Giving Pete His Props —
In Jordan Comparisons, Sampras Deserves to be Considered
January 15, 1999
From the moment Michael Jordan announced his retirement last week and left the NBA with a public relations nightmare in his wake, a debate has raged among sports fans over His Airness's place in the pantheon of sports greats. Granted, most of the rage originated mainly from irate hockey fans who have flooded sports-talk radio switchboards with screeds about Wayne Gretzky. But the question remains an intriguing one.
It becomes even more intriguing when it is considered that there is one athlete currently at the top of his sport whose name has yet to be mentioned as belonging in the same sentence as Jordan; not Ruth, not Ali, not Gretzky, not DiMaggio, not Nicklaus.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Pete Sampras.
Now that the guffaws have died down, take a moment to consider the facts, which, if molded and twisted and stretched to fit a columnist's premise, can lead one to the inescapable conclusion that ... they're not as far apart as you think.
Some of the disparity can be traced to image, where Sampras' problem is two-fold. One, since he plays an individual sport and thus can never be the object of solemn-toned pronouncements about "carrying the team on his back" or "making the players around him better." Two, he is about as exciting off the court as vanilla pudding.
It is the rest of what defines these two athletes that bears examination. To make things easier, we've divided the comparison into categories, which are completely arbitrary, naturally. As always, the opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of FOX Sports Online, News Corporation or anyone with even a modicum of common sense.
Jordan: won six NBA championships in the last eight years, missing out in '94 and '95 during self-imposed exile in baseball's minor leagues.
Sampras: finished No. 1 the last six years in succession, breaking the record held by Jimmy Connors.
Jordan: scored 38 points in '97 NBA Finals while suffering from the flu.
Sampras: beat Alex Corretja in the '96 U.S. Open quarterfinals after vomiting on court during climactic fifth set.
Jordan: NBA's grinding, eight-month season sends him to exotic outposts like Milwaukee, Salt Lake City and
Sampras: 11-month season gives him opportunity to steal towels from hotels on all seven continents.
PUNCHING THE CLOCK
Jordan: plays about 45 minutes per game, and never plays more than two games on successive days.
Sampras: matches last between one and four hours; winning a one-week tournament can require playing four days in a row.
Jordan: referees look the other way when he takes the extra step or two en route to the basket.
Sampras: linesman gave Patrick Rafter a questionable ace on match point against Sampras in Cincinnati.
Jordan: loses millions playing golf.
Sampras: shoots in the 80s; probably wishes Jordan would challenge him.
By my count, that makes it 6-0 Sampras. Let's hope Michael likes bagels.
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