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The perils of critiquing players you've never seen play

There’s always been concern on my front when it comes to naming a greatest of all-time list. Whether the sport is football, basketball, or baseball, the reservation, hesitation, and trepidation are always present. For me, it’s simple. It’s difficult to say, with conviction, that someone I’ve never seen play is the greatest of all-time in any sport.

Ed asked the question on The UC Show over a week ago while we were having Shaquille O’Neal Appreciation Time. He asked something that has reverberated all over the globe since The Big Homie charged it to the game and retired: “Who is the greatest center of all-time?”

See, this question is already bound to raise hell. Now this is prefaced by saying that not naming someone you haven’t seen play as the GOAT is not grounds for a fan to be irresponsible with history. As a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, as a self-respecting sports fan, you must know who came before the players we see today. That is a given.

However, when someone who is my age speaks with passion about Wilt Chamberlain, and talks about how his stats are inflated, or how he didn’t win enough, or worse yet, how he didn’t play with enough passion, my response is simple:

“How the hell do you know?”

First off, the discussion of GOAT is impossible to come to an agreement on, because people allow personal biases have an effect on their critique, which is understandable.

With that said, it's foolish to criticize players when you’ve never seen them play, and no, ESPN Classic does not count. If the talk is on current players, then cool. A fair number of us have access to cable, ESPN, NBA TV, NFL Network, the internet, etc.

We can talk about the greatest players in our lifetime and do so with passion, vigor, and fury, because we all not only have access, we’re also able to articulate and express an opinion, because we’ve all seen them play live, at some point. However, that is not the case with players before our time.

If we were to go on winning, then it’s Bill Russell and everyone else. However, we don’t do that, and the discussion goes all over the place. Let stats be the barometer, and Wilt Chamberlain is the GOAT, but people still discredit his numbers. This man averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds in a season, and we in here talkin’ about practice. How silly is that?

It’s foolish, disrespectful, and insulting for people in my demographic to talk greasy about Wilt Chamberlain, but they do it anyway, and do so with conviction. Hell, put some of these dummies who talk crazy about Wilt in against high school right now, and they won't put up 50 and 26, yet they talk wild about someone who did against the best players in his time. Unbelievable.

Take stats and apply them to guards, and the conversation would begin and end with The Big O. However, that’s not the case, because people question HIS numbers. Once again, it’s one thing for people who saw The Big O to say such things, but for someone my age, or even someone slightly older than me? Once again, how do you know?

We weren’t around then, you weren’t at the games, you weren’t covering them, and there was no accessibility back then like there is today. Unless you have a father, an uncle, or some other old-school player in your life who has those games on tape, then someone coming up with a critique on these guys baffles me.

It’s possible to have GOAT discussions with respect and proper homage paid to the players who came before your time, and stay in your lane as well. When that is done, old-school cats might shake their heads when you say the most dominant center you’ve ever seen is Shaq, but at least they know why.

They may say you need to watch some old-school ball if the greatest guard you’ve seen is MJ, or the one player who is one-of-a-kind is LeBron James, but they also know it’s out of respect for the fact that you didn’t see the guys in their heyday on a regular basis. Shoot, just look at how we, fans in our late-20s and early-30s react when early-to-mid-20 somethings talk about sports. They say something wacky, and more often than not, they get ridiculed to the high heavens, and we tell them they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

On top of that, there’s a beauty in being able to sit back and listen to old-school men talk about the players in their heyday without us interjecting and talking about an era we know nothing about. People out here are trying too hard to be smart, but end up looking foolish. Sit back and observe. That’s what makes conversation so interesting: listening is just as important, if not more, than talking. This concept doesn’t seem too difficult to grasp at all. Try it sometime.

Be easy.
-K. Masenda
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!


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