Let me preface this article by pre-empting your verbal strikes. I am sure I will be hit with comments, emails and tweets saying this is the worst thing they’ve ever read, that I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I am stupid, that I don’t know basketball, that I am a hater, that I am a troll, that I didn’t watch him play enough and that it’s common knowledge he is the greatest.
So to save both your and my time, I want to make one thing clear before you smother me in fist shaking and pitchfork waving;
I don’t care.
I was listening to Colin Cowherd’s radio show earlier today and John Salley made a controversial statement that has been festering in my mind for some time, but something I never dared to instate because I didn’t think it was worth it. Sure, Salley is hardly the figure I would choose to open this window and allow me to somewhat confidently write my thoughts, but he’ll have to do.
Salley was on The Herd and was flatly asked by Cowherd whether it was true he did not believe Jordan is the greatest ever.
“I love Michael. I’m a Michael Jordan fan, like everyone else. I just don’t think he’s the greatest player ever. I think the greatest player I ever played against was Magic Johnson. Next was Larry Bird. Then Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The hardest guy I ever had to guard? Hakeem Olajuwon”.
Salley then appeared on SportsNation later in the day and cleared up his analysis, that Magic Johnson was actually his favourite ever player but if he was being objective, the greatest player ever was Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Whilst I do not agree with that, the crux of his argument is true. Michael Jordan is not the greatest player of all time.
I do not understand how this thought policing came to effect. Like something out of Orwell’s classic 1984, anyone that challenges the throne of Michael Jordan is immediately locked away and brainwashed or slain (figuratively).
The saturation of the Jordan brand across the sports sphere, the famous Gatorade and McDonalds commercials that had such a bind on the public and perhaps his brief stint in Baseball may have may have been a catalyst, but really, how does all this equate to the atmosphere we find ourselves in?
For those that grew up whilst he was in his prime, I can understand. For Bulls fans, I can understand. Even North Carolina fans are given something of an immunity, but for the people too young to have seen him, the people old enough to have a better perspective and everyone in-between, I fail to comprehend why everyone bows down to ‘his airness’.
Michael Jordan’s legacy is shrouded by a couple of things. 6 Championships in 8 years is special. It’s incomparable in the modern game. He and Scottie Pippen forged one of the great duos in the history of the game. His many one liners rang throughout the league and have become a staple in sports psychology. The legendary dunk contests, the timeless images of game winners and tongue poking and his unmalleable will to win all add to the resume.
But inarguably, Jordan’s greatest achievement was something he probably never set out to do. The NBA was a dying brand. With the decline of the game’s greatest ever rivalry, Magic’s Lakers and Larry’s Celtics, there was no real direction the league was heading in. Crowds were down, ratings were low and there wasn’t a clear indication of how the NBA was going to combat the growing popularity of the MLB and the juggernaut that is the NFL. Enter Michael Jordan.
His late game heroics, his incredible feats of athleticism, the imagery I discussed above and the way he went about knocking his opponent down and stepping on their throat was not only contagious, but it became nothing less than sports pornography. The league would look considerably different than it does right now if not for Michael Jordan. Not directly because of his play, but because of what he was and what the audience depicted him as.
So perhaps to some, that makes him the greatest basketball player of all time. To me it does not. It makes him the greatest basketball figure, and that perhaps again is a product of the cultural brainwashing that surrounds the guy.
People old enough to have effectively watched basketball in the 50s, 60s and early 70s have mostly left us or at least do not have a strong voice in the current media nor fandom, but those who had the honour to watch this period will unquestionably tell you there is only one player that can claim the throne that Jordan has unofficially been ruling from over the past two decades.
He is the man I believe to be the greatest of all time.
I find it offensive that his name is too often forgotten when these debates arise. We really only see references to him when LeBron James is recording statistics that have not been achieved since the Big Dipper graced the hardwood.
Some do not even know his name, and those who do don’t know a whole lot about him.
People that make the argument that you should not compare eras are insufferable and down right hypocrites. They have no problem in doing it as long as it aids their argument, but when they feel as if they are either uneducated on a player or team, when they are losing an argument or simply want to end the conversation, they’ll sprinkle it in. Every time someone says Jordan is the greatest player of all time, you aren’t just comparing two different eras, you’re comparing the entirety of the history of the sport.
So please do not hit me with any of that.
Also, when making the argument that Wilt is the best, the majority of people return serve with ‘he played in a predominantly white league with smaller players’. Also an invalid argument. Why are you going to punish him for being the specimen he was, for having the skill set he had? It’s not his fault that the better basketball players of the time may have been smaller and less athletic than they are now. It’s not his fault a majority of the players were white, whether that is indeed a disadvantage or not.
Does anyone say Jordan dominated a period when the league was declining and that exaggerated his legacy? Does anyone say that he benefitted from the platform Magic and Larry left for him? Does anyone mention the incredible physical tools Jordan had, like his mammoth hands that allowed him to hand check opponents and move them wherever he wanted them to go? It seems that argument is only relevant when discussing, and really downgrading, what Wilt Chamberlain achieved.
In his rookie season, Wilt Chamberlain 37.6 points and 27 rebounds per game. Do not refresh the page. Those are accurate numbers. Two years later he averaged 50 points per game, along with nearly 26 rebounds. 50 points! One 50 point game per season in the modern era is a significant achievement, Chamberlain averaged that over an 80 game season. When he finally, and much to the relief of the rest of the league, retired, Chamberlain held no fewer than 43 NBA records.
He finished up with 2 NBA Championships, obviously fewer than Jordan’s 6, but this is another argument I don’t understand. Championships are won by teams, not by players. There is no one player good enough to win a Championship on his own. If anyone was to be that good it would have been Wilt Chamberlain. Jordan hadn’t even won a playoff series until the Bulls drafted Pippen.
I don’t want this to transform into a subjectively ordered list on the greatest players ever, but to me it’s indisputable who the greatest is. I wouldn’t even have Jordan as the second best player ever. There are so many names that offer comparable claim to the hierarchy of greatness.
Do not get me wrong, I am not in any way trying to insult nor lessen Jordan’s achievements or ability. He is certainly one of the greatest we have seen. You don’t win 6 Championships without being so.
But he simply isn’t the best. He didn’t have the all round game that both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had. As good a scorer he was, he trembles in comparison to Wilt. He was a very poor three point shooter and before winning titles, he was labelled as being extremely selfish. As dominant as he may have been, he didn’t impose his will like Hakeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal. As great as his career was, it doesn’t quite measure up numerically with that of Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s.
Hell, I think Kobe Bryant is more talented than Michael Jordan. Kobe is a pure artist, he is an incredible shooter, an all time great defender, a better passer and an equal to many of Jordan’s legendary intangibles. Jordan didn’t do as many things as Kobe Bryant does.
The most recent and perhaps most relevant comparison is between him and LeBron James. LeBron James will go down as the most talented player of all time. I mean that in the instance that his skill set is greater than anyone’s in history. He dominates the offensive end with his scoring, his incredible vision and passing, his ability to get to the rim and draw fouls, and command of the offense. His growing impact on defense may be the greatest feature of his legacy. There has been no one that played it quite like James. No player before him has been able to guard an opposition’s point guard in the same possession as he would battle with their center. He could go down as the greatest defender of all time.
James certainly is more talented than Jordan, but obviously it is unfair to rank him higher at this stage in his career. James really is just beginning the defining era of his career, eerily around the same age Jordan took over.
I write this not to incite anger and lead a hate mongering of Michael Jordan. The man is a hero to everyone, including me. Growing up I remember seeing a documentary on Michael Jordan that subconsciously lives with me to this very day. I remember seeing Jordan poking his tongue out as he focused, as he contemplated. For whatever reason that was, it stuck with me. It wasn’t until earlier this year that someone pointed out to me that I did it every time I was intently concentrating on something. It then occurred to me it was because of him.
But there is nothing more frustrating to me in sports commentary than a lack of perspective. I despise it when people conform to a consensus without thinking for themselves. I understand personal bias will always creep in, but if we don’t set in to formulate our own opinions, then what is the point in debating at all?
I am not expecting this to have changed many people’s minds, if any, but all I want to do is encourage people to refrain from the seemingly voluntary brainwashing of this Jordan cult.
If I can save just one person, I know I’ll be making a difference.