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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

It is Wrong to Call LeBron James "LePippen"

In less than two weeks, Scottie Pippen--the point forward for six Chicago Bulls' championship teams and arguably the greatest wing defender in pro basketball history--will be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame both as an individual player and as a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team (the "Dream Team"). Pippen literally came out of nowhere--no offense, University of Central Arkansas--to earn recognition as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.

Those who competed with or against Pippen--including Magic Johnson, who I spoke with about Pippen during All-Star Weekend--understand that even though Pippen has received many accolades he still is underrated. Pippen is often referred to as Michael Jordan's "sidekick" but that label really sells Pippen short. Pippen made the All-NBA First Team three times and he twice finished in the top five in MVP voting, so he was an elite level player in his own right. It actually says a lot about Pippen's unselfishness that he did not chafe at the "sidekick" role but rather embraced the opportunity to showcase his all-around game while Jordan annually led the league in scoring and received much of the glory. Chicago Bulls' Coach Phil Jackson wisely used Pippen as a point forward, which enabled Jordan to sprint up the court and obtain good post position before the defense could get set. Pippen's ballhandling skills and deft passing kept the Triangle Offense flowing; after Jordan retired in 1993 to play baseball, Pippen did not try to dominate the ball as a scorer to the extent that Jordan did--though Pippen did lead the Bulls in scoring that season--but Pippen helped the Bulls remain a championship contender with his great defensive play and his tremendous understanding of how to run the Triangle. B.J. Armstrong and Horace Grant each earned their first and only All-Star selections that season. I do not like the cliched phrase "making your teammates better" but the way Pippen played throughout his career--and particularly during that special 1993-94 season--is a great example of how great players create openings and opportunities for their lesser talented teammates to do what they do well.

LeBron James already has obtained some individual accomplishments that Pippen did not, including two regular season MVPs (2009, 2010) and one scoring title (2008). For most of his career, James has clearly been the best player on his team but when he made his already infamous "Decision" to leave Cleveland for "South Beach" many people mocked James by saying that he took the easy way out, that he will be Dwyane Wade's "sidekick" on the Miami Heat and that therefore James should never be compared to Michael Jordan but is simply "LePippen." I have made it quite clear that I think that James handled the entire free agency process poorly and that he should have either stayed in Cleveland or else found a more graceful way to leave--but regardless of what anyone thinks of James' actions his basketball skills should still be evaluated objectively. LeBron James is a better basketball player than Dwyane Wade: James is bigger, stronger and at least as quick, he can defend more positions, he is a more creative and effective passer and he is a better shooter. It remains to be seen what roles James and Wade will play for the Heat next season but unless something fundamentally changes James will still be a better player than Wade regardless of who the media decides to designate as "Batman" and "Robin."

It is well documented that James quit during game five of this year's playoffs versus Boston but it is odd that people seem to have completely forgotten how poorly Wade played in the 2008 season as the Heat completed a two year collapse that is unprecedented for a championship team that was not dismantled. Wade received some criticism at that time but his performance in the 2008 Olympics and in the next two NBA seasons muted complaints about his tendency to get hurt and his sometimes erratic playing style. Kobe Bryant was a whipping boy for the media for a while but after adding two championships and two Finals MVPs to his resume he is a "made man" (to borrow Cris Carter's description of the much criticized Eli Manning after Manning led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl title). Take away all the spin that has been said about Bryant, James and Wade and the reality is that, when healthy, Kobe Bryant is the best all-around player in the NBA but for the past couple regular seasons LeBron James has been more productive and consistent than Bryant. Wade is a remarkably athletic and explosive player but he is several inches shorter than James and Bryant and there is no getting around the truth that height does indeed matter in the NBA.

The fact that Wade was in Miami first does not make James a "sidekick" any more than Moses Malone was Julius Erving's sidekick for the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers; Erving won the 1981 MVP as a 76er, Malone won the 1982 MVP as a Rocket and Malone won the 1983 MVP (while joining Erving on the All-NBA First Team) as the Sixers rolled to the championship.

It not only is silly to call James a "sidekick"--at least until we actually see what roles James and Wade fill for the Heat--but it makes no sense to supposedly denigrate James by comparing him to Pippen. Scottie Pippen did not elect to leave a team in his prime years to join a team with an established star who was his own age (the "crime" that the "LePippen" chanters are charging James with committing); in fact, as mentioned above, Pippen embraced the challenge of being the lead guy after Jordan retired. Teammates and opponents alike laud Pippen's versatility and unselfishness. Regardless of how many awards James wins and how much money he accrues he should hope and pray that when his career ends he will be as well respected by his peers as Scottie Pippen is.

