Tag Archives: Isiah Thomas

Well, this stinks.  Two months of quarantining were largely made tolerable by having new episodes of The Last Dance to look forward to.  And now that’s over.

My social life is pretty sad during regular times, and it’s even sadder during a quarantine.  During regular times, a major part of my socializing is watching basketball with friends and talking about basketball with friends.  That remained true during the quarantine, even without live basketball to watch.  My text messages would be most active on Sunday evenings into Monday, with chatter about the current episodes.

Now that the documentary is over, and there’s no end of the quarantine on the immediate horizon, the outlook is grim for my social life.  I might as well try to extend the discussion by posting my thoughts about the documentary and the discussion it generated, and hope it motivates a few people to communicate with me.

After watching all 10 episodes of the documentary, discussing lots of it with my friends, and spending too much time on Twitter reading what strangers were saying about it, my main thought… is about Carmen Electra.

Actually, strike that.  I should stick to basketball. I’ll try again.

Basketball, basketball, basketball. You know who must have been really good at basketball? Carmen Electra must have been really good at basketball.  In 1998,  Dennis Rodman’s productivity was slipping, then he spent a few days in the middle of the season in Las Vegas with Carmen, and he came back an improved basketball player.  Stands to reason that she’s great at basketball, and they got some quality practice time together while in Vegas.  Right?

Uhhh…. You know what?  Let’s forget about Carmen Electra altogether, and move on to other topics.

My main thought, after watching the documentary, discussing the documentary, listening to commentary about the documentary, and reading about the documentary, is that Scottie Pippen has become extremely over-rated.

Yeah, I said it.  OVERrated.

I keep hearing that Scottie Pippen was under-rated. For the life of me, I don’t understand where the people who make this claim think Scottie Pippen is rated. Back when the NBA “turned 50,” it recognized 50 players as the best 50 to have ever played.  Pippen was among the top 50. Bill Simmons is the one person alive who has devoted years to creating a system for ranking the best NBA players throughout history, and then actually ranking them.  He has Pippen at #28.  Just this month, ESPN pulled together a list of the top 100.  They have Pippen at 21.

21?!?!  That’s insane.  Even 28 is pushing it.

Each of those rankings puts Pippen ahead of Dwyane Wade. (Simmons had Wade at 53 when he published his book in 2009, and Wade’s not one of the guys Simmons bumped ahead of Pippen as of April 2020. ESPN puts Wade at 26.) ESPN has Isiah at 31, and Barkley at 23.

The fundamental mistake these rankings make is that they overvalue rings achieved as the second-best player on a team, and they undervalue the immense achievement of making a bad team competitive, or of leading a team to a title even just one time.  In the ’02-03 season, Miami was 25-57. Then they drafted Wade, and they made the playoffs in 10 of the next 12 seasons, including 3 championships. Some people pretend there’s a question about who was the best player on their ’06 championship team between Wade and Shaq, but Wade averaged 27 points in 38 Minutes Per Game that season, while Shaq averaged 20 points in 30 Minutes Per Game. There’s no question – Wade was the top player on that team.

Isiah’s even better.  In the 1980-81 season, the Pistons were 21-61. Then they drafted Isiah, and made the playoffs every year from 1984 – 1992, including two championships and one additional Finals appearance.

Pippen never joined a bad team and made them good.  He can’t be blamed for that; it’s not his fault that he joined a team that already had MJ.  But, it’s not like he played his entire career on MJ’s team.  In 1994, he was the best player on a Bulls team that lost in the second round.  In 1995, he was the best player on a Bulls team that was 34-31 when Jordan announced he was coming out of retirement.  Pippen then spent 5 more years in the league (disregarding his ceremonial final season on the Bulls), and never made The Finals. His best team achievement without MJ was making the Conference Finals once, and his best statistical season without MJ was 93-94, when he averaged 22 points, 6 assists, and 9 rebounds.

Pippen was a phenomenal player, no question about it.  If I really took the time to rank everyone, I’d probably put him between 30 and 35. But to rank as Top 25 of all time, shouldn’t you have a track record of making a bad team good, or at least of being the best player on a Finals team if not on a championship team? A whole bunch of phenomenal players achieved at least one of those things, and I don’t see how Pippen’s achievements jump him ahead of those players.

