It seems foot-and-mouth disease is not limited to livestock.

Men of all colors, countries, and causes – from franchise owners (Fred Wilpon) to franchise players (Ray Lewis), from cyclists (Lance Armstrong) to pugilists (Bernard Hopkins) – have breached their bubbles of expertise and landed in toxic PR waters.

You’ve heard the quote. Or, if you haven’t, the latest from Scottie Maurice Pippen…

“Michael Jordan may be the greatest scorer to ever play the game, but I may go so far as to say that LeBron James is the greatest player to every play the game,” Pippen said Friday on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” program.

And perhaps you heard LeBron’s “gracious” response. It’s not worth repeating, filled with platitudinous respect for Jordan’s name and game It was the rare moment King James thought of something or someone other than himself, moonwalking from Pippen’s assertion that LeBron is better than Michael Jordan. It’s perhaps the lone time LeBron is embroiled in a squabble not of his making.

Pippen has many reasons to hate Jordan, to be sure. Jordan got Scottie six rings, millions of dollars, a spot in the Hall of Fame, and his (undeserving) spot as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players. Yeah, Jordan’s been a real thorn in Scottie’s side. More like a gash in his colossal ego. I hate when people make me rich, famous, and have the gall to get me a gold medal, too.

The comments would be innocuous enough from a fan, but not from a player. Not just a player, but also Jordan’s wingman for a decade. The comments feel caustic, bitter, and envious.

And such is the vortex of his vitriol. Not only is Pippen not Jordan, he was never the best player on his own squad. And the one time the team asked Scottie to be like Mike, Toni Kukoc got the final shot in a crucial playoff game while Pippen brooded on the bench, victim of a convenient, miraculous migraine.

No doubt it’s also Jordan’s fault that Pippen hemorrhaged his fortune. According to an article from Yahoo! Sports, Pippen blew over $120 million in career earnings, including $27 million in bad investments and over $4 million on a private jet – a jet he never used because it required over $1 million in repairs that he refused to pay, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (You can’t make this stuff up.) It takes a talent to make and bake that kind of quid.

How many of you would sell your souls to play Pippen’s game, to become rich by dint of dribbling a basketball and stopping your opponent from doing the same?

It’s a shock Pippen didn’t get more sponsors, what with his face for radio, and the verbal alacrity of the dude in “Sling Blade.” For all of Pippen’s physical splendor, there’s always been a bent of entitlement, a resentment for being Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Imagine if Pippen played for the team that actually drafted him in 1987: the Seattle Supersonics. Would we even know who he was? Perhaps he’d be the player Chicago traded to get him: Olden Polynice.

The Hall of Fame is festooned with complimentary players, from Dennis Johnson to Dennis Rodman, from Kevin McHale to James Worthy. There is no shame in riding the saddle of a savant. Pippen was part of a nouveaux wave of athletes from the late 1980s and early ’90s: part of the sneaker-deal explosion, hybrid pitchmen who saw dollars with every dunk. Winning was nice, but nicer when measured by the corporate ruler of endorsements.

Along with Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali, Jordan became the emblem of an era, as ensconced in our culture as our president. When you think of the 1920s you think of Ruth as much as Woodrow Wilson. Likewise, Ali stole far more hearts than LBJ or Richard Nixon. And for my dollar I’d bet a boy wants to break bread with Jordan long before George Bush (junior or senior). This is not a political statement, but an assessment of our monolithic emotional investment into our boyhood heroes Jordan was that big.

Jordan’s visage is just as much the NBA logo as Jerry West, his soaring scissor kick, ball gripped high in his right palm, tongue flexed toward the floor. We New Yorkers know it too well, as does Patrick Ewing, who was too often on the business end of an Air Jordan poster.

Even if someone storms into the league with more talent than Jordan, he’ll never be Jordan. I think you know what I mean. Jordan charged through the portal of basketball’s renaissance, a booming economy, and a few million teens (including yours truly) looking for a hero, and willing to spend dad’s dollars to slip on Jordan’s new kicks. And LeBron is not that man, no matter what he does for the next decade.

No, you don’t need another ballad about Michael Jordan from another 40-year-old too stubborn to surrender his childhood superheroes. We all saw the footage – except, it seems, Scottie Pippen who says the most clutch player in the history of Dr. Naismith’s game has just been supplanted by a man who quit on his Cavaliers in the playoffs (Boston Celtics, Game 5, last year). LeBron is a transcendent talent, but even if his Heat beat Dallas it will be his first title, let alone sixth. And, if memory serves, Jordan was 6-0 in the NBA Finals, winning MVP of each series.

Love him or loathe him, Bob Knight had it right: Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the history of team sports. That includes LeBron James, and it sure as hell includes Scottie Pippen.

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