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John Salley on Michael Jordan: 'I just don't think he's the greatest player ever'

By Ben Golliver | Blogger

Independently, jealousy, desperation and old age can each lead to all sorts of distorted thinking. Together, they are a truly toxic combination.

Case in point: former Detroit Pistons big man and television sports talk host John Salley's ridiculous claim this week that Michael Jordan -- the Greatest Of All Time -- was not even among the top-5 players that Salley played with and against during the 1980s and 1990s.

During a recent ESPN Radio interview (via Complex Sports), Salley offered this assessment of Jordan's historical standing.

"I love Michael. I'm a Michael Jordan fan just like everyone else. I just don't think he's the greatest player ever.

"I think the greatest player I've ever played against was Magic Johnson. Next, was Larry Bird. Then, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The hardest guy I had to guard: Hakeem Olajuwon. No one can guard Hakeem. And then, Kevin McHale.

"Isiah Thomas was the best player I ever played with. At 6-foot-1, scoring 41 points on one ankle. Should have been on Dream Team 1.

"In 1981, when I went down to visit Georgia Tech, I watched Michael Jordan play and literally get ridiculed for taking a jump shot in the championship game that went off the backboard and they won. People are forgetting that Michael was just one of the players when they went to the Dream Team. It was Clyde Drexler, it was Magic Johnson... these were good players. But he wasn't the best. I watched Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman push him left and him shoot 32 times... We weren't worried about him. We knew if we pushed him left and he picked the ball up, he couldn't pass it."

There are so many self-evidently dumb statements in there, it's difficult to know whether picking up the obvious counter-arguments is a process worth wasting time on.

Why blow 15 minutes compiling statements from all of Jordan's contemporaries saying that he was the greatest? Why spend the time running down his extraordinary list of accomplishments and comparing them side-by-side with each of the players mentioned? Why bring up the fact that Salley and the Pistons couldn't take their loss to the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference playoffs like professionals? Why scour Wikipedia to find out that Salley's most recent work includes being a celebrity judge on something called RuPaul's Drag Race?

No, the best way to argue Salley's claims is to simply use old footage of Salley making the exact opposite statement, so that we can all totally dismiss him now, safe in the knowledge that he was once a clear-thinking individual with his head on straight.

Roll the tape of an "NBA on NBC" segment, uploaded to YouTube by burgsfinest, in which Salley lathers Jordan with praise in reminiscing about their time together as teammates on the 1996 Bulls.

Here's Salley's assessment from back in the day.

"One time we were practicing, scrimmaging, and [Bulls coach] Phil Jackson forced him not to practice. He had on canvas tennis shoes, which was proof that it's not the shoes. He put Dennis Rodman, James Douglas and myself on the same squad for scrimmage. And Michael tied up those canvas [shoes] and said, 'I'm playing.'

"I literally saw Superman enter the building. He took off to dunk on me and he just yelled, 'Block this, big man.' I called my mother and said, 'You know what, I just played and saw the greatest player ever.' And she said, 'It took you this long to realize?'"

High school speech and debate coaches like to say that a good debater can argue both sides of any topic with equal skill. Salley doesn't do that here, at all, but at least he made headlines for the first time in like five years.

 
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