There’s much more to say about this, but I doubt any of the three of you are still reading.  Stay safe, hoopservers.

1 Comment:

  • Joshua Sipkin

    Pippen is underrated because his name and game will forever be automatically associated with Jordan. It is fair to say that’s an unfair disadvantage to him when discussing his individual talents and accomplishments. Pippen was great. GREAT. No, he didn’t win without the best ever on his team but, the best ever didn’t win any titles without Pippen on his team.

Leave a Comment:

When LeBron came into the league, I wanted to watch him chase greatness.  Really, I did.

I’d be dishonest if I said that I actively rooted for him to surpass Magic, Michael, and Larry, but I  certainly wanted to watch him try.  Watching historic greatness is one of the most fun things for a basketball fan to do.  Fans of different generations have the guys whom they defend in arguments about who was the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time, for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym).  I already got to watch Michael, and I was interested to see what the Next Big Thing did.

I wasn’t sure I liked him – his “Chosen 1” tattoo is kind of obnoxious, as far as I’m concerned – but I was willing to reserve judgment until I saw how he handled the difficult moments. To me, that’s the true test of greatness – how one handles the difficult moments.

After watching his career in Cleveland, I felt like he was a disappointment.  It’s not that he did anything wrong, in fact, he was phenomenal.  It’s just that he didn’t live up to the hype.  (To be fair, I don’t know that anyone could have.)  True greatness, the type that puts someone among the top-10 players ever, manifests itself consistently, with hardly any deviation.  It does not manifest itself in magnificent bursts, followed by disappointing disappearances.  That’s why LeBron’s career in Cleveland – capped by his incomprehensible performance last year in Boston during the playoffs – left me feeling like he failed to live up to the hype.

In any event, by the time the off-season rolled around, that was water under the bridge, and the questions shifted from LeBron’s past to his future.  He stood at a fork in the road, with a decision to make.  (You might have heard about it.  It had its own TV show, called The Decision.)  One path was The Easy Way Out, and the other was The Path To Greatness.  He was perfectly within his rights to choose either one, so all of the LeBron defenders who tell me that it’s a free country, and we all get to choose where we want to work, can spare me. I’m not saying he didn’t have the right to make The Decision he made.  I’m saying that his Decision, like all decisions, has consequences.  And the consequence should be that he took himself out of the debate about who’s the G.O.A.T.  He might win a championship, but he’s out of the running for The Crown, The Heavyweight Championship, The Top Spot On The Totem Pole.

Rather than try to elaborate with my own words, I resort, as I often do when explaining something important, to the wisdom of Yoda.  (Admittedly, I’m too angry right now to claim to be following all of Yoda’s words.  But whatever.  LeBron’s the one who tattooed “Chosen 1” on his body.  I’m just a fat guy sitting at a keyboard.  Nobody is mistaking me for a Jedi Knight, or for one of the greatest basketball players of all time.)

Yoda knew that The Easy Way Out is not The Path To Greatness.  He explained it to Luke in the following dialogue:

Yoda: Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

Luke: Vader… Is the dark side stronger?

Yoda : No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

Quoting Yoda is appropriate, because, watching the Heat march through the playoffs this year, I think often of the scene in Star Wars when Obi-Wan and Anakin battle.  Anakin embodies LeBron; the talented young Chosen One, who does not want to pay his dues to earn the glory he thinks he deserves.  Obi-Wan embodies the great players who came before LeBron.  Each of them resisted the path that tempted LeBron (Ewing never ran to Utah to play with Stockton and Malone, Barkley never ran to Detroit to play with Isiah and Dumars, etc., etc., etc.)

Here’s a link to a video of the battle.  (If you’re not interested in lightsaber fights, you should skip to 5:30, when the important dialogue begins, or, if you’re really antsy, to about 6:50, which is right before Obi-Wan cries out “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!!!!!)

Is comparing him to Darth Vader too harsh?  Maybe.  But he’s the one who got a tattoo that says “Chosen 1,” and then took The Easy Way Out, so he essentially invited a comparison to Anakin Skywalker.  Don’t blame me.

