Do you think the Bulls can beat the Nets?
Oh yeah. As far as I know, it’s a toss-up, because I haven’t seen them play enough. But they absolutely have the horses.
You mentioned generations, and I read your open letter to Scottie Pippen two years ago.
… about him talking about LeBron and Jordan as the greatest players ever, and you were saying you gotta look at Wilt Chamberlain as the greatest talent and Bill Russell as the greatest winner.
Last summer when the Olympics were on, you could not convince high school kids that, say, David Robinson could hang with Dwight Howard, or that Pippen could defend Kevin Durant, or whatever. Why do these basketball arguments come down so fiercely on generational lines?
People don’t understand what came before. All right, Stan Musial just died. Lifetime .331 hitter. And he faced people who were pitching from a mound that was 5 inches higher. He got a hit every third time at-bat. That's ridiculous! He didn't take steroids or anything. Only reason he didn’t get over 500 home runs is that he didn’t have that kind of strength. But 475 home runs – that's pretty good. [Laughs.] You know?
But if you hadn't seen him play and get an idea of the pitchers that he went against in a time when most pitchers threw a complete game – you know, they didn't really like relief pitchers in the '40s and '50s – and look what he did. It's incredible. So unless you have a perspective where you saw those people play, it would be hard for you.
I remember Coach Wooden and I, he would take the American League and I would take the National League, and we would try to say, “What’s the all-time best team?”
This was while you were in college?
No, later. After I retired. I would see him in the spring and say ,“What’s it going to be this year, Coach?" because he was a big baseball guy. Most people don’t know that. And it was so difficult. And he saw Babe Ruth play. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and people like that. Lou Gehrig is a .320-something lifetime. Serious, you know? (Laughs.) So it’s really difficult because unless you understand what happened beyond what you actually witnessed, it’s hard to have a good perspective on it.
And that’s why I got on Scottie’s case. I wasn’t trying to embarrass him. But his perspective is limited.
The whole stadium was singing at the Boston Bruins game the other night in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedies. What to you is the ultimate power and value in sports?
Well, sports in general is something that teaches young people teamwork, sportsmanship, physical fitness. I think those things are really the great values in sports. And team sports are entertaining. I just remember when I was a kid, the World Series champ was in New York for seven consecutive years between the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants. And that was just a wonderful thing to be a part of. You chose your friends by the baseball cap that they wore, and stuff like that.
So sports motivates people in very positive ways, and I think for the most part sports does a good job of giving us positive goals and ideals to emulate and strive for at its best. At its worst, when the whole message is "win at any cost," it's detrimental. But it's all about the people who are the coaches and mentors who have the opportunity to see to it that certain values are promoted and transferred across the generation. And I think that's very important.
Baseball recently celebrated the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in major league baseball. There’s a great Mike Royko column written after Robinson’s death, where he tells a story about Robinson’s first game at Wrigley Field, and he talks about how serious it was for all the black fans.
I remember [in New York] they had pictures of black Americans going to see Jackie Robinson play at Ebbets Field, and they could buy seats anywhere they wanted. This was a big deal. And they were all dressed very appropriately. Yeah, it meant something. And not everybody in the country understood it because they didn’t have that perspective.
Is going to Wrigley Field on your checklist?
I would like to go. I live in the same neighborhood as Ernie Banks now in L.A. I ran into him, and got to talk to him. It was great. Some of the things we had to talk about, coming in – he listened to the guys who had come in before him like Jackie, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby and other guys who were the real pioneers. He played in the last gasps of the Negro Leagues, because all of the talent in the Negro Leagues was going into the major leagues, and the Negro Leagues were dying. I think within a year or two there were no more Negro Leagues. It was really interesting talking to him about that.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. Say hey @readjack.
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