LeBron James is a more explosive scorer than Scottie Pippen but he still has a long way to go to match Pippen as a champion, a leader and a player who will do whatever it takes--including play an NBA Finals game with two ruptured disks in his back--to help his team win an NBA title.

If someone wants to denigrate James by calling him a "clever" name then "LeQuit" or "Quitness" fit the bill but leave Scottie Pippen's name out of the LeBron James conversation, at least until James is an All-NBA performer for one championship team, let alone six.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:53 PM



At Tuesday, August 03, 2010 11:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


this is not a fair issue to me this is skip bayless people trying to make something out of nuthing. lebron james is clearly better than scottie pippen ever was 6 all nba teams in 7 years 4 first team pip had 3 for career led a team to finals and east finals won 66 and 61 games all star mvp 2 or 3 times. 2 mvp and a second place all the points 27 7 7 carer avg can go on and on.

you can never compare a second option to a 1st to me as charles barkley once said pipen should be compared to mchale parish, and other second option players not a first option. lebron is clearly a one option anyone who seen him play his resume speaks for itself what no 2 option ever won back to back mvp. this is bitter cleveland fans and lebron haters saying this 2 option nonsense you hit it on the nose in your article i think it is nonsense to say he is not a one option now when he league second best player.

At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 2:38:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

Also - Pippen did not call himself "The King" and "Chosen One" when he entered the league.

People are mad at LeBron for being so full of it, for not fulfilling his own epithets.

Pippen was always a real sweet, humble guy, and still is. LeBron is truly a spoiled brat. You can get away with that if you are successful and if you hide it well - but LeBrat failed at both.

At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 3:37:00 AM, Blogger nilwnah said...

Great article!

At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 4:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I stopped paying attention to Skip Bayless a long time ago but since he has always been biased against LeBron James I am sure that Bayless is having a field day now because James has provided him with some legit ammo by first quitting against Boston and then so badly mishandling the free agency situation.

My point in this article is that the very idea that it is denigrating to James to compare him to Pippen is actually a misreading of history. Pippen is not just a top 50 player but a top 25-30 player--I would put him in the next level beneath my "Pantheon." Although Pippen spent much of his career playing alongside Jordan, Pippen also proved that without Jordan he could perform at an MVP level as the Bulls' lead guy. As great as Jordan was, he had a 1-9 record in playoff games without Pippen, while Pippen had the Bulls one blown call away from potentially reaching the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals and Pippen also helped the Blazers push the Shaq-Kobe Lakers to the brink of elimination in the seventh game of the 2000 WCF.

Pippen is highly respected by his peers as a champion, a leader and an unselfish player, while James has damaged his reputation in all three areas with his recent actions.

At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 4:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


A big difference between Pippen and James is that Pippen literally went from being the student manager of his high school basketball team to being one of the greatest players in history while James has been hyped up as a star since he was a teenager. Pippen had to work hard against long odds to secure his place in history. While it is true that in some ways the hype could have been a burden or potential stumbling block for James he also has had a lot of things handed to him and been coddled to some degree. James remarkably exceeded the hype in many ways--at least in terms of his on court production, especially in the regular season--but in recent months we have seen how the fame and acclaim have warped his personality and world view to a great extent.

At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 5:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 8:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Pippen really has never gotten the credit he's deserved for those 6 Bulls rings.

Check of some footage of game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Magic Johnson was ABUSING Michael Jordan on the offensive end. Mike was giving up 25 pounds and 4 inches of height, and Magic backed him down in the high post time and time again to either score or create a shot for a Laker teammate.

When they put Scottie onto Magic, it changed the tone of the series and the Bulls pulled out four straight wins (though, admittedly the Lakers were missing James Worthy, which would have probably made a significant difference).

Either way, people seem to nostalgically look back on Jordan as being some unreal God who could simultaneously score 50 while guarding the best player on the other team. Pippen often shouldered the tougher defensive assignment, which allowed Jordan to save his energy for picking apart the defense like a surgeon.

I second the opinion that it's disrespectful to use a comparison to Scottie Pippen as an insult to Lebron James. We have come to define a players' greatness by winning...and in that case, Scottie Pippen is 6 championships better than Lebron James.

James is the superior athlete and scorer, there isn't much doubt about that. But is there anything else he honestly does better than Pip? Pippen was the better man and help defender, and James isn't even remotely close. Hell, Pippen is probably the best perimeter help defender the game has ever seen. He used his quickness and ridiculous wingspan to perfection, in that regard.

People often talk abut James' passing/court vision as if he's Magic Johnson with hops, but I don't see it. A friend of mine noted that a lot of the passes Lebron makes would be bad passes for ANY other player...he can just get away with it because of his athleticism. Another part of being a good passer is knowing when NOT to pass, and instead try to score. I don't think Lebron has mastered that, yet. Pippen knew what to do, and when to do it...he had great instincts.