Whether it’s  too harsh or not, the bottom line is that LeBron’s Decision (you know, the one that had its own tv show) can destroy the game.  Now that a precedent has been set that joining up with a team that’s already set to contend for a title can be a legitimate way for a potential G.O.A.T. to boost his legacy, the future of the game has been put at risk.  Competition is the very essence of the game we love, and if it becomes possible to achieve the perception of greatness while ducking competition, well… then we gots problems.

To illustrate, ask yourself: what should Chris Paul do when he becomes a free agent?  What should Dwight Howard do?  What if they don’t want to take the Easy Way Out, but they also don’t want to be martyrs, who, just for the sake of courage, spend their careers without a legitimate chance to win a title?  Because of The Decision (I don’t know whether you heard about it – it had its own tv show), they have little choice.  Even superstars who want to take the Path To Greatness see that the obstacles on that road are now more daunting than they used to be.  Cowardice now seems like the only way for a superstar to wind up on a contender.

The game is now heading for a future where 3 or 4 teams have clusters of stars, and the rest of the teams in the NBA have no shot at competing.  In other words, the game is serious trouble.  All because The Chosen One selfishly made a Decision to take The Easy Way Out.

Thankfully, all is not lost.  LeBron has chosen the Dark Side, and his march to a championship continues, but there are still two ways for the game we love to be saved.  The first way involves we fans saving it from the selfish Chosen One.  We fans are the ones who control the legacies of the people who play the game, which means that we have control to ensure that cowardice is not rewarded.  To do so, we must pay close attention, because it is sometimes hard to perceive the difference between The Easy Way Out and the Path To Greatness.  On both roads, one needs help from teammates to reach the end.  On both roads, one can accomplish extraordinary things.  The difference is that, on The Easy Way  Out, there are places to rest, and have your teammates carry you closer to the finish line.  On The Path To Greatness, there is no rest.

Having chosen The Easy Way Out, LeBron now gets to rest.  He now winds up in the NBA Finals after having two playoff games of 15 points, and one of 16 points.  These are the types of things that happen while traveling The Easy Way Out, but not The Path To Greatness.  We fans must keep this in mind, and not treat him as one of the top-10 players ever.  Then, hopefully, the other superstars who will one day stand at a fork in the road will have the courage to avoid the path that the Chosen One selected.

The second way to save the game we love is for the Chosen One to lose.  As Yoda said: “”Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader.  I know it is a challenge, young Jedi, for Vader is very powerful, and he has surrounded himself with a roster of teammates who were capable of competing for a championship without him.  If you end your training now, young Jedi – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.  Because, unlike Vader, young Jedi, you do not have teammates who can carry you when you are weary.  If you rest for even a moment, young Jedi, you will allow Vader to win.  So, listen to me, Dirk, and continue to train.  Then go drop 50 on his cowardly butt, and you can save your game from destruction.”

1 Comment:

  • Enlighted One

    Wow. That is a lot of Hate!!! You definitely would be nominated for Hater of the year at the Hater’s Ball (DC Show ref).

    That being said, did Magic play with Kareem and Worthy? Didn’t Clyde Drexler and some others team up with Hakeem to win. Also didn’t Malone and Payton team up with Shaq and Kobe to win a championship. Shaq played with Kobe (arguably both could be considered in the top 5 to ever play the game). Jordan and Pippen were nominated in the 50 best players ever and Jordan is arguably the best to ever play. For all the hate that everyone has against Lebron for choosing who he works with it, it sums up to jealousy. Last night Van Gundy stated this and he made a great point.

    Lebron should be applauded and emulated. Lets look at some of the positives he has done verse others in our beloved sport – he actively sought out Warren Buffet. He took the power of making his professional life more fulfilling. Don’t we all do this when we search for a new job or career. He has two kids with the same woman and has never been accused of negative or illegal activities. So far he has embraced being a role model. He plays team first basketball – what he loves passing – the horror. He loves playing defense – don’t follow that habit.

    I hope Lebron wins, dances, and then Miami throws a party even more out there then their intro party. When this happens you will see me in the middle of it. Don’t hate because our game is captivating and beautiful to watch.

Leave a Comment: