of Wilt’s prolific ability to score – and he was also a pretty good basketball player (rim shot!) – so I figured this must be something pretty big. I realized it wasn’t Hank-Aaron-breaking-Babe-Ruth’s-record big, but I was prepared to be impressed by Mr. DeRozan’s accomplishment.

Turns out, he is the first player in NBA history to score 35 or more points and shoot 50 percent or better in seven consecutive games; Wilt did it in only six straight.


As you can imagine, after picking myself up off the floor, I took a moment to let it all sink in. And what sank in was that I realized that another entry was about to be added to the file of Stuff They Tell Us Is Important That Really Isn’t.

It’s everywhere these days, mainly because everyone is trying to make everything significant when it simply is not.

Anytime you see “history was made” or “historic” or “record-breaking” you should be prepared to be (1) unimpressed and/or (2) disappointed.

A high school football team wins eight straight games for the third straight year? Historic!

A basketball player becomes the 17th player in school history to score his 1,000th career point? History-making!

We can’t just say something is “good” anymore because it has to be “GREAT!” We zipped right by the definition of “accomplishment,” because that’s what these really are.

Neil Armstrong walking on the moon was historic. Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56 straight games was record-breaking. But when you have to manufacture some confluence of criteria in order to qualify something as a record, it really isn’t.

It’s not record-breaking when we didn’t even know the record existed in the first place.

Historic is defined as “famous or important in history, or potentially so,” which probably doesn’t apply to the high school running back who scored five touchdowns.

Your team is not “making history” because it’s won six straight Homecoming games. Congrats on that, but we are going to save the historical part for something with a little more relevance.

Just remember this – Christopher Columbus got a lot of pub for what he did in 1492. I’m sure the hometown Genoa Gazette was quick to praise his “history-making performance” for allegedly discovering America. But since millions of people were already living on the business side of the Atlantic Ocean, there was actually nothing historic about it.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography as “I know it when I see it” as the threshold test, but I’m guessing that Justice Stewart might have an even harder time sifting through what’s being thrown at us when it comes to what’s being labeled as “historic events,” especially in athletics. When it comes to these types of accomplishments, you’ll know it when you see it.

(As a quick aside, Stewart was replaced on the Supreme Court in 1981 by the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. Now THAT’s historic.)