I recently came across this Abraham Lincoln quote that is a good philosophy to undertake when considering players across basketball’s history:
“Human nature will not change.
In any future great national trial,
compared with the men of this [age],
we shall have as weak and as strong,
as silly and as wise,
as bad and as good.
Let us therefore study the incidents of this [age],
as philosophy to learn wisdom from…”
Now Lincoln was obviously speaking to much weightier issues and trials, but the core principle still stands in my view. The core, the essence of humanity, and therefore basketball players has remained fairly constant.
Players today possess as much good and as much bad, as much wisdom and as much silliness, as much strength and as much weakness, as players of yesterday. The difference is that today, we have the incidents of yesterday to reflect upon for benefit.
The first basketball game in 1891 had no predecessors to study, but Ed Wachter in the 1910s had twenty years of basketball wisdom to to study and gain from. Buddy Jeannette in the 1940s had 50 years of wisdom to tap into. Oscar Robertson in the 1960s had 70 years;Larry Bird 90 years; Shaquille O’Neal 100 years; and the guy who dominates your local rec center has 120 years.
Each of these individuals represents the strength, wisdom, and good to be found in every basketball generation, but with each passing generation knowledge is accrued, lessons passed on, innovations made.
That’s the implicit benefit of coming along over a century into basketball’s development. What remains an explicit endeavor is recognizing the contributions of the past and to dutifully respect the wisdom of others.