Thursday, May 18, 2006

Subject: LeBron, Jordan

----- Original Message -----

From: scott denny
Sent: Thursday, May 18, 2006 11:55 AM
Subject: LeBron, Jordan

Dear Lawrence:

Though this is difficult because you seem like a good man but I do have to gently scold you for writing an article about basketball greats and not mentioning....Bill Russell. Or Kareem? Oscar is in the pantheon of greats certainly and it was Kareem himself who felt that Oscar was greatest player ever, which supports your theory. But having played this game from Mexico to Alaska, some coaching and just your general bball nut I would have to go with Magic and Russell as the greatest players ever simply because I think they both got the game on a deeper, more metaphysical level than Oscar. I think it boils down to personalities, not talent. I don't think anyone had more talent than Oscar (Of course, David Thompson was also a transcendental talent but was felled by cocaine).

Russell's will to win and understanding of the talents of his teammates and what served them best was remarkable. Just about everything he did was about sacrificing for his teammates and since he was a defensive genius and master, he allowed them to take incredible chances. Magic, too had the deep ability to pull different players with large egos into a team. Unfortunately, he is not recognized for being a master of the subtle. The way he would lure a player into a trap, reposition a player on the offensive set, or make a steal when switching off his man. But his enthusiasm and involvement with his teammates success is what separates his from Oscar, in my humble opinion. Magic, almost an archetypal mother figure, is involved from beginning to end, small to large. I always felt Oscar a great artist, yet a little distant from his teammates and sometimes even himself. Russell was much more of the father figure, and with his goatee, maybe even a little biblical. He struck fear into the opposing players: blocking, altering their shots, disrupting their flow.

I know Oscar never played with players that had the same caliber of talent that Russell or Magic had. The Cincinnati Royals never really struck fear into anybody's hearts. But a long past his prime Oscar still won a title with Kareem at Milwaukee and one can only guess what he would have accomplished if he had played with great players in his peak years. As for LeBron, he's quite the man and you've got to remember that most players take time to become great outside shooters. LeBron will get better at it, trust me. My gripe against Jordan was that the Bulls never beat a great team, instead waiting for all the great 80's team to get old and worn out. Portland, Utah, and Phoenix do not constitute greatness. They beat a Laker team with a fading Worthy, Kareem retired and Magic worn out. That was the greatest season I ever saw a player have, you would of had to watch the entire season to appreciate it. He was coaching, rebounding, covering every player's ass all the time. I mean seriously, the '91 team he took to the finals looked like a mediocre college team when he went to the bench. Chicago knew it and just flooded him with pressing, fresh younger players like Pippen and Jordan and Ron Harper always coming at him. But I never saw a player expend more energy to make a mediocre team finals caliber.

Anyway Lawrence, you make a great case for Oscar but I feel that if you asked the players from that period who would they choose going into a 7th game, Oscar Robertson or Bill Russell, that they would have chosen Russell. He just had that will, that undefinable strength that knew how to win, understood the structure of it that not even Oscar had. That Wilt didn't have either. As Red Auerbach once said " If it was up me I'd pay a guy's salary by what I saw in his eyes." The greatest, in the end, transcend statistics. But that's just my two cents.

Thanks for the great article, the beauty of course, is that in sports discussions no one is ever right or wrong. The players we're talking about are unbelievable athletes. In fact, I read Oscar actually averaged a triple double over three seasons, if his stats were totaled. Which just seems impossible. Maybe you are right!


Scott Denny

PS Read where Wilt said Meadowlark Lemon was the greatest player he ever competed against. He said you couldn't stop him from doing whatever he wanted. I guess we all have our favorites.