Underappreciated In Any Era

Being great can have a downside. How heavy do you think the crown is that says you’re the most talented player of all time, but stops short there?

Publisher’s Letter

Underappreciated in Any Era

Being great can have a downside. How heavy do you think the crown is that says you’re the most talented player of all time, but stops short there?

by Jon Hastings

Being great can have a downside. How heavy do you think the crown is that says you’re the most talented player of all time, but stops short there?

Only Phil Dalhausser knows that hat size. If you were tasked with making the mold for a dominant beach volleyball player, you could save some time by using Dalhausser’s Wikipedia page as your blueprint. Even though he is the most legit, five-tool (hitter, blocker, setter, passer, jump server) player of all-time, the 6-9 Dalhausser has plenty of non-believers when the discussion of best of the last 70 years surfaces.

It’s how easy Dalhausser, 38, makes the game look that creates a conundrum for the soft-spoken Floridian. His generational talent raises his own bar to an unrealistic height. Anything less than a convincing victory each time he takes the court is categorized as a colossal bust. Some legend’s monumental wins seem to live forever, but by comparison Dalhausser’s have the lifespan of a Snapchat photo.

Dalhausser, who is in his 16th professional season, should eternally remain in the conversation as the best there‘s ever been. His dominating FIVB win with Nick Lucena in Ft. Lauderdale in February reminded rivals and fans alike just how good he can be. Six wins against the world’s best in straight sets, all featuring suffocating blocks by Dalhausser, established the Americans as the No. 1-ranked team on the FIVB Tour. That run was part of a 17-match winning streak that started after losing in the quarterfinals at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship in Vienna last August.

 If he has a flaw, it’s simply that Phil is too nice of a guy. Self-promotion is not one of his skill sets. If Steve Obradovich had Dalhausser’s beach resume’ and you suggested to him he wasn’t the best player of all time, he’d probably punch you in the mouth. And while you were spitting a tooth or two out, he’d make you feel guilty about the slight.

Even Dalhausser down plays his own accomplishments. He has 92 total victories, including an Olympic gold (Beijing, 2008) and FIVB World Championship (Gstaad, 2007), as well as six Manhattan Open titles with three different partners. He has won at least one FIVB event in 13 straight seasons on a tour that is vastly different than the domestic draws of the 1960s and 1970s. Those years created a colorful cast of beach legends, but the inequitable separation of physical talents between that era and today is undeniable. Unless you fall in the delusional camp that thinks Gail Goodrich could guard Russell Westbrook?

   Sinjin Smith, who never lacked confidence on the court or fell shy of offering an opinion, revealed in a recent DiG interview that Dalhausser would be his partner of choice if he could pick from the historical pool of beach partners. That’s a bold and powerful statement from Sinjin, who played both with Karch Kiraly and Randy Stoklos – both players who most feel could transcend eras.

It’s fair to say that the mental intensity of Kiraly and Smith remain incomparable. But to suggest that Dalhausser is not an elite competitor is not only unfair, but inaccurate. There are lots of factors that get buried during the construction of the Mount Rushmore of greats. Kiraly, who has plenty of justified support as the best ever, would probably not have an Olympic beach gold medal if his partner, Kent Steffes, had not taken over a quarterfinal match against Smith and his partner Carl Henkel at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. Dalhausser might have two if winds would not have reached 40-plus miles per hour in his elimination match in Rio in 2016, effectively neutralizing his hand setting.

Dalhausser, whose humility meter is always in check, says he doesn’t think about being remembered as the best when his career ends. “For that to happen I would have to win about 50 more tournaments and another Olympics and at least another world championship,” he says.

He considers Brazil’s Emanuel Rego (five Olympics) and Kiraly (148 total wins) as unapproachable icons in the historical race.

There is still some sushi in that roll, however, especially since Dalhausser is now committed to playing through the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Kiraly may be the Michael Jordan of beach volleyball and Rego the Kobe Bryant, but Phil is the LeBron James – a physical freak that falls short only in championship banners.

And there’s still time for both Phil and LeBron. Let’s put it this way, if Kiraly or Rego were still playing and in their primes today, they most assuredly would be making a phone call to the best partner available. That’s a hat that comfortably fits Phil Dalhausser in any era.