Scottie Pippen is a six-time NBA champion and seven-time All-Star. He is, by most estimations, somewhere between the 20th and 30th best player in the history of basketball. But in the modern discourse, his name is practically derogatory. It isn’t invoked when a player is good enough to sidekick a dynasty, but rather, only when a player isn’t believed to be good enough to lead one. That is where Thursday’s drama began. 

Richard Jefferson, a former player that shared Pippen’s position but not his accomplishments, compared Giannis Antetokounmpo, currently trailing the Miami Heat 2-0 in his second-round series, to Pippen and argued that Milwaukee would need to its version of Michael Jordan to win a championship. Jay Williams, another player less accomplished than Pippen, stepped in to say that once upon a time, even LeBron James was a Pippen rather than a Jordan. 

This is where things get interesting, because James, unlike everyone else in this conversation, actually is as accomplished as Pippen, and he didn’t exactly seem thrilled with the comparison. 

Now, James doesn’t directly say anything negative against Pippen. His mere response, though, is proof of offense. James has been compared to other players for his entire career. He has welcomed and acknowledged comparisons to Jordan, Pippen’s teammate, and has never publicly rebuked the similarities between himself and Magic Johnson. But Jordan, to most, is the greatest player ever, and Johnson isn’t far behind. That is a class of player James himself has undeniably entered, and that Pippen never did. LeBron is better than Scottie Pippen. 

In fact, so is Antetokounmpo, and Pippen even acknowledged that with a response of his own. 

The truth of most player comparisons is that they are vast oversimplifications. Giannis and Pippen have very little in common as players beyond both being forwards that excelled on both ends of the floor. Just because Giannis isn’t the traditional isolation scorer that wins most MVP awards doesn’t automatically make him “a Pippen,” it makes him a wholly unique superstar with flaws that need to be overcome, just like any other. After all, Jordan was a multi-time MVP winner before he won his first championship. He didn’t spend his early years being compared to Kevin McHale. 

Give Giannis time. Eventually, he will solve the late-game offense problem. And as for LeBron? Lesson learned. There is a threshold of player he is willing to be compared to, and Pippen is on the wrong side of it. 

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