Friday, August 13, 2010

One Banana, Two Banana

Over time, a simple name can come to represent something more than just the man or woman which it identifies. Over time, a name can begin to serve as a synonym for a much broader idea or notion. The name John Wayne almost always evokes the thought of old-school Western movies. Eminem instantly makes people think of Caucasian rap artists. Andy Warhol triggers Pop Art and postmodernism, Martin Luther King induces thoughts of the Civil Rights Movement, and Marilyn Monroe brings to mind the concept of a sex symbol. The lives that these people lived and the roles they played in our society are so iconic and distinct that a simple utterance of the name stirs up concepts and generalizations that are much more significant than just a bodily identification. It is an elite class of people that can say they belong to this group. Scottie Pippen is one of those people.

His name will forever be synonymous with the idea of a sidekick, a second banana in the truest sense of the word. Pippen’s namesake is as identifiable to the concept of a solid #2 as anything we have in today’s world; the analogy of Jordan and Pippen is just as prevalent as that of Batman and Robin. For the rest of eternity, the name Scottie Pippen will always be tied to Michael Jordan, with Pippen serving as the quintessential example of a top assistant, only in second because first place was already guaranteed.

Scottie Pippen enters the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, an honor much deserved for a man that will historically be underrated. Pippen is and always will be best known as Michael Jordan’s sidekick during the dynasty of the 1990’s Chicago Bulls teams. But because he played with Jordan, who is universally accepted as the greatest ball player of all time, Scottie’s legacy will always be that of a #2 guy, despite the fact that his stats and skills might beg to differ. In fact, being MJ’s right-hand man may have actually been both the greatest and worst things for Pippen’s career – best, because he got to play with a basketball deity, serve as an integral part in winning 6 championships, and earn a spot on the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list, and worst, because we may never truly know how good (or even great) he actually was.

Pippen is more than qualified to be a Hall of Famer. He earned each and every one of his awards and accolades as a professional basketball player. Serving as Jordan’s wingman in no way diminishes what he achieved as an athlete. Nevertheless, it does make one wonder how good Scottie could have been as the top-dog, the #1 guy. Sure, we got small glimpses of it at different times throughout his career, but we never had a significant amount of time in which we got to see what the man had to offer as the go-to-guy. And because of that, Pippen’s name will always represent something bigger than the man himself.

However, I am not writing this column to argue or decipher how good Pippen truly was. I’m not even writing it to talk about why Pippen was the greatest sidekick that ever lived, because the traditional media will handle that over the next few days. Instead, my goal is to find the best comparison to Pippen and his legacy, the most accurate match-up that pop culture has to offer.

If you read this column, you know that I enjoy making cross-pop-cultural references. I didn’t invent the theory or anything, but I like it. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It gives a unique perspective on the lack of unique incidents and situations out there in the world today. In two years of writing this blog, I’ve compared Chad Ochocinco to Benjamin Linus, Green Day to an Applebee’s menu, Andy Roddick to Charles Barkley, iTunes to a murderer, Terrell Owens to Newman from Seinfeld, and numerous others. I’ve even compared Bob Dylan to Jesus Christ on more than one occasion, even though we all know that Jesus is actually waaaaaayyyy better (…well maybe not waaaaayyyyy better, but whatever). I even have comparisons that I haven’t shared, simply because they aren’t fully developed.

(For example: Harrison Ford and Justin TimberlakeStar Wars = *NSync…Indiana Jones = the Justified album…The Fugitive = “Sexyback”…the 4th Indiana Jones = Timberlake almost crying on Punk’d. Need more? How about LeBron James and Rihanna – Both hit the big stage as promising rookies at the age of 18…multiple MVP’s = multiple Platinum albums…Bron’s 48-point playoff game against Detroit = Rihanna’s “Umbrella”…James going to Miami = Rihanna’s domestic dispute incident with Chris Brown…and despite that they are both great individually, maybe they are better suited as a wingman/wingwoman [Bron as the all-around facilitator for Dwayne Wade in Miami, Rihanna as the collaborator on “Live Your Life” with T.I., “Run This Town” with Jay-Z, and “Love the Way You Lie” with Eminem.] And yes, I just used brackets within a paragraph-long parenthetical tangent.)

After thinking and searching for the perfect comparison for Pippen, I couldn’t help but turn to music. There had to be some band, throughout the laurels of musical history, with a sidekick comparable to Scottie Pippen. It was tough at first. Lennon and McCartney were Shaq and Kobe, Cobain and Grohl were Kareem and Magic, Richards and Jagger were Stockton and Malone. And then it hit me. The Edge is Scottie Pippen.

Much like Pippen will always be known as Jordan’s sidekick, The Edge will forever be Bono’s sidekick. Pippen was to the Bulls what The Edge has always been to U2: a necessary #2. You see, the 90’s Bulls would have never been the 90’s Bulls without Scottie, in the same way that U2 needed The Edge in order to be U2. There is no doubt in my mind that Jordan and Bono would be great without their partners in crime, but would they have been as great as they are today? There is also no doubt that Pippen and The Edge would have been relevant without the help of their superstar front-men, but would they have been as relevant?

Scottie’s defense and well-rounded skills were just as vital to Chicago’s championship teams as The Edge’s distinctive guitar skills and digital sound processing are to U2’s prominence for the past 30 years. And yet, both Pippen and The Edge seemed to fully comprehend that they needed Jordan and Bono, and even embraced the fact over their careers. And in return, they could take solace in the fact that Jordan and Bono needed them as well, albeit on a lesser scale. Pippen and The Edge each lent a big hand to the greatness and immortality of their superiors.

We may never know what Pippen and The Edge could have accomplished had they been fully on their own, solely responsible for their chance at greatness. The small glimpses that we have had (Pippen during and after MJ’s retirements, The Edge on his few solo ventures) have mainly served to confirm what we already believed to be true – they couldn’t quite reach “that” level by themselves. But the lives they did lead and the careers they did have only strengthened their case for greatness. It takes a big man to recognize his shortcomings and still grab that passenger seat by the horns. The Edge and The Pippen are those big men.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A great man is always willing to be little.” When Scottie Pippen enters the Hall of Fame this weekend, it will be in recognition of a career in which he always stood a little smaller than he was capable of, just as The Edge did for U2. And in that way, they both achieved greatness.


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