Wilt or Russell.
Magic or Bird.
Kobe or Ricky Davis.
Unlike baseball fans (whose arguments devolve into dueling peer-reviewed Fangraphs papers on omitted variable bias and spin rate) or football fans (whose arguments devolve into someone getting hit in the head with a Coors Light can), one of the underappreciated joys of NBA fandom involves stimulating debates over what historically great player deserves an arbitrarily lower ranking than another historically great player.
Ask any basketball fan "Who are your top five...?" and before you can even finish your sentence, he's rushing to his laptop to bring out the thousand lists he emails himself every morning during all-staff meetings.
"Top five what...fat backup point guards of all time? I've got Khalid Al-Amin third. Whaaaat? Dude Jameer is not that fat."
With the notable exception of mentioning the words "Bill Walton" around your dad and then waiting for the lecture to end, comparing players from different NBA eras is an endlessly entertaining pastime.
Surprisingly, most NBA fans can find common ground on these matters. MJ is the GOAT. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. No matter the decade, never, ever fuck with Charles Oakley.
But there's one debate where even the most level-headed NBA nerds can't seem to agree, where those most well-versed in the history and nuances of the game are split into two rival and stubborn and unpersuadable camps. This argument rages in the darkest, most middle-aged corners of NBA reddit, in barbershops from North Carolina to Omaha, and in dueling Bleacher Report listicles written by 10-year olds.
Who is the greatest shooter of all time? Steph Curry or Eric Piatkowski?
Both were transformative offensive players who remade the way people thought basketball could be played. Both were singular playmaking talents who could kill you just as equally with their shooting as with their crossover (Steph) or passing (Steph) or underrated ability to feed Cherokee Parks in the post (Pike). And both had an outsized influence on the culture beyond basketball, becoming surprisingly controversial symbols of how a basketball player should look and act.
Unfortunately, basketball fans were never treated to seeing both players square off against each other in their prime. Almost poetically, Pike retired one year before Steph entered the league, the basketball gods extinguishing one human torch while sparking another.
We’ll never truly know who was the better player. Sure, you can look at all the advanced metrics you want, but real NBA fans know you can’t quantify greatness that easily. How would Steph have handled the physicality of the late 90’s and early ‘00’s? How would Pike have handled being forced to move laterally in today’s hyper-athletic league?
Still, it’s fun to debate. We’ve broken down Steph and Pike along multiple dimensions, and forced ourselves to give one player the edge over the other. Here are the results.
Slight Edge: Steph.
Analysis: Kevin Love’s massively overrated defensive stop notwithstanding, Steph is absolutely deadly off the dribble. He can seemingly pull up from anywhere, anytime, over a defender of any height, and rain hellfire.
Eric Piatkowski could not do those things. Edge, Steph.
Relationship with rappers
Major Edge: Pike.
Analysis: Drake and Steph seem to get along pretty well, with Drake referencing Steph in multiple songs and apparently making everyone’s trip to In’N’Out even more time-consuming than usual.
Everyone who likes hip-hop has the same opinion of Drake: he’s alright. Twenty years from now though, I don’t think we’ll be speaking of him in the reverential tones reserved for true hip-hop icons. And we’ll have a tough time remembering his Curry lyrics as anything but ephemeral.
But that full verse by Ghostface about Pike on 36 Chambers? Timeless.
Also, this Adidas spot is kind of iconic.
Slight Edge: Steph.
Analysis: It’s 2016—we need to have some advanced metrics in here. Steph had a mind-boggling PER of 31.6 in his unanimous MVP season. Pike did have a PER of half that in 2003. Only a slight edge here for Steph though, as PER didn’t really exist for most of Pike’s career.
Slight Edge: Pike.
Surprisingly, neither Pike nor Steph really excelled at the shoe game. Steph has taken a drubbing for the orthopedically resplendent “Curry 2’s”. But it’s not like Pike’s first endorsement deal was that much better.
Seems to me that considering the similarity in their games and their global popularity, there’s a fairly obvious marketing campaign uniting both stars that Under Armour should get on. I mean, how dope would this be?
Final Verdict—Game on the line, you need a three. Who You Got?
It’s fitting—on the four most important dimensions we’ve isolated, Curry and Pike are at a 2-2 tie (although if it was 3-1 for Steph, it wouldn’t necessarily be locked up). So let’s deploy the flawed but still useful “game on the line, you need a three to go in, who do you want shooting?” hypothetical.
God, this is so difficult. I honestly can’t decide between the two.
I guess, gun to my head, I’d have to say...Kyrie.
Also JJ forever.
As always, shout-out to the homie Connor for taking his art to another level. Connor, you are the Earl Boykin to my Sean Rooks.