From the summer of 2011. A kinder, simpler time.
A few days ago, Scottie Pippen said that while Michael Jordan remains the greatest scorer in the history of basketball, LeBron James might be the best all-around player ever. And then everyone said “ffffwhat?”” and I thought about Batman. See, when Dick Grayson, the first and best Robin, got tired of feeling like an underrated sidekick instead of a respected, equal partner, he didn’t go tell Mike and Mike. First he whined to Superman, then he became Nightwing, the coolest superhero not named Batman. Dick Grayson, even in his recent stint as Batman, has never been and never will be Batman. But as Nightwing, he has a little something for himself, and he’s a respected, bona-fide champion of his own burg across from Gotham.
With Pippen, having been Robin is the deal. There’s no Nightwing role in basketball unless you play right now for the Heat. Super Sidekick isn’t the job you dream of as a kid, but six rings? Two three-peats? Being the second best player on the best team of the 90s, and, as some have it, the best team ever? Yep, okay. I’ll take it. Right now, Pippen is widely considered the best sidekick in recent history almost by default, which isn’t to diminish his own skill set or career. He wasn’t just in the right place at the right time: he had to be, and was, the right player. He is the greatest of lieutenants, at least by acclamation, which is the same metric everyone uses when talking about Michael Jordan’s own supremacy.
Everyone except Kareem Adbul-Jabbar. He posted “How Soon They Forget: An Open Letter to Scottie Pippen” on his website yesterday. And if you expect Kareem to take Scottie to task for disrespecting Jordan, you don’t know Kareem. First, there’s the part where he says Pippen, while possessing a great basketball mind, is ailing from limited perspective. Wilt Chamberlain, he reminds us, is the greatest scorer ever. He also talks about how much better the league was back in the day, and says “So MJ has to be appraised in perspective. His incredible athletic ability, charisma and leadership on the court helped to make basketball popular around the world — no question about that. But in terms of greatness MJ has to take a backseat to The Stilt.”
Kareem’s real point, though, is that neither Michael Jordan nor LeBron James nor even Wilt Chamberlain can lay claim to the mantle of greatest player ever. He doesn’t exactly say so, but he’s squarely in the Bill Russell camp in this discussion. “The ring’s the thing,” he says, and we all know Russell has eight straight.
Kudos, I say, to Kareem for being the grumpy old guy in the corner who says “the 90s schmine-ties. Back in my day ____.” Kudos for questioning all of this acclamation business. Somewhere, Skip Bayless is just wishing Kareem would have called Pippen a “prisoner of the moment.” Negative points, though, for being kind of rude and passive aggressive about it. That’s part of the deal, I suppose. Minus a few more points also for not also saying what he’s making everyone else point out: that he, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the NBA’s all-time points leader and by that metric alone should be at least second on everyone’s three-person list of greatest scorers. By making Chamberlain’s case, Kareem is also making his own and he’s about as subtle as a skyhook. Come on, now, friend. You think we didn’t catch that?