Is it possible that there’s an alternate universe where Michael Jordan is not nearly universally heralded as the greatest of all time?
People often point to the Chicago Bulls' draft-day trade of Scottie Pippen and ask, “What if?” in regards to the Seattle Supersonics and what they could have done had they not made the draft-day trade with Chicago.
What isn’t as widely discussed is that the Pippen pick didn’t originally belong to Seattle but was traded to the Supersonics by the New York Knicks. I’ll pause for a moment to let the irony of that catch up to you.
In 1986, New York traded its 1987 first-round pick, along with a 1990 second-round pick, for Gerald Henderson and the Supersonics' first-round pick, which the Knicks then used on Mark Jackson. That ’87 pick was the pick Seattle used to select Pippen.
Now it’s not like Jackson ended up being horrible or anything, but he wasn’t Pippen.
Imagine if Pippen had been teammates with Patrick Ewing, while Jordan was left a Batman without a Robin. Could that duo have won a title, or even multiple titles? It’s not at all far-fetched. Jordan’s Bulls and Ewing’s Knicks had some titanic battles as things were. Swapping Pippen from one team to the other could have swung the result.
And where would that place Ewing historically?
The '90s were the decade of the centers. David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuown and Shaquille O’Neal all won titles eventually. Each is one of the top five or six centers in the history of the game. Ewing is in the next tier of centers because of his lack of a championship. If he had the most rings, would he now be thought of as a top-10 player?
How different is his legacy if the Knicks have Pippen?
Or perhaps the Jazz win two titles, and John Stockton and Karl Malone aren’t on that list of greats without a ring, but just on the list of greats. Maybe Kenny Smith isn’t able to mock Charles Barkley any more.
Imagine the alternate universe where fans argue that Jordan was a great scorer, but where’s the ring? And his proponents bemoan, “But what if he’d had Scottie Pippen?”