Commentary

Who's Chicago's best?

Dwyane Wade probably needs another title to supplant Isiah Thomas

Originally Published: August 21, 2009
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

The list was long but the question was simple.

In light of Dwyane Wade having his ESPN "Homecoming" (taping begins Thursday, Aug. 20), we figured it was the perfect time to ask the ultimate question of his (or any player's) life: Is he the best player to ever come out of his city?

[+] EnlargeDwayne Wade
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/ Getty ImagesHas Dwyane Wade supplanted Isiah Thomas as the best Chicago-area basketball player?
It's a mythical title, but it's a question that could mean more than an MVP, especially if the player is from a respected city that's produced a Dream Team of elite players.

So I put it out there. To around 25-30 people who know the city's hoop history and are either from or have been in and around Chicago long enough voice a legit argument. Phone calls. Texts. E-mails. Word of mouth. The responses were a condensed glimpse into how brutally honest the people of Chi can be when it comes to sports and politics. And truth be told for Dwyane Wade, as great as he is … there's still some work he has to put in.

The first response about Wade came from Steve Bardo, ESPN college basketball analyst and 1/5 of one of the greatest nonchampionship NCAA teams in history: "Too early to tell. Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre and Derrick Rose have to be in the convo." Then after my response of "Zeke's got the crown," he replied, "You can't go wrong with him."

Then my man Lonzo (a Chicago security guard who's a scout of Chicago Public League players) went very general in his response: "I can't agree with you [on Wade being the best]. We have had too many pros/all stars. I have to think about it."

A flood of other responses came through: former Harlem Globetrotter Curly "Boo" Johnson ("Depending what you base it on … Isiah Thomas in my opinion, but it's hard to compare eras"); Rick Telander, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times ("I'd have to say Isiah, but Dwyane is up there"); Joel Bullock, former European pro ball player and product of South Shore High School, ("Wow! Are we counting Kevin Garnett?"); Erwin McEwen, director of Illinois DCFS ("No! Isiah the man!"); Michael Coburn, marketing exec for Common Ground Marketing ("Can't say the best ever. I think you have to look at periods, 70s, 80s, 90s"); WGCI-FM radio personality and comedian Leon Rogers ("Hmmmmmmmmm. If we are basing it on chips [championships] and ability then 'Yes,' [Wade is], if just ability and no chips, then Ben Wilson, Mark Aguirre and Kendall Gill are in the mix"); New Jersey Nets forward Bobby Simmons ("Besides me, that's a tough one").

[+] EnlargeIsiah Thomas
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesOr does Zeke still hold the crown?
Others were more definitive in answering the question. They had Wade's back on this. Joey Clayton, who's an AAU coach and runs a basketball program in the city, said, "I would have to say yes, he is. Especially if you look at it from the aspect of being a total player." And Paul Wilkinson, writer for Bounce: "Damn, it's tough to give someone Zeke's crown, but yes DWade is the best. He came out of the gate killing. First year with Odom, changed the Heat franchise immediately. Third year, 'Ship." Then he repeated it. "The best ever from Chi is DWade!"

Or the text returned from my man, PJ: "Yes … [DWade] won a championship with less than what Isiah had and he made himself that good … He proved he was elite to the world at the Olympics … I don't think anyone else is in the conversation but Isiah … [Wade] doesn't have the basketball pedigree that others from the city have and I could see that as an argument some would use … but I will still say, yes, he's the best."

Then there were others who took the convo further. Nick Wolcott, a professional rugby player who grew up in the same south-suburban area as Wade and went to the same high school as Wade: "Isiah is the best. But if D gets one more championship, then yes. And the only other dude I guess you could put in the conversation is Quinn Buckner. But he never had the NBA career to be in this convo."

But author Isaac Perry 180'd that whole frame of thought: "There's a strong argument for DWade as the best ever when you're talking about going from Chi to the NBA. [Originally] I'm thinking you're talking current players of Wade's generation, maybe Michael Finley's generation. But Isiah is a whole 'nother conversation. Of all time? DWade is not in Zeke's league yet, maybe never."

Finally Lonzo got back to me. He'd thought about it. "I guess you can say that he may be the best. But we have had so many great players that run the streets of Chicago. If [Wade] can get to the chip and win it again and win an MVP twice then he'll be that dude. That's the only way he will knock Zeke out the box."

And there rests the general consensus. Right now, DWade's the Prince, Isiah's the King of Chi. Still the one. But in time, given the way DWade's been balling -- on a level matched right now by only two other players in the League -- Zeke's mythical title may be gone. And if Dwyane Wade inherits that one, Rick Reilly may have to come back to do a DWade "Homecoming Part II."

Scoop Jackson | email

ESPN.com columnist

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