Horace Grant and the Deceptive Power of Nostalgia

Rather hear what was or will be than what is…

If you’re leaning on Aubrey Graham for enlightenment, chances are you’re about as deep as a plate of Ramen Noodles. But every once in a while, Drake gets it. What was will always be better than what is. People yearn for the past. It’s natural. There’s a reason why the word nostalgia exists.

So while I can be annoyed by former Chicago Bull Horace Grant being the latest to speak out about the ongoing Heat/Bulls debate—and conversely, the LeBron/MJ rattle—I can expect it. Grant’s got a vested interest in maintaing the idea of Bulls supremacy: That was how he defined his basketball career. Grant won three championships as a starting power forward for the Bulls, even made an All-Star team in 1994, but quickly saw his numbers dilute in Orlando. By the 1998-99 season, he wasn’t even a double-digit scorer anymore.

But since we can’t get enough of this, since Grant must defend this dynasty’s honor the only way he can at 48 years old, since LeBron and the Heat are doing what Grant’s Bulls never did, which is advance to four straight NBA Finals, Grant’s opinion is news. For the unsurprising record, he doesn’t think Miami even begins to compare.

“They wouldn’t have had a chance,” Grant told WSCR-AM in Chicago last Tuesday. “We would have locked them up. We would have locked them up. Especially with the rules today, Michael would have had a field day.”

“I’m not being biased,” he also said to ESPN Chicago 1000’s Gamenight, “MJ would average 40 points today with the no hand-check rule. No question, 40 points.”

Hold on. Let me roll my eyes.

He’s easily excitable, we get it, we get it. Grant might even say John Paxson > Jose Calderon if you egged him on. Here’s the thing: Grant is too attached to speak on this. In fact, as fun as the debate may be, it shouldn’t even be a serious conversation. Nostalgia clouds everything, from “’Rome’ would’ve been the best HBO show ever if they hadn’t cancelled it!” to “Ether is better than Superugly!” How many times have people argued that Shaq and Kobe would’ve won five-plus championships had they stayed together, despite the fact that O’Neal was getting fat and the bench had gone from Robert Horry to Slava Medvedenko. The run was over. The point is, instead of trying to conclusively project alternative histories, fans should be satisfied with what really did happen…and leave it at that.

Do we know what happens if the 2014 Heat and the early ’90s Bulls matchup? Nope. It’s fun to think about and analyze; debate is a part of sports fandom. History matters and so, then, does context. But any discussion of teams’ places in sports history is always convoluted by teams’ places in our personal history. Let’s not deny we’re all wearing rose-colored glasses.

The game changes. Times change and as we get older, our memories of the details fade. We forget that defense was simplified in past eras. We forget the Jordan Rules’ end result put MJ on the foul line. We forget the Bad Boy Pistons were one of the most undervalued dynasties in NBA history. Should Russell’s Celtics be penalized for playing in an era of beer guts and gimmicks? Should Bird’s Celtics or Duncan’s Spurs be penalized because they never won two in a row?

Twenty years from now, we’ll throw similar comments at any new dynasty coming up. They’ll get the short stick against Miami, and that guy next to you on the train right now will be saying things like, “Remember Mario Chalmers?! Dude was so clutch! He’d be dropping buckets nowadays” and “Birdman was a beast. Had so much energy! Crazy.”

The cycle won’t end with Bulls/Heat or LeBron/Jordan and it hasn’t stopped with music or television or art or Hollywood. It never will. But there will always be a Horace Grant grumbling somewhere.


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