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February 05, 2018
Jordan vs. LeBron Debate Myths, Part 1
One of the common arguments against Jordan is that he "didn't get out of the first round until Scottie came." Not to take anything away from Scottie, who is undoubtedly one of 50 greatest players of all time, but in his rookie season when the Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Semis (87-88), he had role-player numbers. Even still, the next year when the Bulls made it to the Conference Finals (88-89), Scottie's numbers were good but not all-star caliber. See here:
1987-88 (Rookie Season - Bulls Lose East Conf Semis)
When comparing superstars from the “straight out of high school” era, like LeBron or Kobe, to superstars from previous eras like MJ or Bird, I sometimes hear the argument that because Kobe, LeBron etc. have more or will end up with more career points, it means they’re more talented offensive players. It’s a flawed argument. MJ, Magic, Bird, were drafted out of college after playing several years (because that was the norm at the time). Because LeBron and Kobe made the leap from high school to the NBA (when that became the norm for elite HS players), they had the opportunity to play more seasons in their physical prime than their predecessors. As long as they're relatively healthy in that time, it's likely they'll have greater career totals. Use career per game average, FG%, efficiency, etc. but don’t use career totals when comparing superstars of those different generations. For one generation, those numbers are inflated.
December 29, 2016
When to Use the "How Many Rings Does He Have?" Argument
One of the most frustrating things about reading or listening to basketball player comparisons is when people use the “how many rings does he have?” argument incorrectly. It seems to come up in conversations like… Person 1: “Call me when LeBron has as many rings as MJ…”; Person 2: “In that case, Bill Russell and Robert Horry are better players than Jordan...they both have more rings!” The number of rings a player has should be brought into a basketball conversation only when you’re comparing players who dominate the game in multiple ways for a generation. These are the kind of guys that are clearly the best players on their respective squads and are the catalysts (not just contributors) for their teams being title contenders over a number of years. As great as they were, that kind of identity doesn’t apply to Robert Horry (7 Rings), Dennis Rodman (5 Rings), or similar players.
This is why we use the rings argument. It helps us basketball heads rank THE MOST talented basketball players ever. Players like Kareem, Bird, MJ, etc. were clearly the best of the best of their generations. But when comparing their talents and legacies as if to rank them, we have to turn to rings. It almost fulfills the purpose of a “talent tiebreaker.” How was that player able to elevate his team to a championship against other great teams and great players and how many times was he able to do it over his career? Additionally, how did that player compete and handle the pressure of playing on the biggest stage?
Now, using the rings argument to rank the greatest across all basketball generations is tough given (1) Bill Russell and (2) the player-facilitated Super Teams of recent years. Not to take anything away from Mr. Russell, who is truly one of the greatest players of all-time, but I always wonder if he would have been able to achieve the same amount of success if he played anytime from the 80's to today. Between more teams in the league, greater parity, and more evolved free agency, I think it would have been more difficult for Bill and the Celtics to achieve the same kind of success. Bill did play with 8 other Hall of Famers over the course of those 11 championship seasons with the Celtics and by the time he retired, there were 14 teams in the league. As for the Super Teams of this generation (Golden State and the LeBron-led Miami Heat), I still firmly believe elite players teaming up with one another to win championships diminishes the significance of those championships.