A group for my old little league recently popped up on Facebook and it’s only a matter of time before the “my generation was better than your generation” argument starts and the entire city begins to weigh in. That’s just how my hometown is. Bar fights break out over things like this. West Haven children memorize City Champions first, and then if there’s time, they get to the Presidents of the United States. In all seriousness, I’m pretty sure the City Council has devoted an entire meeting to discussing the fastest pitchers in history.
(Note: My name wouldn’t appear on that list, but I did have a nice curveball.)
It’s important to note that the debate is never over the best team. If you won a championship, then you won a championship and no one can ever take that away from you. It’s always about the players who were in your league at the time you played. So take the best five players from my time versus the best five players from your time and then we get into it. That’s why fights happen. Because I’m not just defending my honor, I’m defending the honor of guys I haven’t seen in 20 years.
These arguments exist, of course, because no one wants to slight their own generation. It’s not just little league teams, although in small towns that might be the most pressing issue. It’s television shows and music and movies and life in general. I find these debates laughable. It’s not that I hate history, but I’m sorry, I’ll take the advancements in my time over any other era in history. Card catalogs sucked. Newspapers ads sucked. Encyclopedias sucked, and they were heavy. Amazon, Craig’s List and Google win. Every time.
And I haven’t even mentioned DVR and On the Go products yet.
The reason I bring all of this up is because Kobe Bryant just became the all time leading scorer in Los Angeles Lakers history, which has led the sports media to debate whether or not he is the greatest player in franchise history.
Across the board, the answer has been no.
Depending on who you talk to, the top three seems to be some combination of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. The old white guys usually put Jerry West in there and Elgin Baylor typically gets thrown in the conversation as well. Only then does Kobe join the party. No matter where he ranks, it’s pretty impressive to be included with those guys at all. But why can’t he be considered the best ever? Why is it so hard to put a guy playing in a far more competitive NBA atop the list?
He’s the best player on the planet at a time when basketball players are the best athletes on the planet. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago, let alone 40. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than his predecessors and he’s playing in a league that is significantly bigger, stronger and faster than it has ever been. The old guard likes to complain about expansion diluting the NBA. I choose to believe $100 million dollar contracts made it more competitive. The money made basketball more desirable to young people over the past two decades, which has made the talent pool that much larger.
Sports, and this goes back to whole little league topic, is one the few places where you can’t even have a civil conversation comparing past to present. It gets too emotional. For example, you might say Happy Days is the greatest show in history, but you have to concede that it would have been nicer to watch in high definition. There is no concession in sports. People will always argue that their favorite player growing up was a lot better than anyone playing today.
Which is why in a column praising Kobe for becoming the all time leading scorer in team history, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke still chose to criticize him for being too much of a ball hog. Whatever it takes to put the stars of today down, right?
But guess what?
Kobe is HD. He is the iPod. He is the internet.