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Pippen Ain’t Easy

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Last week, Scottie Pippen announced that he’s planning to end his retirement and return to the NBA at age 41. As expected, the majority of the sports world criticized Pippen’s decision, arguing that he can no longer compete and would therefore tarnish his reputation as one of the best players in the game’s history.

Despite what the critics say, I have no doubt that Pippen still has the talent to compete with professional athletes. As one of the 50 greatest players of all time –a point I will defend to the death!!!!!!—Pippen has the experience and basketball smarts to make up for his deteriorating skills. Although he won’t be able to compete on (or near) an all-star level, he certainly will be able to provide 10-20 minutes of solid play for a championship contender.

Nevertheless, Pippen’s comeback will be probably be short-lived and deemed unsuccessful. Why? Because the world expects more from a player of Pippen’s caliber. Case in point: Michael Jordan’s final comeback with the Washington Wizards was deemed a failure, even though he averaged more than 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds per game. Although he was still among the best in the league, he was no longer the MJ that we knew and worshipped.

Of course, the fans and critics aren’t the only ones with ridiculously high expectations. In all likelihood, Pippen himself is expecting to be more than the role player that he was when he retired from the Chicago Bulls. Like many retired athletes, Pippen is confusing physical recovery with recuperation of talent. As Charles Barkley argued earlier this week, however, Scottie may feel better, but he won’t play better. Hopefully, after a few weeks of trying to guard Lebron James, Gilbert Arenas, and Carmelo Anthony, he’ll learn that aging stars have to get in where they fit in.

Despite my skepticism about his talent level, I fully support Pippen’s comeback efforts. Unlike most people, professional athletes have to surrender the very thing that defines them at a very early age. Even the most gifted, healthy, and lucky athletes rarely play past 40, leaving them with 30-70 more years to long for their one true love. While some are satisfied coaching or playing recreationally, many athletes remain desperate for an opportunity to play one more game under the bright lights. Is it pathetic? Probably. Does it tarnish their image? Usually, but that’s our issue not theirs. Why should athletes deny themselves happiness just so that we can bask in the glory of their past achievements?

I say, let Scottie have his fun.

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