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.


  • Steve · December 10, 2012 at 11:28 am

    You know there’s Laver and then there’s everybody else but I like Sampras’ answer.

    I don’t see the Kidd/Sampras thing. Maybe if Kidd starts doing scissor-kick dunks and wins 7 more championships :-)…I don’t see him as a point guard-type of player.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 10, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Nadal would have whooped Pete too IMO!!

  • Dan Markowitz · December 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Doubt that highly, Scoop. Pete would’ve taken racquet out of Nadal’s hands and his forehand is bigger than Fed’s. It would’ve handcuffed Nadal’s backhand.

    And, Steve, you don’t see JKidd as a point guard type? At 39, he can still play point. And after Magic and Clyde, he’s the greatest point guard in the history of the NBA. He got the New Jersey Nets to two NBA Finals with who? Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson! That was one of the greatest feats in basketball history!

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Pete’s backhand is shakier than Roger’s and Rafa would have broke that thing down and made it look more feeble than Rusedski’s!

  • Steve · December 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    No…I don’t see Sampras as a point guard type. J. Kidd is one of the all time greats at PG.

  • Steve · December 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Sampras vs. Nadal is really a match that would depend on the surface.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I did a Biofile with J Kidd back when he was in college and a bunch of top college players were invited to help train the 92 Dream Team and he said Michael Jordan didn’t know his name correctly and was inadvertantly calling him “Justin.” lol

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 10, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Steve I can see Nadal returning Pete’s serves. And can see Pete’s backhand not holding up to the relentless Nadal assaults. Resulting in Pete showing that very infrequent but memorable “hangdog” demeanor. On Roland Garros clay it would be a one sided massacre to the tune of something like 61 62 62.

  • Dan markowitz · December 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    C’mon Scoop, no ones beating Pete 1 and 2 on any surface unless he’s injured. Nadal has won five slam other than the French. Sampras won seven other than Wimbledon. I know Nadal’s career isn’t over yet, but I give the nod to Sampras. They were both forces of Nature and clearly, Sampras never faced anyone with Nadal’s artillery.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Sampras lost to Santoro love and one in Monte Carlo. Pete could be annihilated on clay and I think the all time king of clay would put a beating on poor Pete on clay. Grass is a different story but I see Rafa and Pete splitting their clashes on the turf.

  • Steve · December 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I think both Fed & Nadal have been served begals and bread sticks. It happens to most players. Bad days. I take Sampras in his prime on fast grass over anyone.

  • Harold · December 11, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Kidd better than Oscar Robertson? your nuts

  • Harold · December 11, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Clyde better than Oscar? Maybe Starks was better than Oscar too….

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Can’t really say, the Oscar I saw play, late in his career with the Bucks, was not the equal of Clyde or Kidd. Oscar only won one championship and that was when he had Lew Alcindor on his side. Clyde won two with a bunch of undersized, and basically with the exception of Reed, devalued players as his teammates. Bradley, DeBusschere, Barnett, these guys hadn’t won anything on the pro level and had all either been estimated as over-hyped or traded before Clyde took over and guided the Knicks to three finals in four years.

    So, yes, I’d say Clyde was a better point guard than Oscar. That doesn’t mean he’s the greater player, but the better play-maker. Kidd has won a championship and played in three finals. Oscar didn’t match that. But I can’t talk definitively about Oscar. I never saw him play in person. I used to live in LA and I saw Magic play at least a dozen times in person. He’s the greatest. Clyde’s next and Kidd after that–from what I saw with my eyes.

    After that, there’s Stockton, Gus Williams, Chris Paul and Rondo.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

    If Korda knew how to trouble Pete on fast grass, what would Nadal do to him?

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Gotta put Maurice Cheeks in with that last group too. Not sure about Tiny Archibald though.

  • Tom Michael · December 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Sampras is an arrogant jerk. Of course, he would say he is the greatest. He has too many holes in his resume now, thanks to Roger and Rafa, and he still has the nerve to talk such nonsense.

    And about subduing rivals, Rafael Nadal did just that in his era. Pete could have respectfully acknowledged that. But he didn’t.

    Oh about Pete at Roland Garros against Rafa. It would be a triple bagel in favor of Rafa of 2008, 2010-present. He has such scores against better clay courters than Pete, so easy slaughter for Rafa.

    And Rafa against Pete everywhere else? Rafa all the way if HawkEye exists. The only exception is an indoor match, where Pete is slightly favored.

    And Rafael Nadal has the greatest forehand in tennis history. Sampras’ forehand would do nothing against Nadal.

  • Steve · December 11, 2012 at 10:20 am

    “If Korda knew how to trouble Pete on fast grass, what would Nadal do to him?”

    You can say the same with Soderling…

  • Tom Michael · December 11, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Soderling can beat 100% Pete and an injured Nadal at Roland Garros. Nadal can beat Pete and Korda at Wimbledon.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Big fan of Tiny Archibald, a Bronx native, but until he got to Celtics he was just a scorer. Cheeks is good, definitely a Rondo-like point guard, but in my opinion, not quite up to that level. Rondo, until he got kicked out of a game a couple of weeks ago, had 10+ assists for something like 30 games in a row.

