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Arguments and accolades.
It’s what sports coverage is in 2019. If you don’t have a website that’s putting out a list of the top five or ten or 100 greatest this or that, well…you probably won’t have a website for long. Traffic is the name of the game, and what better way to get it than by giving people something to get angry about. There’s something about getting good and mad that seems to really put a smile on people’s faces.
So you can understand why, after I pitched an idea for the Whiteboard where I would look at whether James Harden has surpassed Dwyane Wade in the all time shooting guard ranks, I was pleasantly surprised when my editor suggested the piece focus more on a general appreciation of legacies than on any list or ranking.
It got me thinking about what we do whenever someone retires, and how our attention is so often misplaced. There’s usually an attempt, or several, to do exactly what I was angling towards: placing the retiree in some sort of historical ordering. But why? Lists are the ultimate exercise in futility is because they become irrelevant almost the moment they’re put out. History is always evolving. Stagnation is a literal impossibility.
If Wade is 7 percent ahead of Harden at this exact moment, does that go up to 9 percent if the latter gets swept out of the first round of the playoffs? If Harden wins a ring, does the advantage go down to zero, or does Harden even pull ahead? Your guess is as good as mine.
The other, more significant takeaway is that we’re usually so quick to get into these debates that we fail to enjoy the moment for what it should be: a time to appreciate someone who has done some really, really special things.
On Zach Lowe’s podcast with Howard Beck last week, they spoke about Pat Riley’s recent comments that for a while there, Wade was every bit as good as Kobe Bryant. Does it matter that we can’t put the Heat legend above Bryant in a historical ordering of two guards? It shouldn’t. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that they’re two of only eleven players in history to both lead the league in scoring and win a Finals MVP award over the course of their career. That’s pretty cool.
Is the occasion of Wade’s last game the proper moment to dwell on the fact that he made the All-NBA First Team only twice and finished among the top three in MVP voting just once, whereas after this season, Harden will be at five and four, respectively? Considering I nearly made these numbers the focus of an entire column, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to now say “no” and cast shame upon those who do. And I’m not going to, because at the end of the day, debates about this stuff are fun, and having them is part of the enjoyment of watching sports to begin with.
But the value is in the conversation, not in reaching an end result. As Dwyane Wade rides off into the sunset and James Harden potentially adds to his own legacy, let’s keep that mind.
After all, greatness isn’t a ladder. It’s a table. And there’s nothing wrong with adding more seats every now and then.
#Content you can’t miss
Our own Ian Levy offers his take on the most surprising story of the NBA season: Magic calling it quits.
Ben Falk gets into the nitty gritty of how the Sixers effectively countered the Bucks league-leading defense.
No better read than Zach Lowe talking big picture NBA awards stuff.
In case you missed Dirk’s retirement speech, here is it, transcribed.
And finally, if you can’t get enough of Dwyane Wade, here’s a pretty cool oral history from GQ.