Scottie Pippen was a player who maximized his physical gifts and the situation he was placed in. He clearly had the talent to be a number 1 player...but who wouldn't have been second fiddle to Michael Jordan (besides maybe an in his prime Shaquille O'Neal)? You have to have that alpha dog personality, and Scottie came from very humble roots. He had the competitive streak, sure, but not to the extent that a Jordan or a Kobe Bryant do.

Overall though, I should add that comparing them in terms of playing style isn't ridiculous at all. I feel that there are more similarities than differences. Both are explosive going to the hole, play as a sort of point forward, and are willing and creative passers.

Bottom line is that most players would kill to have had Pippen's career. There are probably 20 to 30 NBA players who I'd say have had more illustrious careers than Pip, and Lebron is NOT amongst them.

At Friday, August 06, 2010 2:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fans are fickle and superficial. this is the reality. things like gambling in the passing lanes are rewarded even though it may decrease your overall effectiveness. running people down from behind one or at most two times a game is the measuring stick for a defender even though there are 100+ other possessions. lebron is good at gambling and chasing down people but his man to man defense is average. pippen was the best in history. lebrons playmaking is overrated, while pippen was the original and one of the best. above all, pippen was a champion! and lebron is not. pippen understood the game and what it takes to be a champion, thus far lebron knows how to pad his stats but not lead his team to the promised land. its lebron that needs to prove he is up to pippens level not the other way around.

At Friday, August 06, 2010 10:25:00 AM, Anonymous JackF said...

Why is it people are selling Scottie Pippen short just because he played with Michael Jordan?? This could have been a megastar too if his ego was as big as MJs.

on Lebron n Miami heat
What do you make of Lebron tauting Chris Paul and other superstars at Melo's wedding saying that he will win the next Seven NBA championships. Does he know how hard it is to win just one championship? that talent alone doesnt guarantee you the Larry O'Brien Trophy? Oh and by the way, Lebron is not going to Miami to be a sidekick(take that 2 the bank!!). He will slowly take over that team. I wonder how D wade will feel about that and how it will affect on court chemistry.
Aren't the Heat failing to realize that during the season you can mask weaknesses but once the playoff starts, those weaknesses will lose you a series?

on ESPN.com/NBA future ranking:
How ridiculous is ESPN's future ranking? how can writers have such limited knowledge of the game and realize that you can't predict the future in basketball based on talent alone? or is it something they are doing to draw page views?
On Lakers
What do you make of people not talking about the Lakers'offseason? This team has improved its roster. When was a the last time a championship winning team improved its roster this much? Not to mention they will sign 2 of the best rookies comin out the draft. Of course the summer league is a small sample to determine how good rookies will be but its a start...

On KObe
What do you make of John Wooden saying that Kobe is the best player he's ever seen? He said Kobe is the greatest player he's seen work so hard on both ends of the floor in complete game.

on Boston
Why would they sign Shaq when he makes their defense weaker?? but then a gain i doubt shaq gets more than 20 mns/game during the playoffs given that Perkins at this point is better than Shaq for the Celtics.

At Friday, August 06, 2010 4:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


people truly ask yourself if he can win 66 and 61 games with varejo, willams, jamison what was left of shaq daniel gibson. what can he do with wade bosh miller eddie house etc. this is no brainer only people dispute it is bitter cleveland fans. cleveland move on now he gave you seven seasons of great ball stop trying to denigrate this kid he is 25 year old he made some mistakes in his life sure he is very arrogant sure but all 25 year make mistakes for sure kobe and jordan did. this is being a joke to question his whole career off one game more than likely even if cleveland gets past the celts they wouldnt of won championship anyway. the lakers magic and celts had a better team than them now hes in a situation where he doesnt have to be superman every single play for his team to win as earl monroe said if you play on the playgrounds you pick the best players on the court you dont pick the worst or medicore players so you have to be the guy and carry a team. once again jordan had 2 hall ofamers kobe had 1 and great sidekick as well shaq and pau bird had 3 magic had 2 lebron never played with a perrenial all star or anyone who made all nba team or a hall of famer. now he will in miami we will see what he does he knows whathe is capable of this is going to be krazy this is a great thing we will see the next 6 years.

At Friday, August 06, 2010 4:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


pippen would be in my top 30 no doubt i never disputed his greatness as a player im saying he is no lebron james. other than rings lebron has already had a better career than pippen more mvp firsteam all nba. better passer scorer and boarder pippen was better defender thats it. scoreing titles triple doubles i can go on and on. pippen was great scorer rebounder passer help defender. all around great player his 2 years without jordan showed he was legitimate mvp canisdate without jordan. jordan first 3 years teams was terrible so the 1-9 is miscued totally. with a good team around him jordan could of done damage with that team. pip was great not as good as lebron james is so to call lebron lepippen is denigrate him slightly saying he is a great sidekick, that ridicolous.

At Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

I don't make anything of what LeBron may have said at someone's wedding. I don't know what he actually said or if he said it jokingly--and, frankly, I don't really care. We'll see which team is left standing at the end of the NBA Finals. That is all that matters.

I didn't even bother to click on that ESPN link. Why would I waste my time reading ESPN commentary/analysis?

I agree with you that the Lakers have had a very good offseason that has apparently gone under the radar. For the past two years many people have insisted that the Lakers were a deep team while I correctly said that the Lakers were not very deep at all--and we have seen confirmation of my point of view from the fact that there was no interest around the league in free agent Shannon Brown, who was seventh in playoff minutes for the Lakers the past two seasons. Ironically, the acquisitions of Blake, Barnes and Ratliff make the Lakers legitimately deep now but no one is talking about this!

Wooden's comment speaks volumes but, personally, I would still take MJ over Kobe.

The Celtics need someone to replace Perkins, who will be out for at least half the season. If Shaq is again willing to fill the "Big Bill Cartwright" role that he played for the Cavs last season then he can help the Celtics a lot. Don't forget that Shaq was the starting center on the best team in the regular season last year, a team that would have had a great opportunity to win a title if LeBron had not just quit versus Boston.

At Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Cavs had the deepest team in the NBA last season; they had five current or former All-Stars--including four who had been All-Stars at least as recently as 2008--and at least 10 of their rotation players had started playoff games (either for the Cavs or for another team). The Cavs had an excellent coach who transformed them into an elite defensive team.

Right now, the Heat have three All-Stars but the rest of the roster has been thrown together; some of the other parts are talented but the Heat are noticeably weak in the middle, an area of strength for the 2010 Cavs (Shaq, Z, Varejao, Hickson).

As I have said, I understand the logic behind LeBron going to Miami but I don't consider it a "no brainer" and I am not convinced that he has a better chance to win now than he would have had if he had stayed in Cleveland, particularly if he had recruited as hard for Cleveland as he is now doing for Miami. Furthermore, the way that LeBron quit is a disgrace that will always stain him to some degree and the way that he handled the free agency process was a terrible display of narcissism and immaturity.

Nothing that LeBron did changed my opinion that he was the best regular season player the past two years nor did it convince me that he will be Wade's "sidekick"--but the onus is on LeBron to win at least one championship or his place in history will not be as great as it otherwise would have been, regardless of the individual honors and accomplishments that he already has to his credit.

At Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


"Other than rings" is a big qualifier, particularly since Pippen won six rings!

LeBron has put up better scoring numbers but he has also spent his entire career as his team's number one scoring option.

I would rate LeBron and Pippen as equals in terms of rebounding and passing; passing is not just about racking up assists--it is also about making the right pass at the right time.

LeBron has made great strides defensively and is one of the top defenders in the league right now but Pippen gets the edge here.

The one thing that Pippen lacked was a consistent jump shot and therefore it was difficult for him to be a go-to scorer down the stretch the way that MJ was and Kobe is. LeBron had the same problem early in his career but his jumper is probably more consistent now than Pippen's was and that is one reason why LeBron so easily averages around 30 ppg.

As you suggest, LeBron is going to finish his career with more individual honors and better individual statistics than Pippen did--but purely from a skill set standpoint and from a standpoint of understanding how to be an All-NBA caliber player on a championship-winning team I am not sure that I would take LeBron now over Pippen circa 1991-98.

Anyway, my point with this post was not so much to debate who is better between LeBron and Pippen but rather to say that it makes no sense to supposedly insult LeBron by comparing him to Pippen. People should leave Pippen's name out of it and simply evaluate LeBron based on what he has done.

At Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:35:00 AM, Anonymous Aqzi said...

This was great timing for bulls.com to come out with an article in which Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says Michael couldn't have done it without Scottie:



At Saturday, August 07, 2010 12:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Reinsdorf's evaluation of Pippen is right on point but I don't think that Pippen was quite as good a shooter as Reinsdorf implied. Reinsdorf is right that Pippen had a great bank shot--Pippen is probably right up there with Sam Jones and Tim Duncan in that regard--but Pippen was usually a tad streaky with the straight-on 15-18 foot jumper as well as with the three point shot. Pippen could be deadly from those ranges at times but he was not as consistent from midrange as MJ or as consistent from three point range as Kobe.

The reality is that Pippen will probably always be underrated by casual fans--but anyone who truly knows the game knows just how great Pippen was.


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