An uncomfortable question: How do you define a legend?

I’m about to be the jerk who rains on the parade and speaks unkindly of the dead.

Well, not really, but I won’t be surprised if some see it that way.

I’m just raising this question: How do you define “legend” in terms of Grand Prix motorcycle racing? It comes up because this past weekend Kenny Roberts Jr. was named the 25th MotoGP Legend. In that honor, he joins some people who unquestionably deserve the title of legend, such as Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and his own father, Kenny Roberts Sr.

But he also joins some names that stretch the definition.

This is an awkward topic for U.S. racing fans because when you start thinking of MotoGP Legends who have the weakest cases, you quickly come to two U.S. racers in the group: Roberts and Nicky Hayden. I admire Nicky Hayden, his attitude and his work ethic. I acknowledge that Roberts has accomplishments beyond the track, such as his influence on safety, and I’ll even grudgingly admit that his status as half of the only father-son team to win the top world title counts for something.

But the other side of it is that Roberts and Hayden each won a single title. Roberts has eight race wins and Hayden just three. They won their titles with 258 (Roberts) and 252 (Hayden) points, the lowest two points totals in the last 20 years.

Then there’s the even more delicate question of riders such as Daijiro Kato and Marco Simoncelli. We all miss Super Sic and feel bad about the way we lost Daijiro. But neither won a race at the top level, much less a MotoGP or 500 cc title. Does dying young make you a legend? Do we give out these distinctions for accomplishments or to make ourselves feel better about the loss?

I suppose the polite thing is to leave these questions unasked and let everyone enjoy the moment, smiling for the cameras. Or maybe I need to adjust my definition of legend.

What do you think? How do you define a legend?

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