Okay, I’m gonna get right to it. Michael Jordan is NOT the greatest basketball player of all time. He is certainly ONE of the best, but not THE best. For you die hard Jordan fans this may come as a surprise, maybe even as a shock. But it is true, at least if you take an objective, FACTUAL look at the history and statistics of the game. Funny thing is, I am genuinely surprised that so many fans, NBA analysts, sports commentators and TV experts have allowed their perspective to be skewed by what they witnessed Jordan do on the court. He was exciting, captivating, brilliant, competitive, dominant, elegant and beautiful to watch. I agree. However, don’t let your eyes fool you. Let the FACTS “show you”.
Every time the next “best ever” player comes along, the inevitable comparisons are soon to follow. No surprise that Kobe Bryant was supposed to be the “next” Jordan. Then along comes LeBron James. Gonna be better than Jordan some said. Sports fans naturally tend to focus on their favorite players almost with tunnel vision, hindering said fans’ ability to “see” the whole picture. It is for this very reason that the debate about “who’s the best” will never be resolved. No one will allow themselves to be “objective” enough to accept statistical FACTS. That being said, the recent “The Last Dance” series has the debate back in full swing. LeBron or Jordan? Most say Jordan. OK. As the title says, it’s a matter of perspective. Follow along.
Biggie or Tupac? Or Jay-Z? Drake? LL? Beyonce or Mariah? Ledisi? Jennifer Hudson? Future or Khalid? H.E.R or SZA? Or Lizzo? Burger King or McDonald’s? Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris? Beatles or Rolling Stones? Alright enough. My point? How do you measure who is better? Popularity, sales, attraction, style, taste, vibe, game, talent? How? Impossible. So, the only reasonable way to measure is by the most relevant metrics possible. All of us use our personal viewpoints to gauge what we like, what we consider better or best. Well, the more facts we use, the better answer we get. Modern sports uses the word “metrics”. Everywhere you turn you hear this word. Metrics, which are “statistical facts”, are a better barometer than “optics”, which can cause your eyes to “play tricks” on you. Don’t pretend like it has never happened to you before…………yeah, I know right?
In the “Jordan vs LeBron debate, there are some clearly obvious reasons why Michael has been “more successful” than LeBron. And he has been more successful. But is he, individually, better? The answer is no, especially if you use metrics as opposed to optics. You don’t have to (and probably won’t) agree, but stay with me and at least read until the end. According to the metrics, there are five advantages that Jordan benefited from that LeBron did not have during his career. These are so plainly obvious it is easy to look past them, but they must be considered if you want a truly complete and fair comparison. We’ll go from fifth to first.
5. Chronology – Folks, Michael Jordan had the benefit of playing BEFORE LeBron James. The comparison ALWAYS favors the standard bearer. The “standard” is how all else will be judged. This is scientifically true in every aspect of life. Sports, purchases, achievements, relationships, love, sibling hierarchy. Don’t wanna get too deep here, but think back for a second. Remember how your “firsts” became the gauge for how you made future decisions. Older siblings, for better or worse, set the standard for younger siblings. As for Jordan, no player before him had as complete and dynamic a game as he. True. Now, let’s see how Michael looks if LeBron had played in the NBA first. LeBron went to the finals in his fourth year, Michael took eight. As for style of play and athletic ability, Michael would not have been as much of an anomaly in 2003 as he was in 1984. Now imagine LeBron playing in 1984 pre-Jordan. Getting to the finals in 1988. Straight out of high school……I know.
4. Expectations – Fact. Michael Jordan was not expected to be the next Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird (two best players at that time) for that matter. Compared to LeBron, he had lower expectations and therefore more room for error, more time to develop and, more importantly, less criticism for failure. Remember, as great as Jordan was, he was criticized for selfishness and was not considered a “winner” in his first six years. Look it up. LeBron, on the other hand, was called “the greatest” before he ever played in the league. No benefit of three years of college experience. Eighteen years old. He was being compared to the “G.O.A.T” before ever playing one game. LeBron had to combat pressure and scrutiny that Jordan NEVER did.
