Column: We’ve got to change how we compare different eras

 Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, center, shoots over New York Knicks guard Trey Burke, during an NBA basketball game in New York, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, center, shoots over New York Knicks guard Trey Burke, during an NBA basketball game in New York, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For once, it wasn’t just my crippling insomnia that kept me awake until 3 a.m. on Monday night. It was something that I saw during the pre-game coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies game that had me losing sleep.

“Who has the better handle: Kyrie Irving or Bob Cousy?” read the graphic on NBC Sports Boston.

Listen.

Kyrie Irving could be plucked off his sofa and dropped into a 1950’s NBA game, play the entire game in oven mitts and he would still go off for 50 points and then be burnt at the stake as a witch after.  

Now, Cousy is an NBA legend.  He won six championships and was a 13-time All-Star. I’m just not sure it was legal for players to dribble with their off-hand during his playing days. Kyrie Irving’s handles makes the Houdini of the Hardwood’s magic look like a third-grade talent show.

I’m sure no-one in their right mind actually thinks Cousy’s handles are comparable to Irving’s, but it begs the question. Is it at all possible to compare players from different eras?

The question of whether LeBron James or Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T has always been slightly funny to me. Because the honest truth is that the best basketball ever has probably not been born yet. The best basketball player to ever lace up a pair of shoes will probably be whoever dominates the NBA closest to either the end of the league, or the heat death of the universe.

As impossible as it might seem, there may soon be a player more physically gifted than James. That’s how sports have always been. Players entering the pros always have more technology and medical advancements than those that came before them.

Some believe that we’re approaching the limit of what we can physically expect from athletes, but I’m not so sure. We’re still seeing NBA teams change how they approach recovery and physical therapy.

According to a 2016 CBS Sports report, the amount of sleep a player is able to get has a direct correlation to their performance on the court. Cryogenic chambers, those giant cylinders that look the machine that turned Captain America into a super soldier, are also a new phenomenon in the NBA. It also seems like we see players in the NFL getting suspended for some sort of new experimental supplement every other week - and that’s only the ones that got caught. The NBA’s testing policy is famously terrible. Back when Bob Cousy played, the only supplements available for athletes were red meats and Marlboro cigarettes.

The game is also always changing. Look no further than the NBA’s three-point revolution in recent years. The Houston Rockets are on the way to becoming the first team in NBA history to attempt more three-point shots than two-pointers. The 1986-champion Celtics attempted 393 three-pointers. The Warriors attempted 2562 last season and the Rockets have shot 2547 so far this season.

But we shouldn’t stop comparing players. That’s about 50 percent of all sports debates. We just have to keep in mind the eras that each player played in when comparing and contrasting.

Players should just be measured purely on how dominant they were in their respective playing days. Dwight Howard would have Bill Russell crying for mercy if Russell was playing today. Actually, so would Clint Capella, DeAndre Jordan and every other remotely athletic center in the NBA. We can never know if Russell would still be as dominant in today’s NBA if he got the same training and access to technology that today’s players did.  And that’s not his fault. So, for the sake of sanity, let’s not disparage players of the past when the players we’re currently comparing them to are going to look like relics of an ancient game in due time as well.  

So yes, it’s fine to analyze and debate whether Bill Russell was more dominant in the 1960s than LeBron James is right now.

But please, let’s not compare the best athletes of the present day to guys that chain smoked at halftime and work at the steel mill in the summer.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.