NBA debates, or barbershop talks, have been around for as long as the league itself, and spares no one; comparing Kevin Durant to Bill Russell or LeBron James to Michael Jordan is perhaps the most futile exercise an NBA analyst or a fan can engage in.
Kevin Durant was recently caught up in one such debate on Twitter, when Nick Gelso, CEO and Founder of CLNS Media, put forward his take on the Larry Bird vs Kevin Durant debate:
In response to his tweets, Durant didn’t mince his words on what he thought of Gelso:
“It’s crazy how the internet made grown men attention wh**es.”
The futility of comparisons across eras
There is something great about every top 10 player in every era. Being in the NBA is hard enough, but being one of the top 10 players is astronomically hard, and that is a concept that analysts and fans don’t grasp well enough.
Former NBA player JJ Redick, on “The Old Man and The Three,” put it incredibly and highlighted a broader point:
“Whether it’s as a coach, whether it’s as a talent evaluator in the front office of a WNBA team or NBA team…I think it’s so important to see the big picture, to recognise that some individuals have greatness, and we can sit here and knitpick any single player. ” (h/t) The Old Man and The Three
“You have to be able to see the greatness and recognise the greatness outweighs the bad, you have to take some of the bad with the good.” (h/t) The Old Man and The Three
There is no way to tell how Kevin Durant would have fared against Larry Bird because they were born over 30 years apart. Throwing up numbers to see how one would’ve fared against the other is an incredibly skewed tactic: If Kyrie Irving played in the ’50s, when the level of skill was considerably lower than it is today, he would’ve dropped 60 every other game. But when talking about all-time top 10s or even top 20s, most people wouldn’t even mention Kyrie Irving.
The reason for that is simple: context matters a lot. Michael Jordan’s stats can’t be put up against LeBron’s stats to decide the GOAT because they haven’t played against the same group of players, and more importantly, haven’t played against each other in their primes.
The media needs things to talk about, and when there’s nothing to talk about, you have to make something up, and that is precisely what these debates are: made-up talking-points used as fillers when you’ve run out of meaningful things to talk about.