I love NBA basketball. I spent significant portions of each day reading about NBA basketball, listening to podcasts about NBA basketball, and watching NBA basketball. Sometimes I even put together some words about NBA basketball myself. And sometimes I ask myself: Are you spending too much time on NBA basketball?
Then I think back to when I first got a Facebook account, I guess it was only about five years ago. I entered one of the biggest NBA groups I could find — and what I saw there I couldn’t believe. Let me emphasize at this point I’m not what you’d consider a digital native. And I never even dared to enter the NBA bubble on Twitter, not even “Spurs Twitter”. That, to me, is only a term. I have never experienced it myself. And I intend to keep it that way. But back to my experience on Facebook, which made me realize I don’t spend too much time on the NBA. (Because I found worse examples than myself.)
There are a few players, or former players, who have voluntary PR armies on social media that appear to have dedicated their lives to post conclusive evidence about why player X is the GOAT and not player Y. Or vice versa. And then there’s at least an equal number of voluntary PR agents on social media that want to convince you, if it’s the last thing they do, that neither player X nor player Y is the GOAT, but player Z instead. My experience in that Facebook group ended abruptly. I decided post something myself. It read: “Advanced metrics – useful tools for player evaluation, or instruments created to discredit player Z”. I got kicked out immediately.
It’s a good thing I got kicked out. Because, frankly, I don’t want to be part of a bubble that is taking the game hostage for a GOAT discussion that feeds on itself and will never conclude. The most important thing to me is always the next game. Still, there’s no way denying that a considerable part of the NBA is just plain narrative. And as much as player X was probably the greatest basketball player ever, his name is Michael Jordan by the way, that guy is also a master in creating narrative. You don’t have to have watched “The Last Dance” to be able to tell. I never have, by the way. But I witnessed the media reaction to it. And it was massive. In a sense, it still is.
But basketball is still a game of five against five. And you probably don’t get to be the greatest player of all time if you haven’t got any team mates that aren’t great as well.
I know many of us Pounders have little love form him, but I think Charles Barkley had a point in the legendary Oprah Winfrey head-to-head between him and Jordan:
Barkley said: “‘How many rings you got?’ He [Jordan] always throws that up at me. I mean, I wasn’t the one lucky enough to play with Scottie Pippen. If I had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, I would have wo some, too.”
To which Jordan said: “So you didn’t like your team mates?”
And then Barkley said: “I loved my team mates, they just weren’t as good as Scottie and Dennis.”
Be that as it may. The Oprah head-to-head was a long, long time ago. But you can count on Jordan as a keeper of his legacy. The most recent case in point was “The Last Dance”. And the repercussions to that can be felt as I write this.
Earlier this week, GQ published an excerpt of Pippen’s upcoming memoir “Unguarded”, in which he criticizes “The Last Dance” as follows: “They glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates.” The media headlines to the GQ report most of the time featured Pippen’s quote: “I was only a prop.”
Let’s be realistic here, in the end “The Last Dance” has given Pippen a nice opportunity to cash in himself. And that’s what he does.
Still, the headlines about his memoir made me proud to be a Spurs fan. And you know why? Because it’s hard to image, very hard to imagine, that we are ever going to see either Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker come with a quote like “I was only a prop.”
For Tony, the case is rather simple why he won’t: He was Finals MVP in 2007, and deservedly so.
It’s a bit different with Manu. Considering he sacrificed superstar credentials coming off the bench for major parts of his career, he could easily complain about being sidelined. But I guess he won’t. Not only because Manu is Manu. But also, to name an example that stuck with me, because how a certain Tim Duncan spoke about him after the championship in 2005.
Duncan had been in the league for eight years then. Eight years that saw him win three rings, three Finals MVPs and two regular season MVPs. You could legitimately call him the best basketball player on the planet. And the legitimately best basketball player on the planet had this to say about Manu, who was a close second in terms of Finals MVP that year.
“I don’t even think we’ve scratched the surface of him. He’s going to continue to grow, and we’re going to continue to grow around him.”
Can you imagine Jordan saying this about anyone else on the planet? I can’t.
But what’s more important to me, if it were possible to trade the six championships the Bulls won with Jordan for the five the Spurs won with Duncan, so Duncan’s Spurs would have three-peated twice in the 90s, I wouldn’t do it.
Here’s why: Success is what I want as a fan. But culture is what I need. Timmy gave both us.