In Baylor's championship game victory over Notre Dame on Tuesday, Brittney Griner put on one of the most dominant performances I've ever seen in a high-level basketball game. However, it's hard to give her too much credit of "having the heart of a champion" or any other similarly meaningless cliche that it is too often used in discussing basketball.
She just played her game and there was nothing Notre Dame, a senior-laden team in their second consecutive Final Four, could do about it.
Griner had 26 points on 11-16 shooting to go with 13 rebounds and 5 blocks. At 6'8 with a 7'4 wingspan, she plays on a different plane than the rest of women's basketball. In a below the rim game, she is an above the rim presence.
That's the main reason why Baylor went 40-0 this year. Even more frightening, only four of those 40 wins were by fewer than 10 points. But what's most frightening for the rest of the sport is that Griner and her entire supporting cast will be back next season.
There's no reason why the Bears can't make a run at another 40-0 season, which would give her a 114-3 record over her last three collegiate years. To find a historical comparison, you have to go past the female game, where there's never been a player with her combination of size and athleticism, and look towards when the very beginning of the men's game, when the sport was still in its infancy.
While he's been somewhat forgotten in popular culture, there's a good argument to be made that, over the course of his entire career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the greatest basketball player of all time. In high school, his teams went 79-2, winning three straight New York City championships. In college, his UCLA teams went 88-2, winning three consecutive national championships (College freshmen weren't eligible to play in the 1960's). In the NBA, he won six championships and six MVP's.
Kareem literally bridged the generations: he played against Wilt Chamberlain and Hakeem Olajuwon. He won his first NBA Finals MVP at the age of 24; he won his second at the age of 38 in the 1985 NBA Finals between the Celtics and the Lakers, widely considered the greatest NBA Finals of all-time.
Basketball is a game revolving around throwing a ball through a cylinder raised ten-feet in the air. The taller you are, the harder it is for your opponent to affect your shot and the easier it is for you block theirs. Kareem, at 7'2 with a 7'5 wingspan, towered over every basketball game he ever played in.
He was the tallest player on the floor and he shot a sky hook that he released from behind his head. There's a reason he's almost 2,000 points ahead of second place in the career points list: he could score whenever he felt like it and there was very little anyone could do about it.
And when Griner was knocking down turn-around jumpers over players almost a foot shorter than her on Tuesday, she was just as unstoppable. A 6'3 post player defending her is like a middleweight squaring off against a heavyweight; it's just not a fair fight.
At only 21 years old, the sky is the limit for Griner. If she wants, she can become the greatest player in the history of women's basketball.
The only thing she needs now is what Kareem never had: a rival. He dominated most of the 1970's, but he never had the Russell to his Chamberlain, someone who could push him to new heights by beating him at his own game.
Maybe that's the 6'8 Liz Cambage, an Australian already in the WNBA, maybe it's some 14-year old girl with a picture of Griner on her dresser or maybe that person will never emerge. Maybe she becomes one of those samurai from old movies who spend their entire lives looking for a worthy foe.
Either way, with no one in college basketball able to stand toe-to-toe with Griner, it's hard not to install Baylor as the heavy favorite to repeat as national champions in 2013.