    Sampras would hold serve on any surface. Look, Nadal is great, amazing, but he’s been surpassed now by Djokovic. Sampras was never surpassed by anyone when he was 26. In 1997 when he was turning 26, he won Wimbledon, the Australian and the year-ending Masters.

    I think you can only put Lendl in Sampras’s class because he was the only other guy who beat his top competitors without ceding dominance. Everyone else, Borg, Mac, Connors, Becker, Courier, Agassi, Federer and Nadal have been passed by at least one rival, and most while still in their primes. Only Lendl, maybe, can lay claim to not being surpassed by any one rival, but it took him until 24 to start winning majors.

    So why shouldn’t Sampras state this most important element of who is the GOAT?

  • Tom Michael · December 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Nadal still has a winning record over Djokovic, and beat him 3x out of 4 this past season. And he has 11 majors (and counting), while Novak has 5. Novak hasn’t equalled Nadal yet so how can he have surpassed him.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Djokovic’s No. 1, Nadal is No. 4. I’d say that passing someone, maybe not career-wise, but currently he’s ahead, and he’s only a year younger.

  • Steve · December 11, 2012 at 11:18 am

    ^^Agree Tom. Nadal won his last three matches against Djokovic. However, you can’t shove aside Sampras’ skills on grass and his athletic abilities. He crushed a primed Agassi in a Wimby final. That can happen to any base-liner against Pete though Nadal’s net skills are now excellent.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Nice debate as always. Everyone makes strong passionate points. I’ll add one: Marcelo Rios would have owned them all if he had the head for it. Like Nick Bollettieri said, Rios “could toy with anyone. He created shots nobody else would even think of.” (Shameless plug for The Man We Barely Knew book as a Holidays gift!)

  • Mitch · December 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    You’re forgetting Steve Nash. Sampras wasn’t good enough on clay to be in the running for GOAT.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Since when did Nash win anything? Every guard I named from Gus to Kidd, won a C. You can’t be great unless you won a C (Note: Marcelo Rios). I should’ve mentioned Jerry West. He’s in there, too. But not Steve Nash, and he ain’t winning a C with the Lakers. Should’ve come to the Knicks where he could’ve backed up Felton instead of Prigioni, who I love, too.

  • Harold · December 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Oscar was in the same freaking conference as Wilt and Russell..youre younger, so you only saw him at the end..ask anyone over 55 if Oscar is not better than Clyde. And if they say Clyde, they dont know shit about basketball, theyre just homers…

    In team sports, you cant hold lack of championships against players, unless they choke in big games on personal level..Its like saying Ernie Banks wasnt a great player, just because he was on a shitty Cub team

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Clyde would never say he was better than Oscar. I do believe there are certain players in team sports who can be judged higher or lower with their inevitability to win championships. Quarterbacks in football and point guards in basketball, if their teams don’t win championships, they cannot be deemed great. Chris Paul is the only point guard I call great who never won a championship.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Some great players like Jeter and Jordan for example are lucky with the teams they end up some are not – Barry Sanders, Phil Niekro, Terry Metcalf, etc. Do we really know if Jordan would have become Jordan if he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings or Golden State Warriors?

  • Harold · December 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

    In your sports worls, John Stockton or Dan Marino cant be called great? Are you going to say Robert Horry who probably has more rings than anybody that wasnt a Celtic in the 60’s should be in the HOF.

    In sports where youre drafted by the worst team(unless youre James Worthy who gets drafted very, very early by the Lakers, in midst of a dynasty type run, with a high draft pick)you cant be great without rings is crazy…
    Willie Mays, Oscar and Jerry West, 3 legends, only won on their way out of the game, would you look at them any differently had they not won? West, maybe, he just couldnt get past the Celtics, though that would never change my opinion about how great he was…
    If Jordan would have been on a crappy team, his will to win would have made them better, maybe not 6 rings, but a few for sure..The Bulls sucked when Jordan got there, a few pieces later(really Pippen(now theres an overrated player)they were off and running…And if they werent winning titles, Jordan would have taken over and averaged 40 a game and Dan would be calling him Arod(not Roddick)

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Mario Lemiuex getting drafted by the Penguins and turning that franchise from loser to winner was perhaps more remarkable than what Jordan did in Chicago.

  • Steve · December 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Well, Kidd almost didn’t get a ring. He forced a coach change in NJ and still failed until leaving for a better team. So you can be great and never win anything big.

    I do think team sports is a much easier gig than fighting it out on the tennis tour but at least you have some control of things.

    The team you land on is HUGE. If you put Tom Brady on Kenny O’Brien’s 80s Jets he wouldn’t never be known as a great player. He would have suffered many concussions.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    John Stockton great player, no, very good, yes. Marino, same story, but I don’t follow football the way I do basketball so I can’t be the definitive word on this. If Stockton was a great player, or Karl Malone, they would’ve beaten the Bulls in one of the two finals they played them in.

