Nobody knows exactly why, but former Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen decided to state publicly last week that Miami Heat forward LeBron James “may be the greatest player to ever play the game.”
Of course, that comment was taken by virtually everyone as a snub on legendary Bulls guard Michael Jordan, and rightfully so.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson, one of the league’s all-time greatest players, became the latest to take sides against Pippen’s statement publicly.
“I have tried not to comment on what Scottie Pippen said,” Johnson wrote in a message on Twitter. “But Michael is the greatest ever – point blank.”
Johnson’s voice gets added to a chorus of those disagreeing with Pippen, as the response to his comments came fast and strong.
Former Bulls forward Horace Grant, teammate of Jordan and Pippen, came to Jordan’s defense, saying that he “totally disagree[d]” with Pippen and that Jordan was “the best basketball player to ever play the game.”
Former Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas jumped into the mix too, stating that James has a chance of eclipsing Jordan but that he isn’t there yet.
James himself said that he had “a long way” to go to be mentioned among basketball’s greats.
Look there is no debate here. Jordan is the greatest of all time.
But Johnson’s words do carry a special weight, though, because his prime predates Jordan’s prime. In the zoomed-out narrative of the NBA, the Larry Bird / Magic Johnson era gives way to the Michael Jordan era. Yes, Jordan and Johnson were colleagues — the Bulls beat the Lakers in the 1991 Finals, of course — but Johnson is inarguably Jordan’s elder from a historical standpoint.
Whenever these debates come up, players invariably favor their idols or the guys that came before them. If not that, then they favor their fiercest competitors or the players whom they could never defeat. Rarely do they favor the players that came after them. It’s a difficult mental proposition for someone that stood atop the game to reconcile the idea that someone younger than him could be better.
But that’s the power of Jordan’s greatness. It doesn’t matter if you played before him, against him, after him or all of the above. He was the greatest that you ever saw, at least if you’re thinking straight and remembering things accurately. Who knows what Pippen’s excuse is.