Who’s The Greatest? Pete Sampras Says He Is!
I was at the Knick game last night, watching the hometown team beat the Nuggets and start this very promising season, 15-5. And what happens as a reporter when you’re waiting for pro basketball players to talk to you (with the exception of Steve Novak, that is, the Knicks sharpshooter, who gladly answered my questions as he wrapped his own ankles and put on his black basketball shoes) is that you invariably start talking to the other reporters all milling around the near-empty locker room (the players escape onto the court for shooting practice or into the training room where reporters are not welcome).
So I talked to a guy who I’ve seen at many tennis as well as basketball events and I asked him if he got any interesting replies to his question at the Legends event at the Garden last month regarding his “Who’s The Greatest?” line. And he said yes. He said that Sampras basically said that he is the greatest because he subdued his greatest rival, Agassi, in every slam he faced him except one or two, and Federer has been beaten time and again in slams by his greatest rival, Nadal.
I pointed out that Sampras and Agassi were separated by one year while Fed and Rafa are divided by five, but Sampras apparently shook his head when probed similarly and said, it doesn’t matter. You can only be considered the greatest if you have beaten your greatest rival. I tend to agree with Sampras. I think people feel that because his game was one built on power and indomitable confidence he wasn’t as great as Federer with his feline quickness and great variety of shot. But I think Sampras had the greatest combination of power and genius and that’s why he’s the greatest.
By the way, on a basketball front, Jason Kidd, who is now almost as old as Sampras–39 to 41–is a basketball genius. The guy has single-handedly (with a little help from newcomers Raymond Felton, Rasheed Wallace and Ronnie Brewer) turned the Knicks into a serious championship contender. And I think there is a deep parallel between Kidd and Sampras. They’re both from California and they play(ed) no-nonsense, very little flash, but oh so dominant games. And while Kidd is known for his passing and Sampras by his serving bombs, Kidd is the No. 3 all-time leading 3-point bomber in NBA history.