Giannis Antetokounmpo Can’t Compare to Wilt Chamberlain, According to Sam Smith

While every basketball fan has their favorite NBA player, it’s tough to look past Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak possesses incredible talent and, based on stories and interviews, seems like a pretty good guy. Even though he only has one championship under his belt, the Milwaukee Bucks star has already played himself into NBA lore.

Just don’t compare him to Wilt Chamberlain. Or, if you do, don’t ask Sam Smith to sign off of the pairing.

In a recent mailbag, the veteran NBA scribe was asked about how he’d compare Giannis to Wilt the Stilt. While he broke out a couple of political references, Smith eventually argued that Antetokounmpo simply can’t stack up to Chamberlain.

Sam Smith has no time for comparing Giannis Antetokounmpo to Wilt Chamberlain

Lakers legend Wilt Chamberlain (L) and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (R)
Wilt Chamberlain (L) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (R) | Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you’re a sports fan, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with the practice of comparing current players to all-time greats. While things in NBA circles usually focus on Michael Jordan, a recent mailbag raised on a different pairing.

Sam Smith, the man who famously wrote The Jordan Rules, now works for the Bulls. On April 22, he fielded questions from his readers; as you’d expect, some of those dealt with Chicago’s playoff opposition, the Milwaukee Bucks.

One of them focused on the opposing team’s best player: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“How do you think Giannis compares to Wilt Chamberlain,” Brodie Larsh asked in the NBA.com piece. “Do you think Wilt would put up Giannis like numbers if he were playing today?”

Smith replied with an anecdote.

I go back to the famous 1988 vice presidential debate—as if any of those can be—when Republican Dan Quayle made a John Kennedy reference and Democrat Lloyd Bentsen shot back, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” It was said to win the debate for Bentsen, though Quayle to the dismay of the media became winner George Bush’s vice president.

Brodie, I knew Wilt Chamberlain, and Giannis is no Wilt Chamberlain.

Sam Smith, Chicago Bulls

If political references and catch-all assertions aren’t your cup of tea, Smith did provide a bit more context to his assertion.

“Though Giannis is shooting free throws in this series like Wilt. Get back to me when Giannis scores 100 points in a game and averages 50 points per game for a season and plays more than 48 minutes per game not missing one game all season,” the veteran scribe explained. “Plus, Wilt was an Olympic-level track athlete. Who got those statistics playing against the best centers in the history of the NBA, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Thurmond, Walt Bellamy, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, and Dave Cowens.”

After another political anecdote, Smith circled back for his coup de grace.

“Oh yeah, basketball,” he concluded. “Wilt would be leading the NBA in scoring and rebounding, if not free throw shooting.”

Historical comparisons can be fun, but getting too far into the weeds is a fool’s errand

As mentioned above, historical comparisons are simply par for the course among sports fans. While those debates can be fun among friends or while sitting at a bar, there’s something to be said for missing the forest through the trees.

Returning to Smith’s perspective, he does make some valid assertions. Giannis Antetokounmpo, for all his strenghts, isn’t Wilt Chamberlain. He doesn’t dominate in the same way or post the same eye-popping stat lines. That’s all true, but, at the same time, it doesn’t really matter.

While the veteran scribe’s response makes sense — he was directly asked how the two men stacked up — his choice of argument serves to underscore just how foolish it is to get wrapped up in a comparison across eras.

Is it true that Giannis hasn’t scored 100 points in a game? Yes, but no one has ever accomplished that feat beyond Chamberlain. Does Antetokounmpo play fewer games in a season and face different opposition? Of course, but it’s not his fault that he was born in a different time.

Moving on to the issue of athleticism, things become a bit more striking. While there are plenty of legendary stories about Wilt lifting weights, sprinting, and doing just about anything imaginable, no one can claim that the Greek Freak is not an incredible athlete in his own right. An old article from ESPN: The Magazine’s analytics issue details how his body is unlike almost anyone else’s. Refusing to acknowledge that fact seems almost like an intentional omission more than anything else. He may be athletic, but he’s just not Wilt Chamberlain.

Again, that’s not to take a shot at Sam Smith. He’s forgotten more basketball than I’ve ever seen. It does, however, show how just about anyone can get too far down the comparison rabbit hole.

At the risk of getting Pollyanna about things, the best solution is probably to keep things in perspective. While there’s nothing wrong with dabbling in the occasional debate or historical comparison, don’t let those blind you to what’s in front of your face. Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example, is a great player who will surely go down in NBA history. It would be a real missed opportunity to fail to appreciate him because he isn’t matching up to some arbitrary standards.

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