Even at 50, Jordan transcends all generations
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 08:02
When the number 23 is mentioned, it is often synonymous with one person: Michael Jordan. That jersey number worn by one of the most popular athletes in history. Although that number is typically associated with the hoops legend, this past Sunday another two-digit number was the focus of attention. MJ turned 50 on Feb. 17.
Jordan’s phenomenal career, which spanned nearly 20 years in the ‘80s and ‘90s, is often overshadowed by modern basketball super stars such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant. Being an 18-year-old basketball fan, I’ve grown up watching and observing the careers of Lebron and Kobe, witnessing their greatest moments in detail.
But despite my limited exposure to watching Jordan’s career as it unfolded, to me it is still undeniable that he is the greatest basketball player of all time. Not just because of what he was able to accomplish on the court, but because of the impact he’s made beyond the game.
When the “greatest of all time” discussions occur, they always center around championships. Jordan’s most celebrated accomplishment is the rings he won during his time with the Chicago Bulls.
Six times Jordan raised the Larry O’Brien trophy with his teammates, in two different three-peats from 1991-1993 and from 1996-1998. On top of that, he won the Finals MVP trophy every single time.
To put that into perspective, Kobe Bryant has won five championships, but has only notched two finals MVP awards. Last June, Lebron got his first taste of success, winning a championship with the Miami Heat.
Now that he’s gotten over the hump and has one championship to his name, some say he’s well on his way to surpassing MJ. But that prediction might be a little too early. Maybe Jordan led us to believe that it was easy, when it wasn’t.
One could go on and on delving deep into statistical analysis and accomplishments about just how ridiculously good Michael Jordan was, but I’ll just look at just a few. He averaged 30.1 points per game, the highest mark of all time. This is a higher percentage than Wilt Chamberlain, who was a notorious ball hog and who was known as the most dominant player ever in his era.
Jordan has won five MVP awards. He’s third all time in steals, and third all time in points. He’s been on the NBA all defensive team nine times. The list goes on and includes all aspects of the game.
Jordan’s statistics and success should surely solidify him as the greatest of all time, so why on earth would MJ’s partner in crime former Bulls forward Scottie Pippen publicly say that Lebron James is better than Jordan was?
Likely because people don’t know how to properly define what it means to be the best. People see the incredible athleticism of Lebron and immediately jump to call him the best. People forget that Michael Jordan has an entire trophy room full of accolades
Lebron James just got his first taste of success last year, yet some think he’s better? People have short memories. Maybe people forgot Jordan’s highlights weren’t started from the free throw line, but from the gym.
Since Jordan left the game in 2003, this debate has beaten through a whole stable of dead horses. This argument has been sparked within the media and amongst basketball experts for what’s seemed like forever. Unlike the rest of them I was never old enough to appreciate or realize Jordan’s greatness, and I still believe.
The point is Jordan’s impact is just too big for him to not be the greatest of all time. He redefined the sport. There’s Game 5 of the 1997 Finals against Utah when Michael had the flu.
Despite his weakness, Jordan poured in 38 points and made the game winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining. You may remember that moment from a Gatorade commercial where MJ is being dragged off the court by Pippen.
Then there’s the jumper and celebratory leap vs. the Cavaliers from the first round of the 1989 playoffs, switching hands mid air against Magic and the Lakers during Chicago’s first ever trip to the Finals in 1991, the shoulder shrug after scoring 35 points and hitting six 3-pointers in just the first half during Game 1 of the 1992 NBA finals, and the cross over shot vs. the Jazz to seal the 1997 championship.
Does any other athlete have more signature moments? Maybe we’ve come to misunderstand that every shot he took was a game winner and that all those moments weren’t built just on flash, but on a raging fire within.
As the saying goes numbers never lie, statistics tell the story. But what separates Jordan from every other athlete cannot be collected and analyzed on a spreadsheet.
To understand Jordan’s consistent success, we must also understand his incredibly competitive nature. This is a man so confident that he believed half way through his NBA career, in the middle of his prime, that he could go and become a professional baseball player.
The same guy is notorious for making million dollar bets in Vegas and giving 110% effort on the golf course in a desperate attempt to get just a tiny bit of the taste of the competition that has fueled him the first 50 years of his life.
Jordan is so competitive he considers it a curse. It eats away at him so much that he can no longer play professional basketball. This aspect of his persona is a big reason why the guy who can’t honestly come to terms with leaving the game is the greatest to do it, ever. Maybe people don’t remember failure gave Jordan strength, that pain was his motivation.