The NBA world has turned their attention to the city of Charlotte as All-Star Weekend has arrived. All-Star Weekend is always a time where fans can turn their attention away from whatever their team is doing or the latest trade deadline drama to celebrate, and appreciate the players.
But two legends of the game this past week have decided to shine the light away from the current era of superstars and have focused the bright light back on themselves and their era, as if being on one of the greatest NBA teams of all time and being among the 50 greatest players wasn’t blinding enough as it is.
The Ultimate Competitor…After the Game
We’ve always known Michael Jordan as the ultimate competitor. It is after all what made him great and the reason he has more championship hardware than a large population of the league players combined.
But hanging up one’s sneakers, you would think the need for validation and competition would stop. But Jordan was the one that decided to make his Basketball Hall-of-Fame speech about the people that doubted or wronged him instead of the people the helped and supported him.
So when he was asked during a news conference he held about All-Star Weekend recently about the feats of Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden, he gave the players credit and talked about it showing progression in the league before turning the light once again on himself in what seemed like a half-joking manner.
“Which is harder from the player’s standpoint? Six championships by all means,” Jordan quipped about his own accomplishment.
As the majority owner of the team hosting the All-Star Weekend festivities, Jordan has the unique opportunity to make sure the current era of NBA players get the spotlight.
But that may be hard given that Jordan’s former teammate, Scottie Pippen is trying to compare Jordan to today’s players, and most notably All-Star LeBron James.
On ESPN’s First Take last week, he talked about James not having the instinct that Jordan had.
“When I look at LeBron, he’s not what Michael was as a player. He’s not even what Kobe Bryant was as a player,” Pippen said. “So, when you talk about trying to compare Michael’s instinct, his ability to take over games, his ability to want to have the last shot, LeBron doesn’t have that gene. That’s not in him. “
The topic is tired, so why not let it rest? These are players from two different eras and comparing them does nothing but take away from both of them.
Getting the Memo
Early on in my writing career, I interviewed San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili when he was first signed by the team prior to the 2002-2003 season. Manu had been called the Italian Kobe Bryant, even though he wasn’t Italian, but he was always compared to the Lakers superstar.
I asked him about always being compared to Bryant and being called another country’s version of him and how now he would have a chance to have his own identity in the NBA. I remember him saying that comparisons were not kind. It wasn’t that Ginobili wasn’t honored by being compared to Kobe. He made that much clear. But comparisons can also pigeon hole that player, put a lot of pressure on them and not allow them to become known as an individual and for their own accomplishments.
For most of James’ career, he’s been compared to Michael Jordan. Think of the pressure of coming into the league as an 18-year-old and then everyone expecting you to shoulder that load of being the next GOAT as a kid. James has always said that he is his own player and 15 years later, Scottie Pippen, media and fans still have not gotten the memo.
If one thing is important this weekend, as we likely see the last time that Drik Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade play in an All-Star game, it’s to enjoy the current players for who they are.
Enjoy James Harden for the ridiculousness he brings on a nightly basis and for the countless step-back jumpers he shoots tomorrow night. Appreciate Russell Westbrook for being the triple-double machine he is even if you may not love his shot selection because that’s part of what makes him uniquely Russell Westbrook.
And hang onto these memories of prime LeBron, because Father Time is undefeated in this game, and James, like Jordan before him, won’t be around forever.