    Now Kidd, he didn’t have a Malone to play with in New Jersey, so he’s an exception. Just by getting that joke of a New Jersey team to the finals twice, even if he never won with Dallas, qualifies him as a great player. West, of course, he got the Lakers to many finals and they were facing great Celtic teams.

    Baseball I follow quite closely and a player like Mays was individually great, but maybe his talents didn’t translate team-wise. Mays, Ernie Banks, these guys are a little before my time. I can tell you, a Reggie Jackson, he was just a winner. Wherever he went, the A’s, the O’s, the Yanks, the Angels, they won, maybe not the World Series, but at least the playoffs. He inspired his teammates.

    That’s what Kidd is doing for the Knicks this year. Every pro player has the winning gene, but some will not relent until they win a championship. That’s why you take a Gary Payton, I forgot to mention him as a great point guard, but he was. He got Seattle to the finals playing only with Shawn Kemp and then he won late in his career with Miami. That feisty talented guy was going to find a way to win.

    But you’ve got to have talent. No one’s feistier than David Ferrer, but he doesn’t have big time talent so he’s never winning a slam.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    I think David Ferrer would have won a major title if he drew Puerta, Chang, Martin or Philippousis in the final. Ferrer is major worthy, but he has 3 prime all time greats blocking his way. BTW, at MSG when Rafter was talking to the media he was asked about attending the Knicks game the night before and he said he thought JR Smith would have been the most likely guy on the court to become a good tennis player with his athleticism and quickness.

  • Steve · December 13, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Ya know what…Pete is probably right. I can’t imagine these guys fending off Guga, Becker, Agassi, Rafter, Goran, Rios & etc. week after week; year after year. Perhaps only Nadal could rise to such a challenge.

    An in-prime Guga would wipe the floor with Murray for example.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I think Murray matches up well with Guga, it’d been a good rivalry.

  • Steve · December 14, 2012 at 5:24 am

    …well perhaps Nadal & Fed too. :-) Really tough to compare eras.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Mike Tyson after Lennox Lewis knocked him, that even in his prime he could never beat Lewis, because he was just “too big and too strong.” Imagine Laver, Budge, Kramer, etc. would have said the same thing of playing Nadal. Rafa is just too big and too physical.

  • Steve · December 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Yeah Scoop,tennis is similar to boxing but it’s not boxing –weight classes don’t exist, there’s no time limit, no judge’s scorecard.

    Just look at the clips and you’ll see there’s no one who moved like Rod Laver (maybe Gene Kelly? Yes, the dancer) He mastered the all court game like no one else. He didn’t have to take 3 minutes to serve. Maybe a 1/2 second between 1st & 2nd serve. The rallies were often long just like today. Was there anyone better at finding a way to win? He played beautiful tennis,not quite as elegant like Fed, a bit more rambunctious, heroic tennis, swashbuckling tennis. I also get the feeling he had a plan B & C & D to go to if a problem arose in the match. The two greatest lefties of all time for sure. Size would not be an issue, Laver’s left arm was as strong as Rafa’s is today.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Actually Steve Rod Laver did admit he used some gamesmanship – he used to stop and retie his shoes. He did admit he used this for gamesmanship. It’s unknown if Laver used any other tricks for gamesmanship purposes which he was not willing to admit. )

  • Steve · December 15, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I meant he didn’t need really need to rest or reset his psyche between serves.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Steve how many Laver matches have you seen? It’s possible Laver was a very fair and honest sportsman aside from the shoelace trying trick, I’d like to see more of his matches to be sure, especially at the end of his career when his powers were diminishing. I saw one match at the end vs. Nastase on hard court in USA on Tennis Channel and Laver didn’t try to pull anything.

  • Steve · December 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I don’t have a problem with gamesmanship as long as it’s within the rules. We’re talking about whose the greatest and all the greats use the full breadth of the rules to their advantage.

    It’s hard to get full matches on YouTube they have long chunks of his play. Obviously, he had a long career and played the older legends as well as Jimmy Connors.

  • Steve · December 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Djokovic as Guga is the GOAT:

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Djokovic is going to be the GOAT.

  • Steve · December 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Bold statement Scoop! He’s got to win a lot slams get the GOAT nod.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    “Everyone wants to name the one guy each generation has their guy,” Sampras said. “In the ’60s it was Laver. You had Borg (in the 1970s), Ivan (Lendl) and John (McEnroe) during the ’80s and myself and Andre in the ’90s. It’s hard to answer because each decade has their guy and I think now we have Rafa who has done everything in the game, won all the majors, won the Olympics and has a winning record against Roger. There’s no clear best player of all time. Each decade has their guy. Put Borg and Don Budge up there too.”

    Regardless of Nadal’s final Grand Slam total, Sampras says the muscular Mallorcan has already earned his place as one of the top three greatest players of all time.

    “Rafa’s definitely up there,” Sampras said. “You gotta put him in the top three or four and it’s not over yet. He’s in the middle of his career.”



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