Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Waiting for the Weekend: Back from the Abyss

Posted on June 09, 2017 by Dean Hybl
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant each have been in the conversation about the greatest player in NBA history.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant each have been in the conversation about the greatest player in NBA history.

When I started Sports Then and Now in 2009, one of the regular features of the site was a weekly Friday column in which I took a more in-depth look at a couple hot button topics in the world of sports. You may remember that in 2009 the country was struggling with unemployment at a level unseen for many years and I, like many others, was facing a time of being under-employed and had a bit more time to share my perspective about the world of sports.

Fortunately, my battle with under-employment was short lived and now as a country our unemployment levels are at all-time lows. While I have managed to find the time to continue Sports Then and Now as a web site, I have not had the same level of time to focus on the site as I did in 2009. Though I have been fortunate to have some quality articles written either by myself or in many cases other talented writers to keep the site going, things like my weekly Friday column became a victim of my busy life that not only includes a full-time job, but two kids and right now multiple youth sports coaching gigs.

However, I recently decided that I miss having a weekly platform to share some of my musings about sports. While I admit I may have a greater affinity for my work than deserved, I hope that my nearly 50 years as a sports fan as well as my training as a journalist makes my efforts at least somewhat entertaining.

Regardless, I have decided that beginning with this week, it is time to bring “Waiting for the Weekend” back after a seven year “sabbatical.” I promise to weekly give some thoughts and ideas about the current happenings in the world of sports, tie them to sports history when I can, and make them as entertaining as my talents allow.

So, without further delay, here we go:

Is LeBron the Greatest Ever? Does it Matter?: Even though it appears that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to fall short of a second consecutive NBA Title, the fact that LeBron is appearing in the NBA Finals for the seventh straight season has necessitated the obligatory discussions about whether he is the greatest player in NBA history.

While I have my own opinions regarding LeBron’s historical status as well as the current talent level of the NBA, the question I have for anyone who fuels the discussion is why does it matter? When I was a kid we heard stories about the greatest from the early generations of NBA history including George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson. In the 1970s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving ruled the day. In the 1980s it was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The 1990s were dominated by Michael Jordan with Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Karl Malone among those earning honorable mention. In the 2000s it was Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal ruling the land before LeBron took over.

The point is that regardless of what generation you connect with, there were NBA players who stood out above the crowd and were the best of that era.

Just given the physical evolution of the game and the methods of physical fitness, there is no question that LeBron James has a level of physical ability and skill that is unmatched in basketball history. However, that doesn’t necessarily make him the greatest player ever or conversely ensure that he isn’t the greatest of all-time.

Though by the time I was old enough to follow the NBA Wilt Chamberlain was better known for making car commercials with jockey Willie Shoemaker than he was for his basketball dominance, during his peak, Chamberlain was as dominant in terms of physical ability and skills as Jordan in the 1990s or LeBron today.

However, some would argue that because Bill Russell and a Boston Celtics roster filled with stars routinely kept Chamberlain from winning a title, Russell was better and Chamberlain was flawed.

Similar arguments are being made now since LeBron has been able to win “only” three NBA titles and has needed other quality players around him to win those and thus isn’t in the same league as Michael Jordan.

Now, you can certainly argue that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh or Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were better supporting players for LeBron than Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman were for Michael, but I think that is like arguing which is a better means of transportation, a skateboard or a scooter. Each has merit, but also some drawbacks.

In reality, comparing generations, supporting casts and levels of competition is a rabbit hole discussion. There are so many variables associated with each era and component that it is basically impossible to definitively conclude that one specific player is the “greatest of all time”.

Remembering with fondness watching Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Dr. J and Michael Jordan during my childhood and now seeing my son enjoy watching LeBron, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and others, I have come to realize that for those who love the game, every era is a golden era. Therefore, there is no positive value in disparaging or dissecting the play of one player or era just to prove that the era you are most fond of was better.

Just as many who grew up watching Michael will forever consider him the “best ever”, those who grew up watching LeBron will be making the same claim for him in 20 years when there is another great star breaking records and making unbelievable plays.

My suggestion is instead of worrying about who is the all-time best, just enjoy the great play of LeBron and the other stars of today. They are all special and fun to watch.

Birthdays: As part of Waiting for the Weekend we recognize some of the greats of sports history born during the week. The week of June 9-15 is filled with some notable births including a couple of the first NFL stars, legendary coaches of both men’s and women’s sports, two of the great quarterbacks of all-time, a women’s tennis legend and two notable sports announcers.

June 9 – Bill Virdon (1931), Dick Vitale (1940), Dave Parker (1951), Wayman Tisdale (1964)

June 10 – Ken Singleton (1947), Dan Fouts (1951), Pokey Reese (1973)

June 11 – Ernie Nevers (1903), Vince Lombardi (1913), Jackie Stewart (1939), Gary Fencik (1954), Joe Montana (1956)

June 12 – Marv Albert (1941), Kevin Turner (1969), Ryan Klesko (1971), Hideki Matsui (1974), Dallas Clark (1979)

June 13 – Red Grange (1903), Don Budge (1915), Valeri Bure (1974)

June 14 – Don Newcombe (1926), Pat Summitt (1952), Vince Evans (1955), Eric Heiden (1958), Sam Perkins (1961), Steffi Graf (1969)

June 15 – Billy Williams (1938), Dusty Baker (1949), Lance Parrish (1956), Brett Butler (1957), Tim Lincecum (1984)

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