By DAVE FORD
While conscious of the fact a fellow columnist decided to discuss the same subject matter this week in our publication, I’ll do my best to offer a different take on the now infamous statements Scottie Pippen spewed over national radio airwaves on May 27.
It’s well known by now the Hall of Famer and owner of six NBA championship rings, mainly due to the immortal play of a guy named Michael Jordan, said Miami Heat forward LeBron James could be the greatest basketball player of all time — even greater than Jordan.
Upon reading Pippen’s statement that day I couldn’t speak for at least five minutes. In fact, I remember just shaking my head in total disbelief. Then I said out loud, ‘He said what? How could he say something like that?’
Even now as I write this I still can’t fathom what would make him even have the guts to whisper such a thing alone in the dark with no one actually having a chance to hear him.
Pippen quickly tried to backtrack and “explain” what he really meant, but come on, the damage had been done. There have been those in NBA circles who have said for years that the No. 2 man during Chicago’s magical title runs in the 1990s always wanted to be numero uno.
Now, after saying what he did, it has never sounded more true. But even still, after all he and Jordan went through together, grinding through epic playoff battles against Detroit and New York to build one of the most dominant dynasties in league history, how did the initial thought travel down to his mouth and out for all to hear?
It was shocking enough that Pippen said James could be the best ever, but for him to further say that Jordan was merely the best scorer ever and not the most complete player, especially defensively, officially put him as a member in crazy town.
And that still wasn’t the worst of it.
He went on to say that Jordan didn’t get the rest of the team involved consistently like James. Again, what was Pippen thinking when he said that?
Early in his career, having already proven he could lead the league year after year in scoring and knowing he needed help if he was ever going to hoist at least one Larry O’Brien trophy, Jordan made a concerted effort to get every member of the Bulls, especially Pippen involved on the offensive end.
The result was the first of six NBA titles in 1991. Jordan spread the wealth to Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright and John Paxson, and Chicago put a thorough beating on the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers.
Has James done that? In his first appearance in the NBA Finals in 2007, he and the Cleveland Cavaliers were easily swept by San Antonio … that never happened to a Jordan-led squad.
You know, for whatever reason, every generation places the “best ever” title on one athlete from each sport. As the generations progress and manifest new ones, the greatness of the same athlete who was once put on a pedestal starts to fade and soon gets pushed aside by a new breed of player.
Jordan was so good, that even while he was still playing there were those out there looking to call some up-and-coming kid “the next Jordan.” Is anyone out there saying some kid could be “the next LeBron James?”
No. He doesn’t have the “it” factor that Jordan brought to the game. MJ transcended basketball like no one had done before him and no one has been able to do since he hung ‘em up for good in 2003.
How did Pippen forget so quickly how good he had it as Jordan’s righthand man? MJ never ran from a challenge. He stood up for his teammates in the heat of competition. He stared down the bully on the block. When the lights were at their brightest, he was brighter.
What Pippen said, I’ll never be able to wrap my head around it.