Cohen: Praise for Being Unbiased
By Josh Cohen
May 29, 2011
ORLANDO -- There is probably nothing I respect more in professional sports than unbiased analysis and judgment.
We all are generally guilty in one way or another of defending our favorite teams and players even when they deserve criticism or penalization. There is practically never an NBA game, for instance, when the fans of the home crowd don't jeer at the officials despite the visitors correctly earning the call.
When Scottie Pippen voiced his thoughts recently regarding LeBron James’ all-time status and how he may be an all-around “better” player than Michael Jordan, I couldn’t help but admire him even more than I already did.
Irrespective of the opinions at play (virtually impossible to compare players in the midst of their careers to those who are retired), Pippen deserves credit for not exploiting any nepotism.
Until Jordan’s second retirement in 1998, Pippen played 11 years alongside the Hall of Famer in Chicago. Together, they captured an extraordinary six NBA championships and formed one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.
One would have expected Pippen, a seven-time NBA All-Star, to automatically defend his legendary sidekick when asked to comment on the commonalities and differences between MJ and LBJ.
I, for one, will never suggest that any one player that is among the class of all-time elite is definitely, incontrovertibly and inarguably “better” than any of the others who belong in the same category.
In the case of Jordan vs. James, both are two of the best, most shatterproof players in NBA history. Whether LeBron ever attains the kind of championship glory that MJ did remains to be seen.
We can analyze and calculate statistics until we discover life on Jupiter if we want, but the reality is that numbers simply don’t matter.
Unless we found a way to have Jordan in his prime and James in his on the court against each other with the same exact teammates on both sides for an entire seven-game series, there essentially is no reasonable way to conclude who is better.
It’s the same argument in other sports: Joe Montana vs. Tom Brady vs. Dan Marino vs. Peyton Manning vs. John Elway. It’s impractical.
Comparing players from different generations is one of the most controversial debates we tend to have in all sports circles.
Generally, everyone tends to have a biased viewpoint. If you ask an old-timer who watched game after game in the 1960’s and 70’s, they will likely suggest that Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain were better centers than Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon or Dwight Howard. It’s probably the opposite for younger generations. What we know is what we usually believe.
Since I tend to be very argumentative when it comes to all sports debates and discussions, I am often given a lot of grief about one opinion in particular.
I do believe that today’s generation of NBA players is “more talented” than cohorts of the past. Not to diminish the outstanding accolades all-time greats such as Russell and Jordan accomplished during their storied careers, but the amount of talent they had to contend with was not as “extensive” as those that today’s players compete against.
While I respect the argument from the other side that the physical nature of the game is not nearly as grueling (MJ, for instance, had to deal with an onslaught from adversaries every time he attacked the rim), ultimately I believe talent rules over all else.
Today you have the assortment of international stars (ex. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Andrea Bargnani), more diversity at every position (ex. big men who can shoot with range and point guards who either serve as primary playmakers (ex. Rajon Rondo) or scorers (ex. Derrick Rose) and more clutch performers than ever before (ex. Kobe Bryant, James, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant, Rose, Nowitzki).
Not suggesting this to necessarily be true in any way, but perhaps Pippen feels the same way. Maybe, just maybe, he watches today’s players and realizes that there are more challengers to deal with and try to conquer and overcome.
Perhaps he wondered for a moment: What if Jordan had to face off against James, Bryant, Wade, Durant, Rose, Pierce, Ginobili, etc. rather than, no disrespect to, Byron Scott, Clyde Drexler (grant it a 10-time NBA All-Star), Dan Majerle, Hersey Hawkins and Jeff Hornacek (the five starting shooting guards that Jordan squared off with in the six NBA Finals he was in).
Listen, in no way am I trying to conclude that James is a “better” player than Jordan. That would be unnecessary and also hypocritical of me since I have already suggested that we can’t compare players from different generations.
But before anyone decides to criticize Pippen for his recent comments, perhaps we all should not rush to judgment.
Instead, I think we should credit Pippen for his willingness to be unbiased and equitable.
What are your thoughts about Scottie Pippen's opinions?