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The Logo, The Mamba, (The) Magic, and cross-generational comparisons

February 23, 2009 |  7:56 pm

Earlier this morning, reader "jimjoyce" posted an interesting question, asking if fans today would take Kobe over Jerry West or Magic Johnson over Kobe Bryant to start a team.  (I assuming he meant each player in his prime. If you made the choice right now, it's pretty easy.  No disrespect to West, but the man was born in 1938.)  Obviously I've seen a ton of Kobe, and lots of Magic as well.  But like a lot of people, I never had a chance to see Jerry West play in any Jerry_west_2 meaningful way, live or on television. There are a few great higlight packages of The Logo on YouTube, from TV bios (here and here, for example) or classic playoff clips (here, here), but clearly that's not enough to make an informed judgment. 

It did, though, make me think about something that always comes up in this type of debate (as it would this morning), specifically questions of athletic ability.  Invariably, the player from the older generation is docked for not having enough relative to the modern player.  But as my mom might say, "Here's the thing...":  Aren't seemingly all pros more athletic today, across sports?  Better, stronger, faster? (After all, we have the technology.)  Does it stand to reason that if Mr. Clutch, listed at 6'2" 175 on his Basketball Reference page, rose up through today's sports scene that he'd be 15 pounds heavier, or at least that much stronger, and quicker on his feet? 

All that, plus the textbook form on the J?  I still think Kobe would have the edge athletically (because he has it over virtually everyone on the planet), but isn't that sort of thing worth considering?  Or that his skill set would be more in line with the type of game that players enter the league with today (largely because of the influence of guys like West and Magic that came before?) Anyone else have suggestions on how to compare players who competed 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years apart from each other?  The inherent unanswerability of cross-generational comparisons means I don't take them all that seriously, but it's the same quality that also makes them fun.  We'd be doing the world a public service to find a formula, right?

BK


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