Long ago in a distant land, Alex Arnon was watching a Kings/Suns preseason game when he became so furiously enraged at a Tyreke Evans double-teamed isolation jumper with 19 seconds on the shot clock that he hit his head, fainted, and woke up a delusional new man. To my understanding, he's now wholly ensconced in a bizarro world where some guy named Xenu created the Earth, Segways changed the very core of how people get around, and small markets make up the vast majority of NBA coverage and traffic. So just remember the motto we've provided our cracked-skull columnist: "No superstars? No problem!"
Good morning, small marketeers! I hope you all enjoyed your New Year's celebrations. Today I come to you with a simple request for the year -- remember the legends of the game. Far too often we consider our generation's greatest to be the greatest ever when the small market way of life would be to simply respect the all-time greats. It's impossible to know who the greatest of all time truly is due to the ever-changing rules of the game, evolving training methods, and differing strategies. All of the greats hang up their jerseys knowing that they'll be forgotten by the annals of history, left out of everyone's favorite moments. And because of this, in an odd way, the decision for a player to retire from the NBA is somewhat like the decision to end a relationship.
You see, the worst part about a break-up is knowing you'll be forgotten soon enough, thanks to the sands of time or a replacement coming into that person's life. Perhaps that replacement isn't as objectively good as you once were, but to the person in love -- the person who used to be in love with you -- that new person is their everything. Hell, even if they know deep down that this new person isn't as good a fit for them, at least that person is actually there in the here and now. They're a tangible object as opposed to a distant memory. And who can trust memories anyways? They're always these wispy, fragile things floating around your head subject to change on every emotional whim. Sure, the best times and the worst times stand out for as long as they can be remembered. But that constant day-in, day-out support and love and just being there for the person is the first thing to be forgotten.
And so it goes for the greats of time immemorial. It's easy to remember the things like small market superstar David Robinson's 71 point game and his season-ending injury but forget that he averaged over 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game for 7 straight seasons. Moses Malone's fo' fo' fo' declaration will live on forever in basketball history, but what about his nearly 25 points/18 rebounds per game averages in 1978-79 with Houston, a feat that hasn't come close to being replicated since? Kareem has the all-time scoring record, but how about his 34 point/16 rebound average with the Bucks in 1971-1972? Adrian Dantley put up nearly 31 points a night along with 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the Jazz in 1982-83... as a 6'5" power forward. They weren't just flashes in the pan to be defined by their highest moments. These stars made their bread the same way today's lunch-pail players make theirs -- they show up. They're just there.
My point here is that there's a lot of nuance which gets left behind in the debate to find the greatest ever. We have a habit of overrating the stars of our generation, the ones we came of age with like an unforgotten high school love a la Michael Jordan or the ones we get to see ply their craft on prime-time each and every night like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. We'll never know who was truly the best and that's alright. There's been so many amazingly talented players. It's a certainty that someone better will come along, just as someone better will come along after that new GOAT has retired. Your children are going to proclaim their generation's superstar to be better than Michael Jordan and we're going to put up the counter-argument of it being a different era just as the elders who proclaim Bill Russell the greatest ever do today. So I propose this -- let's stop trying to figure this out. Let's remember all the greats for just how phenomenal they were on such a lengthy timeline instead of remembering them as "that guy who's only the 5th best power forward of all time". Let's stop being obsessed with rankings and arguments and focusing on just a few players at the top. Let's learn our history, respect everyone's game, and marvel at just how separately talented two players can be while playing the same sport.
And most of all, let's respect our elders. Continue reading