Over the past couple of years, it seems some of Michael Jordan's old running buddies have grown too big for their britches and have developed a hobby of questioning his greatness. From Scottie Pippen's 2011 ESPN Radio declaration that LeBron James will end up being the greatest player in NBA history, to Charles Barkley saying MJ was a bad owner in 2012, critics of His Airness have been holding their tongues no longer.
While his record in the team ownership arena is full of blemishes and deserves the scrutiny it receives, his contributions to basketball are undeniable, and his playing career is flawless (shhh...we don't talk about his days as a Washington Wizard).
Finally, someone from Jordan's era has stood up to defend the 50-year-old Hall of Famer's legacy. His name...Horace Grant.
Grant, who now works as an NBA ambassador, was on hand in Rio de Janeiro, awaiting the Bulls-Wizards (shh...) exhibition game. In an interview showcased in the Chicago Tribune this weekend, Grant opened up about the many Jordan comparisons running rampant in the NBA today.
When asked about former teammate Scottie Pippen's comments about LeBron James ending his career as the greatest player ever, Grant stated:
“LeBron has many years to play, and Scottie was really drinking that day when he said that,” Grant said, drawing laughter. “You can't compare anybody to Michael. You can compare, but Michael is the best player I've ever seen or ever played against. Not taking anything away from Kobe (Bryant) or LeBron or Carmelo (Anthony) or even D-Rose, but wait until those guys get through playing. Then you can say compare the two careers.”
When asked whether or not Jordan could compete in today's game filled with unbelievable athletes:
“No, you can't compare (eras),” he added, now laughing. “The rules have changed so much from our days and the Heat's days. It was more physical back then. Today you can run around without getting touched. Today, Michael Jordan would average about 45 points.”
My favorite response came when Grant was asked what would be the outcome if the championship teams he played on with Jordan and Pippen played the reigning NBA champions, the Miami Heat:
“We would have kicked their asses.”
Grant's comments could have the accusation of being clouded with nostalgia and favoritism, but I, for one, think he is correct. The game of professional basketball has changed drastically. Physical play is now a punishable offense and "flopping" is now rewarded.
Big men can no longer live in the paint, they must lease property on the perimeter. Coaches were applauded for devising game plans to punish an opposing team's star player and are now fined for resting their own star players during the back-end of lengthy road trips.
The moral to Grant's story: stop creating arguments structured on the basis of whether Michael Jordan could compete in today's Disney-friendly league. Rather, the debate should be reversed, and we should question whether or not the pampered stars of today possess the mental and physical toughness to play in Jordan's era. I guess X-Box is the only way we can find out.
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