3. ESPN/Cable TV – By now I’m quite sure that you have either told this story, or have been told this story, “I remember when TV used to go off at 2 am. The National Anthem would play as the flag was shown. Then static. Broadcasting would resume at 5am.” This was really how it was pre-cable TV. Cable TV became available to my community in the late 70’s. ESPN followed in 1979. ESPN was considered a novelty station in the early days. None of the major sports were broadcast on the network until a few years later. At the time, sports programming was limited to the actual games played and then limited post-game coverage with some local news coverage. No top 10 plays, no Sports Center, no 24-hour programming. As a matter of fact, I recall some NBA regular season games being on TAPE DELAY. Between 1983-1985 as college basketball grew in popularity so too did ESPN. They had achieved some level of legitimacy and started to air pro sports and major college sports. They were trending upward. Along comes Michael Jordan, complete with 24-hour coverage, Sports Center and Top 10 condensed highlights courtesy of ESPN’s new found popularity. The timing was perfect, each benefiting the other. No other player before Michael had received as much coverage, support, hype, access, or viewership than he. Earlier I mentioned the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones comparison. Can you name any other British rock bands? None are more “famous” than these two. Why? Because these two were the best of the first generation “British Invasion” rock bands. They had the benefit of being the “first”. Certainly among the most popular, but are they the best ever? Better than Hendrix, James Brown, Michael Jackson or Prince? How do you decide?
2. Nike – Synergy. There are times in life when, as they say, the stars line up for you. The stars definitely lined up for Nike, ESPN and Michael Jordan. Jordan provided the talent. Nike provided the vehicle. ESPN provided the cameras to show the world. Nike’s role in helping to establish Michael Jordan as the most popular athlete in the world cannot be underestimated. Their marketing campaign that not only targeted, but included, urban (say black…) America coincided with the rise of Hip Hop. With rap music living in it’s golden age, Nike planted Jordan (and itself) right in the middle of the modern BLACK RENAISSANCE, catapulting him to the stratosphere. Or as we used to say, Nike and Jordan “blew up”! So did ESPN! Take a look at the Converse commercials pre-Jordan if you want to see just how revolutionary Nike was. Michael Jordan would have been marketed as “one of the guys” had he signed with Converse. I doubt that we would have seen tie-ins with Spike Lee movies and hip hop culture had he done so. Nike marketed Jordan as the best so they could sell his shoes. ESPN claimed him the best to feed their viewership. Michael Jordan became the most popular pro athletic because of the timely and successful relationship with ESPN and Nike. More people were exposed to him due to vastly increased coverage. This became the norm for all star athletics that followed.
1. Phil Jackson – Why people are reluctant to accept this fact is puzzling to me, but Phil Jackson is the #1 reason why Michael Jordan is considered the best player ever. And the metrics here, the real true numbers, are hard to ignore. I haven’t done any deep research so my numbers may not be exact, but they are correct. Fact: Michael Jordan NEVER went to the finals without Phil Jackson. Fact: Michael Jordan never went to the finals AFTER Phil Jackson. Phil has 11 rings, 5 without Jordan. To my knowledge, Michael Jordan had 8 seasons to prove that he didn’t need a “HALL OF FAME” coach to get to the NBA finals. Eight! What is his record in those seasonS? Somebody talk to me? Without Phil Jackson, Jordan’s record looks a lot like the other 6’5 shooting guards who were great, but not champions. See for yourself. Now Phil won 5 titles without Jordan! Ok. Now you say, “well he had Kobe!” Right. Exactly! So how many did Kobe win without Phil? Zero! Again, without Phil, Kobe’s record looks a lot like all of the other 6’6 shooting guards who were great but not champions. See for yourself. Two great players, 0 titles without Phil Jackson. How do you dismiss this? One coach with 11 championships, but two of the greatest players of all time win none without him. Hey, there are many great players who’ve never won titles. No shame to them. Their greatness is still intact. However, they are not champions. So in the case of Michael, we have verifiable, documented proof that he would not have won titles without Phil because he DID NOT win without Phil. So if we’re truly objective about this, the answer is really clear. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR IS THE GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME IF WE GO BY THE NUMBERS. He has 6 NBA titles (same as Jordan). HE HAS MORE POINTS, REBOUNDS, ASSISTS, AND BLOCKED SHOTS THAN JORDAN. HE HAS 3 NCAA TITLES, JORDAN HAS 1. KAREEM HAS A HIGH SCHOOL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. MICHAEL HAS NONE. YOU GOOD? BY THE WAY, KAREEM HAS 2 NBA TITLES AS AN ASSISTANT C0ACH. MICHAEL HAS NONE AS AN OWNER. KAREEM HAS A CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE (SIT DOWN MICHAEL, LEBRON, KOBE AND MAGIC….). ONE OF YOU GUYS MAY BE SECOND ON THE LIST BUT REMEMBER BILL RUSSELL HAS 11 TITLES…… Jordan looked cooler doing it, but Kareem did it better. If you still want to think Jordan is the best. Fair. We like what we like. But now you know the fact. A matter of perspective.