By Jim Watkins, WTNH News Anchor
(WTNH) It’s just about time to start watching the NBA playoffs. They’ve actually been going on for weeks and weeks, but I’ve always found, with both the NBA and college March Madness, that it’s better to wait until the final matchups to go all in. I don’t want to peak too soon, and with 16 teams making the playoffs each year…well, I just don’t have that much basketball fan-dom in me.
But one thing has become clear: even if I just watch the finals, I’m going to see Lebron James. In a few days, Lebron will become the first player since the 1960’s to play in five straight championship rounds. The other four five-timers all played for the Boston Celtics in their old glory days — James is the first to do it with multiple teams; the last four years with the Miami Heat, this season with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
So once again, it has everyone asking that favorite question: is Lebron James the best basketball player ever? Or was it Jordan? Or Magic? Or Wilt or Bill Russell? A few years ago, I had a chance to ask The Question of someone who sees the NBA’s best, as up close and personal as possible: a veteran NBA referee.
I was playing in a celebrity golf tournament on Long Island, and in my foursome was Bennett Salvatore, the NBA’s second-longest serving referee and native of Stamford, CT. This is his 33rd season, he’s 65-years-old, and still humping it up and down the court with some of the best athletes on the planet. Respect, yo (also in our foursome was former Howard Stern sidekick, Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling. It was an interesting day).
I waited until the 17th hole, because if I asked the question Mr. Salvatore probably hears everyday, I didn’t want him mad at me for the entire round. Even then, I prefaced my query by warning him I was about to ask The Question; he graciously told me to proceed. “Who was the best?” I asked. “Best you were ever on the court with?”
I remember his answer word-for-word: “I’ll always have special place in my heart for Jordan,” Bennett told me. “But Lebron..” He paused. “Lebron is a man among boys.”
That was good enough for me. They don’t call him King James for nothing. How about you?