Oscar Robertson, one the best players in NBA history, isn’t impressed with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry. Or at least he isn’t impressed with how opponents defend him. Curry’s scoring feats have been well-documented, and he’s been on an unprecedented tear this season. But Robertson, a star in the 1960s and ’70s and the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double, is convinced teams in his day would have been able to stop or slow Curry down.
This seems like curmudgeonly criticism of a star player until you remember what is being said about Curry by fans and the media: He’s the best since Michael Jordan. … I’ve never seen anyone like him. … He’s the best shooter we’ve ever seen. … He’s so good he’s bad for basketball. When terms like “ever” are being used and comparisons are being made with one of the game’s greatest, especially at the expense of an entire era of players (pre 3-point line), it’s not so surprising an old-timer would take exception.
This debate is a microcosm of American thought. We see it in politics with “Make America great again” as the counterpoint to the message of hope that brought Barack Obama to the White House. We see it in the church with the traditionalism of “We’ve always done it this way” competing with the drive for change and new methodology.
It’s a battle between recency bias—the propensity for thinking that what has happened most recently is what matters most—and historical bias.
Recency bias can’t learn anything from history because it ignores it. Historical bias can’t learn anything from history because it ignores progress and change.
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When we focus only on the present or only on the past, we encumber ourselves with blinders. Every era has (or had) aspects that are better than every other era, but we cannot take one era with us into the next nor can we live in a bygone era.
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