Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player in NBA history. This past Sunday, the game’s greatest hero turned the magical age of 50. To anyone who watched or read anything about the NBA over the past week, this is no surprise. Jordan was everywhere.
When I processed this month’s issue of Sports Illustrated last week, he took over the entire issue. Michael Jordan was, is, and always will be bigger than the game.
Now the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, it has been said that Michael can still produce in the league today. Sadly, there will be no official comeback, as he just recently picked up his AARP card. But aside from still being able to torch players with his deadly midrange jump shot, MJ proves to be one of the most respected basketball minds in the world.
His opinions about teams and players today are often publicized and debated, sparking separate debates on who is the best in the game. This weekend Jordan made headlines by calling out Lebron James, saying he was “predictable” and that he’d take an aging Kobe Bryant over him to start a team any day. There have been many comparisons of other NBA players to Michael Jordan, some dating back to over a decade ago, yet most fell flat. Even today with some pretty impressive stars, does anyone surpass the Jordan Legacy?
Back in the late 1990’s, former University of North Carolina star Jerry Stackhouse proclaimed himself the next Michael Jordan. Hailing from University of North Carolina, the “prolific” scorer claimed that he would one day be better than MJ, citing his victory over Jordan in one on one at a University of North Carolina Tarheels camp. Jordan responded the next year with his 72-10 Chicago Bulls by scoring 48 points in three quarters and winning the game by 27 points. Stackhouse did share an alma mater with Michael, yet his high-scoring years were short-lived and he never amounted to nearly the leader or the championship manufacturer that Jordan was over ten years ago.
A few years later, the Toronto Raptors drafted another talented UNC rookie. Vince Carter was known for his high-flying dramatic dunks and explosive scoring capabilities. He wasn’t “Air Jordan” but “Air Canada” and his feats were considered “half-man, half-amazing”. Carter had a few successful years in Toronto and was able to revitalize his career in New Jersey (where he became my favorite athlete of all time), yet he never possessed the drive and determination that propelled Jordan to years of success.
Being too young to witness or appreciate him in his prime, I speak about the legend that is Michael Jordan strictly from articles, Youtube clips, and the hilariously underrated masterpiece that is Space Jam. As a young child who neither knew nor cared about the sport of basketball, I knew exactly who Michael Jordan was. To me, he was basketball. He was the icon that defined not only the NBA, but the sport in its entirety. From commercials to the movies, he was everywhere. Even my German grandmother, who probably did not even know what basketball was, knew Michael Jordan. He was not just that all-star player whose name you may have heard. He was the name that defined an entire generation of basketball. Think Tiger Woods but bigger.
Jordan’s career was like a soap opera. First he struggled for success despite his almost unreal stats. Then he achieved his Holy Grail, an NBA championship. Then came the sheer domination of the Chicago Bulls, followed by the tragic death of his father. Jordan quit, yet returned much like Superman who rose from the grave after being killed by Doomsday, and promptly won another three championships. He flat out dominated the NBA to the point where it was his league year after year.
Think of today’s game. There are three or four superstars who compete for supremacy. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and now Kevin Durant and maybe Carmelo Anthony on a good day, there is debate on who the best scorer is, the best leader, the best team player etc. In Jordan’s day, there was no debate. He was on his own tier. During those magical six years in the 1990s no one else stood a chance. That fact alone shows not only his domination, but a historical legacy that will forever live on.
Kobe Bryant and Lebron James have been getting comparisons to Michael Jordan for years now. But will they ever be considered better than the man who redefined basketball? Not a chance. When Michael Jordan called out LeBron and praised Kobe, there was debate from multiple sources. But let’s look at the facts based on the careers both have had. Obviously Bryant is older and much more accomplished. He has won five championships to James’ one, yet he has had many years to do so. Jordan, however, has won 6 and at the rate the Los Angeles Lakers are going this year, it looks as if Bryant might not catch him. Lebron has already won two more MVP awards than Kobe (three to one), yet Jordan won five. Jordan was also the Finals MVP for all six of the championships he won.
While Kobe may be the more established player now, Lebron is clearly the more dominant physical specimen. He still has six years until he has played as many seasons as Michael (15), yet it will be hard to amass five championships in that amount of time. Again while Lebron and Kobe are big, neither are bigger than the game.
The simple fact that there is debate amongst them and other stars shows that they are not worthy. Jordan needed no debate. He was the greatest. He won six NBA championships in his last full six seasons on the Chicago Bulls. He went out on top and will continue to be on top. Jordan revolutionized the game and his legacy is one that will stand alone as the greatest of all time.