So I figured what better way to contribute to that blog than by intersecting the two things I love the most anyway, namely, the NBA and superhero comics. For my debut on DW, I wanted to talk about the four figures that most informed my growing up: Batman, Superman, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen.
I originally wrote this when Scottie Pippen had his #33 retired and hung from the rafters of United Center. I did so because in the buildup to Scottie’s retirement ceremony, all of the retrospectives and tributes to Pippen focused on his partnership with Michael Jordan.
I’m not here to debate Pippen’s place in the annals of basketball history; instead, I want to focus on a misplaced analogy many sportswriters and talking heads have always used to describe the Jordan/Pippen tandem.
Rather than playing the Boy Wonder, Pippen, you see, was actually the Batman to Jordan’s Superman (with apologies to Shaq and D12) all along.
First, everyone knows the background: Batman is the alter ego of billionaire Bruce Wayne, who became the Dark Knight in an effort to rid his city of crime. After losing his parents on the streets of “Crime Alley” as victims of a botched robbery attempt when he was a child, Wayne vowed to avenge his parents’ murder and eventually became the Batman to instill fear in the hearts of criminals. Flash forward 20 years and Wayne has mentally and physically trained himself to be the only superhero without any super powers. Only through sheer will and cunning is he able to become the caped crusader.
So without Batman, there would never have been a Robin. Who knows how Dick Grayson would have developed without the presence of Batman to guide him along the way?
Many may argue this is reminiscent of the Jordan/Pippen relationship. That it was the years of tutelage in practice that made Pippen into one of the best all-around players to play the game. There’s probably some truth in that. But you don’t become the fifth pick in the draft (especially coming out of Central Arkansas!) without having some talent of your own. Like Bruce Wayne, Scottie Pippen willed himself into a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of all time through sheer hard work and dedication. I suspect Scottie would have still become a great NBA player had he stayed in Seattle and was never traded to the Bulls. (Coincidentally, so does Bleacher Report).
Though this is not to belittle Michael Jordan. God knows I’d never do that. For all intents and purposes, Jordan is Superman. His athletic abilities (or should I say super powers?) are inherent. He flies through the sky at ease and saves the day at the end of games. He was also the public face of the Bulls and the NBA itself. Like Superman, Jordan was the ultimate superhero of the NBA and his name ultimately became the metaphor for greatness beyond basketball. You know, like how anyone who excels at his or her particular field is called “the Michael Jordan of…” said trade. As in “Rust Cohle is the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch.”
Conversely, this makes Scottie Pippen even more like Batman. Whereas Superman does his acts of heroism in broad daylight to the cheers of thousands of adoring fans, Batman mainly operates in the shadows.
Even non-comic fans understand and perceive Superman and Batman as equals. This despite the fact that one is a super-powered alien from Krypton, while the other is no more than a well-funded human being with a lot of will and determination. Still, no other two fictional characters have ever had such a profound effect on the zeitgeist of popular culture.
Similarly, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are equals in more ways than many people imagine. When they were in their primes, during the championship seasons, these two forces were arguably the two best players in the game.