Mark Leibovich floats the idea that Hillary Clinton’s done Obama a favor by toughening him up with an NBA analogy:
But there is a competing view that says that Mrs. Clinton, rather than being a spoiler, has in fact been an unwitting mentor to Mr. Obama, a teaching adversary who made him better. Could competing against Mrs. Clinton have improved Mr. Obama as a candidate in the same way that competing against Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s made Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan champions in the 1990s?
I know it’s very hard to convince people of this, but the transformation of the Bulls into a powerhouse dynasty had nothing to do with Jordan improving. From the numbers it’s pretty clear that he had his best seasons in the late 1980s. Not only did Jordan have his highest per game scoring averages in those years, but he was a more efficient shooter, wracking up TS%s above .600 for four years straight in the 1988–1991 seasons. The Bulls just started winning championships when Jordan acquired better teammates.
But having better teammates didn’t actually help Jordan by taking pressure off of him and letting him take fewer low-percentage shots. It’s just that a slightly off-peak Jordan was still a phenomenal player and suddenly he was surrounded by other quality players and started winning championships. Also note that the “Bad Boys” Pistons won championships in the 1988–89 season and the 1989–90 season so I’m not sure it’s quite right to say that Isaiah Thomas was a champion “in the 1990s.” The implications of the above for the Democratic primary are, however, not large.