Bill Simmons laments the fading memories of sports greatness:
This piece was published in 1988, when Bird and Magic were at the height of their powers and Jordan was nearing the same tipping point LeBron reached in Detroit. Already saddened that we’d be poking holes in them some day, Goldman predicted, “Bird and Magic’s time is coming. It’s easy being fans of theirs now. Just wait. Give it a decade.” Then he wrote an entire mock paragraph of fans picking apart their games in the year 2000, complaining that Magic couldn’t guard anyone and Bird was too slow. He ended with this mock quote: “Sure (Bird) was good, and so was Magic — but they couldn’t play today.” I remember reading that piece in college and thinking, Come on, that’s ludicrous. Nobody will ever forget Bird and Magic! Those guys saved the NBA!
Okay. Now as it happens, I just finished watching game four of the 1987 NBA Finals and , I mean, it actually is true that if you’re immersed in the contemporary NBA the relative lack of athleticism on display is striking. Which, of course, is precisely what you’d expect. Bird and Magic not only saved the NBA, but ushered in an era of radically higher player salaries. That, in turn, led to substantial increases in amount of time and money invested in locating the best possible prospects from all around the world and into making the players the best they can be.
That’s not to take anything away from the greats of past era — it’s just the way the world works, but it would be silly to make appropriate appreciation of the greatness of of older players dependent on denying the obvious fact that today’s players are stronger, quicker, and can jump higher than those of yesteryear.