Let's not get it twisted: There's only one LeBron James. He's the only player who can single-handedly carry his team to the brink of a championship, travel a whole bunch and get away with it and receive comparisons to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan -- an exercise in NBA historical thought that still seems to sell LeBron's talents short.
Chicago Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, however, doesn't see Magic or Michael in LeBron's game. And thinks someone else should be added to that conversation.
"I was LeBron James before LeBron James," Pippen told Cleveland.com at the annual Nike Basketball Academy in Santa Monica, California last weekend. "It's not even close."
LeBron was also at the Nike Basketball Academy, observing, mentoring and playing with top high school and college basketball prospects. (He even snuck in some beachfront yoga with the campers.)
"They want to compare him to the greatest, whether it be Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, but he's more closer to myself," Pippen said. "It's natural for folks to say that, but if you look at how he plays the game and how I played the game, you'll see more similarities with us."
Physically, Pippen's assertion is spot-on. Not that Pippen, 50, was the athlete that LeBron is now (nobody is), but both NBA stars are 6 feet 8 inches and small forwards by trade.
Pippen was always a threat to throw down a huge dunk while running the floor.
Like Pippen did, especially when Jordan left the Bulls to play baseball, LeBron often plays an unusual "point forward" role for his team, combining the best qualities of two positions: the unselfish passing and leadership of point guards with the inside-out versatility of forwards. Stylistically, Pippen and LeBron share similar tasks and execution.
Getting in LeBron's way is a bad idea.
"I'm no slouch, but when comparing LeBron's game, I'm usually left out," Pippen said.
So why does Pippen get left out of the conversation? Status. In the revised version of NBA history we follow, Pippen was always No. 2. He can't shake that tag. Players of LeBron's star power or near it -- the 1 percent of the NBA's alpha dogs -- don't get compared to second-best options. That's why Pippen's closest popular comparison to current NBA stars is actually Golden State Warriors small forward Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP who closely guarded LeBron one-on-one for much of the series.
During the Bulls' championship run in the 1990s, Jordan and Pippen were affectionally called "Batman and Robin" by Chicago fans. You can guess who was The Batman -- although in August 2014, Pippen jokingly opposed that widely held belief too:
"I'm the greatest Chicago Bull of all time," Pippen said in a Foot Locker commercial.
Perhaps, so Pippen doesn't feel left out of the conversation next time, his Hall of Fame bust should read "LeBron James Before LeBron James: The Greatest Chicago Bull Ever." Now that's a unique distinction for the NBA's GOAT second option.
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