Monday, December 15, 2014

Comparing Players Can Be Fun ... But It's Useless

Sports, by nature, is competition.  Teams and athletes compete to see who is better.  In most cases, we get a winner and a loser.  In a world filled with gray, sports is pretty black and white.

When we start comparing players off the field, we get into a tough debate.  While it is usually fun to say this person is better than that one, it is just wasted time and energy.  Sometimes it can distract everyone from the greatness of both.

Kobe Bryant just passed Michael Jordan in career scoring.  That fact re-opened a decade-plus long debate about who is better.  To most, Jordan easily bests Bryant.  He won more titles, didn't lose any Finals, won more MVPs, more scoring titles, more efficient and was a better teammate.  Ah, but Kobe fans can say that he went to more Finals, was a better shooter, hit more game-winners and dumped 81 points in a game.  And the argument begins.

Like politics, debaters tend to belittle the other side rather than just place their accomplishments on the table.  Both are great.  Both are among the best in NBA history.  Instead of saying Kobe Bryant hasn't reached the level Michael Jordan has somehow suggests his career was a failure.  How can that be when his career is likely better than nearly everyone else who ever stepped on an NBA court?

Whoops.  I made a comparison.

How about we just enjoy these players?  Why not enjoy Peyton Manning instead of wondering why he doesn't have more than one ring?  Why not enjoy Clayton Kershaw, Sidney Crosby, Mike Trout, Andrew Luck or LeBron James instead of saying they aren't as good as Sandy Kofax, Mario Lemieux, Ted Williams, Tom Brady or Jordan?  You're missing out.

When Tiger Woods was dominating golf, we enjoyed it.  We knew we were in the presence of greatness and what we were watching was excellence in that sport.  People must have felt the same way about Babe Ruth or Wilt Chamberlain or Muhammad Ali or Pele or Wayne Gretzky.  Like Jordan, those are the athletes in which we hold all others against.  

To say that Kobe's 19-year career was un-fulfilling to you because he wasn't Jordan really misses the point.  In your lifetime, you only get to see a handful of the truly greats.  I never saw Ruth, DiMaggio, Chamberlain, Russell, Jim Brown, Ali, Orr, Baugh, Owens or Aaron.  I have seen Bonds, Manning, Payton, Rice, Gretzky, Magic, Jordan, Woods, Federer, Williams sisters and, yes, Kobe.

Soon, there will no longer be a Kobe Bryant to watch play outside of old game footage, statistics and stories.  Stories some old guy like me will be telling when arguing that he was better than the next great player.

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