- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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"A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can't break the mold."-- Alan Ladd as the title character in "Shane"
OK, then, what is Robert Horry? The longer he plays, the harder it is to answer that question.
Is he the guy who hits all the clutch shots? Is he a cheap-shot artist? Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?
We'll address those soon enough (short answers: yes, no, yes), but if you want the easiest way to describe Horry, consider this label: cowboy.
I never thought of him that way until he described his vision of retiring from the NBA: "I just want to leave like Shane. They don't know what happened to you. Just go."
He was referring to the classic Western that ends with the hero -- having gunned down everyone in the saloon but the bartender -- riding off toward the Grand Teton mountain range while the young boy who idolizes him pleads, "Come back!"
Horry has traveled from town to town, Houston to Phoenix to L.A. to San Antonio, always quick on the draw with his trusty Colt .45 (well, except for in Phoenix, where the only thing he fired was a towel in the face of coach Danny Ainge). He's kind of a loner. He's loved by his teammates, but he doesn't spend too much time with them away from the gym. You're more likely to find him hanging out with the strength and conditioning coach or even (gasp) reporters.
There hasn't been a description that has stuck with Horry his entire career. He was a small forward who moved to power forward. He has started almost as many games as he has entered as a reserve.
Just know this: The NBA hasn't seen a winner like Horry in three decades. John Havlicek retired in 1978, the last member of the Boston Celtics' 1960s dynasty to check out, and one of only six players in NBA history with a championship ring collection larger than Horry's seven. Of those six players -- Bill Russell (11 rings), Sam Jones (10), Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Tom Sanders and Havlicek (eight each) -- Sanders is the only one not in the Hall of Fame. But the fact that K.C. Jones is makes the case for Horry.
Jones averaged 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his nine-year career. Horry has averaged 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in 16 seasons. Jones proved there's a place in the Hall for underwhelming statistics if they came on winning teams.
With Horry, it's not just that he was around for all of those championships -- after all, the equipment manager for the Chicago Bulls has six rings. There's no way the 2002 Lakers or the 2005 Spurs would have earned their championships without Horry. And those are just the series he salvaged, the times he kept his team from the brink of elimination by draining the winning 3-pointers in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and Game 5 of the NBA Finals. That doesn't include the times his shots gave his team an early series lead or eliminated an opponent.
Maybe Horry didn't get his teams to that point, but he brought them home. If relievers like Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers can get into the baseball Hall of Fame, and people believe kicker Adam Vinatieri deserves a bust in Canton, there's a place for Horry in the basketball Hall.
The playoffs are when Horry's gunslinger mentality pays off, when he's unafraid to draw and fire even if he hasn't done a thing all game -- or all season.
There are two distinctive sounds in sports: Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball and Robert Horry taking a potential game-altering shot in a road playoff game. The first is a whack so hard you feel sorry for the ball's cover, followed by the sphere's tearing through the air like a fighter jet. The second is a terrified scream, the sound of 18,000 collectively saying "Oh s---! Not him!" as they realize Horry has been left open.
Think about it: Has there been anyone you'd dread seeing in position to kill your team more than Horry? It's his big shots in big moments that warrant Horry's mention among the game's greats.
"You love the fact that it's said," Horry said. "At the end of the day, it's still going to be Kobe, LeBron and those type of guys, because they score a lot of points.
"People only remember your parting shot."
And now that's become his problem. His two most recent YouTube moments are the hipcheck that sent Steve Nash flying into the scorer's table in last year's playoffs and his crosscheck into David West's already-ailing back in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals this year.
Horry doesn't lose sleep over either.
"Since it was the golden boy Steve Nash, it got carried on more than it should have," Horry said of the first incident.
And: "The David West thing was because of the Steve Nash thing."
In other words, once he became known as the guy in the black hat, it was easy to cast anything he did in a negative light. The Nash play had nothing to do with basketball, just a flagrant foul by a frustrated player. The West play probably happens every night.
"The film says it all," Horry said. "If he doesn't jump up, he runs into the screen.
"You can't convince people of certain things. You let them think what they want to think. At the end of the day, in your mind and your heart, you know."
Do we know? Do we have enough to make up our minds about Horry?
He has appeared in more NBA playoff games than anyone else, made more 3-pointers in the Finals than anyone else. There's no official stat on big shots, but name someone whose list is longer.
Horry says it's a mistake to look only at those shots and ignore everything that came before them. For example, he says the 3-pointer he made that cut the Lakers' deficit from six points to three points with 1:40 remaining in Game 4 against the Sacramento Kings six years ago was just as important as the 3 at the buzzer that won that game.
"They always remember the last thing you do," Horry said. "They don't remember the things before."
If Horry's latest is his last, it ain't pretty. Bothered by a left knee that had to be drained of excess fluid, he has yet to make a shot in the Western Conference finals, one of the reasons the Spurs trail the Lakers 2-1. His future is uncertain. He'll be a free agent in July and will turn 38 in August. He said he still has fun and wants to play two more years.
And I feel like little Joey in that I don't want to see Horry/Shane leave. Because when he's gone, you'll never see another player like him. The greatest winner of his era. The last NBA cowboy.