Russell, Wilt, Jerry, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Kobe, and, most recently, LeBron James. There are others that could arguably be in the conversation, but despite what they all brought to the game of basketball, Michael Jordan is and always will be the greatest basketball player of all time. And here’s why…
By the Numbers
Let’s take a look at Jordan’s numbers first. 6 NBA Championships and 6 Finals MVPs, 5 regular season MVPs, 10 scoring titles, 14 All-Star appearances, 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 9 All-Defensive Team selections, 3 times steals leader, 30.1% regular season points per game, 33.4% in the playoffs, 72 wins in a single season (1995-96), chewed gum while playing which was cool, smoked cigars, stuck his tongue out a lot, and accepted baldness gracefully.
None of that matters. LeBron James is on pace to eclipse a lot of those stats, and arguments will go on forever as to whether it’s scoring, championships, winning with crappy teammates, or intangibles like making your teammates better, that determines who the greatest is. For me at least, these things have nothing to do with it.
Well ok, they’ve got something to do with it, but you can’t measure greatness by the numbers. LeBron James could win 7 or 8 championships, be season and Finals MVP each time, and average a triple-double for each of his remaining seasons as an NBA player, but it still wouldn’t make him the greatest. Not for me, Clive.
No. Because I grew up watching Michael Jordan. He captured my imagination. I remember watching the game where he scored 63 points against the Celtics in 1986. I remember watching highlights of the 1988 Dunk Contest where he and Dominique Wilkins battled it out and Jordan literally flew.
I remember getting my Sky Jordans. Yup, that’s right – Sky Jordans. I remember staying up late as a teenager to watch the ’96, ’97, and ’98 Finals series, and I remember being captivated by every single moment of it.
So Kobe scores 81 – who cares? LeBron gets to the Finals 27 times in a row – so what? As a kid growing up and watching Jordan play, watching him palming the basketball for a pass fake or dunking over the whole Knicks team, watching the Dream Team in the ’92 Olympics, watching him wave the finger when he finally dunked on Mutumbo, watching him steal the ball from Malone, dribble down the court and definitely not push off Bryon Russell to win his 6th championship with a perfect jump shot… I was spoiled, we all were.
There was an aesthetic quality to it all, too. The effortless dunks, the reverse lay-ups off the glass, through traffic. It looked good. LeBron at 6’8 and 250(ish) is an absolute beast. I’ve been lucky enough to see him play live three times, and his strength and power is incredible to watch. But it looks… uh… clunky. It just doesn’t look nice.
There are arguments about the quality of the opposition or the quality of teammates, but that’s not important either. Jordan was a superstar in a time before everyone and their auto-tune, sex-tape, or vacuous stupidity was a major celebrity. There was no NBA League Pass, no live streaming, and at least in the UK where I grew up, there was no way of watching a different game every night, so every time you got to watch Jordan and the Bulls take the court, it felt special.
He was a superstar in a league that allowed players to actually have personalities and it was so much better to watch. He commanded the world’s attention and the world seemed like a better and brighter place because of it.
So I’m sorry but for me, nothing that comes after, no matter how impressive in its own right, will make me change my mind. I’m sorry LeBron, I really am. It’s unfair, I know, but there’s simply nothing you can do. Maybe shave your head though, it’s just getting embarrassing.
What do you think? Did you grow up watching Jordan in a more expressive league? Maybe you’re a Kobe fan, or maybe you think LeBron is already the greatest player of all time? Or perhaps there’s an argument to be made for Larry Bird, Magic, or someone else? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts…