Four Reasons Michael Jordan Is, and Will Be, the Greatest Ever

Mike CarleyCorrespondent IApril 9, 2009

16 Jun 1996: Chicago Bull Michael Jordan kisses the NBA Championship trophy inside the Bulls Locker room at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls went on to defeat the Seattle Supersonics 87-75 to win the 1996 NBA Finals. This is the Bulls'' fourth NBA Title.  Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel/ALLSPORT
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The "Age of Information" has had many wide-spread ramifications in every inch of the fabric that makes up human civilization. 

The instant availability of information, taken for granted by so many mouse-clicking Googlers, is in actuality one of the most important evolutionary developments the human race has ever experienced, and looks to be a stepping stone to a meteoric rise in technology, innovation, and quality of life in the next 50 years.

A mere 500 years ago, to get a message from one side of the world to the other, you had to physically sail it through storms and high seas for six months to a year and hand deliver it to the intended recipient.

"Don't shoot the messenger" was an actual universal regulation on ancient battlefields.

Think about that. 

Communication across long distances was so difficult that, in a battle where you could literally run up behind somebody and smack him in the head with a spiked hammer, killing the other side's messenger was widely regarded as a "D*ck Move."

Now you can literally find any person/piece of information in fewer than two minutes, depending on the speed of your wireless internet/3G network—literally anything you need to know.

I could be sitting at the opera, and within 45 seconds, know exactly how many nanometers long the Great Wall of China is.

You can sign onto a computer, and have a face-to-face instantaneous conversation with somebody in China. 

Or for that matter, somebody in one of the former Soviet Bloc countries doing things some would sail for six months to see, while others would sail rough seas six months to get away from.

However, this ability to instantly receive news and find information has regrettably turned us to a culture of the "now," where "what have you done for me lately" has replaced "remember how amazing it was when..."

Spinning tales of Herculean achievements has been replaced by a repetitive up-to-the-second ESPN bottom line.

We can no longer take the time to savor wonderful moments and accomplishments, nor reminisce about times past.

By the time we can even fully comprehend what has just happened, we have 13 different stories/news angles shoved down our throat, only to be replaced 24 to 48 hours later with 13 different stories/news angles about something entirely different.

We are so inundated with information about the now, we no longer can find the time to appreciate accomplishments' past.

This, my friends, was my pathetic attempt to justify a ridiculous trend that has developed in the NBA world of fans and media that, in my eyes, truly has no justification.

An act of here-say so blasphemous and offensive that I have no problem turning to ridiculous biblical terminology to describe it.

But it is appropriate. 

At this point of the year, every year for the last seven to eight years, when the magic of the NBA Playoffs dances brightly on the horizon, somebody, somewhere wants to start The Comparison. The Comparison of whichever young and chic superstar has been lighting up the league most Him.

To the One. 

To the Greatest Ever. 

The man Larry Bird himself described as "God disguised as Michael Jordan."

That's coming from the mouth of "Basketball Jesus" himself.

Anybody with even a passing knowledge of Christianity can recognize the beautiful symbolism in this imagery.

Larry Bird is one of the greatest ever to play the game.  He can literally look down on 99.9 percent of the people to ever play in the NBA with amusement, scorn, and superiority.

He can stand there and look Magic Johnson squarely in the eye, but nothing more.

However, he cannot help but look up to One, and in gazing upon His greatness that fateful night in 1986, couldn't help but bow down in reverential respect.

He can only look up at one player and consider him to be on a different level entirely, a level far above the pitiful world of the mere mortal basketball player. 

He, with the divine powers of Jesus with a basketball, couldn't help but get down on his knees and anoint the King, the One, his allegorical father, the God of the Basketball Universe. 

Michael Jordan.

Ever since Jordan hung 63 points in the Garden, going into the Temple of Larry Bird and leaving with the flocking converts of His Airness, Jordan gained the title of God of the NBA, and has yet to relinquish it.

But how quickly people forget. 

The search for a new Messiah has taken on a haphazardly desperate feel, leaving His lost flock to worship the golden idols of flash-in-the-pan superstars and young talents with their whole career yet ahead of them.

I am here to put things in perspective for all those Kobe lovers, for the Tim Duncan supporters, and the supporters of the Shaq Attack. To calm down all those D-Wade warriors and the loyal subjects of King James.

Because when you look at it, there is no comparison to Michael Jordan. 

Nobody that has played since, or is playing now, has even come close. People haven't seen His Airness play for 10 to 12 years, and have truly lost the scope and dominance of the feats and accomplishments of the greatest player ever to pick up a basketball.

Let me give you four reasons to remind you, and hopefully, put an end once and for all to these yearly comparisons until someone truly worthy of approaching His Throne actually arrives.

I have placed these four factors in order from least to most important. 

(Also, two quick definitions.  When I refer to the "Next Generation," I am referring to the next generation of superstars who followed Jordan's era—i.e. Kobe, KG, Shaq, Jason Kidd, etc.  I will refer to the up-and-coming generation—i.e. Chris Paul, LeBron, Wade, etc. as "The Future.")

4. Unparalleled Offensive Production

When one thinks of Michael Jordan, one can't help but summon an image of an incandescent and high-flying scoring machine, able to get the ball through the rim no matter what angle, speed, or height he was at at the time.

However, not many people have taken a step back to fully appreciate how impressive some of the scoring feats Michael Jordan actually accomplished were.

(Author's note: Against every inclination I currently have in my body, I will include his two abominable years with the Wizards in all career averages cited.)

Jordan's PPG career average is an astounding 30.1.  That is the highest in NBA history.  Higher than Wilt.  Higher than Russell.  Higher than Bird and Magic. 

He accomplished that, not in one season, but over 15 seasons. To add some perspective, Dwayne Wade, who seems to be putting up 40 and 50-point games every other time he hits the court, is only averaging 29.7 PPG this year.

Wade is averaging that over roughly 82 games. Michael Jordan averaged higher than that over 1,072 games.

Since 2000, Jordan's career average of 30.1 PPG would have come in either first or second in seven of the last eight seasons. 

Keep in mind these are years of the Next Generation playing in their prime and posting their highest individual season PPG, and Jordan's career average tops a vast majority of their single season performances.

Since 2000, there have been five different scoring leaders ranging from Tracy McGrady to A.I. to Kobe Bryant.

Jordan led the league in scoring a league record 10 of the 15 seasons he played. He captured the scoring crown an NBA record seven straight times, a record that only ended because he literally got bored with the game and decided to retire in 1993.

He also holds the NBA record for most consecutive games scored in double digits, a number that stands at a paltry 866 games.

If you begin to examine some of his most impressive individual offensive seasons, the numbers become even more mind-blowing. Keep in mind that in the current state of the NBA, usually between 28-30 PPG will have you in the race for the scoring title.

In 1986-87, Michael Jordan started 82 out of 82 games, and averaged 37.1 PPG. 

Look at that number again. 

Michael Jordan almost averaged 40 PPG for an entire season. And this isn't like the silly averages Wilt Chamberlain put up playing against 6'1" power forwards.

Jordan posted that number in the same division as the Bad Boy Pistons. Jordan posted that number playing in the same conference as Patrick Ewing, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. Wikipedia even went so far as to classify this year as the "Golden Age" of the NBA. 

Here is a list of the stars that were playing that year for anybody who wants to even dare bring up the competitive non-parity argument between then and now:

Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Moses Malone, Julius Irving, Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Adrian Dantley, and Joe Dumars.

Those were just the Hall of Famers that played that year, and doesn't even encompass the defensive enforcers who existed solely to take Jordan out on his way to the basket. Players like Bill Laimbeer and Kurt Rambis are rare breeds that seem to have gone completely extinct in the new run-and-gun NBA.

Also, keep in mind that Jordan posted that ridiculous number in an era where the now-present "hand-check" rule was non-existent. 

For the uninformed, that basically meant that when playing teams like the Knicks or the Pistons, Jordan took six to seven hits a game that Dwayne Wade or LeBron might take once or twice a month (probably resulting in suspensions and three days of Around the Horn segments).

I am not taking anything away from LeBron or Wade. 

I am just trying to provide some perspective in how astounding that 37.1 PPG number really is for a player with no three-point shot (he shot 18.2 percent from deep that year) in a league far tougher and more physical than anything the Next Generation or The Future have or will face.

As impressive as Jordan's offensive accomplishments are, they are equaled, if not overshadowed, by his unmatched dominance on the defensive end.

3.  Unmatched Defensive Prowess

Everybody remembers MJ for his scoring. Jordan over Ehlo, the 63 points in the Garden, the 54 he hung up in the first month coming back from his first retirement, the 38 points he had with the flu. That is often the reason that pundits feel compelled to force the likes of Kobe or Dwayne Wade into this "comparison."

However, when you take a step back and fully understand the scope of Jordan's defensive dominance, it's almost unfathomable.

People forget that among NBA experts and die-hards, Jordan is arguably the greatest perimeter defender—of all time.

Jordan's career average for steals per game is a mind-blowing 2.35. To put that into perspective, if he averaged that for a single season (let alone over 15 seasons), it would put him in sole possession of second place in the league this year behind CP3's 2.88 SPG.

If you have gotten a chance to see Chris Paul play defense this year, it is amazing how many passes he gets his hands on. He seems to be everywhere on the court all at once.

Jordan was like that, and even better, considering he topped that 2.88 SPG number five different times in his career.

No steals leader since the year 2000, the year all of the Next Generation Superstars mostly were all "of age," has even come close to approaching Jordan's career high of 3.16 SPG that he posted in 1987-88.

Oh yeah, he happened to average 35.0 PPG, starting 82 of 82 games that year.  That's the thing about Jordan. 

He's not Bruce Bowen.  He's not Ron Artest. He's not Ben Wallace.

Jordan had the skills of a defensive specialist, who could also lead the league in scoring any given year.

Don't believe me?  He was the only player ever to be named Defensive Player of the Year, lead the league in scoring, and take home the MVP trophy—in the same year.

In a different season, he also became the only player in history to lead the league in scoring and win Defensive Player of the Year.  Two out of three ain't bad, either.

None of the Next Generation can boast stats like these. None of the Next Generation played so highly on both the offensive and the defensive end.

Since the year 2000, no Defensive Player of the Year has averaged 20-plus PPG. Only two (KG in 2008 and Ron Artest in 2004) averaged more than 15 PPG, and half of the winners didn't even average in the double-digits (admittedly, all were Ben Wallace, but the point remains).

Jordan was named to the All-Defensive First Team a record nine times. To put that in perspective, Kobe Bryant would need to make it four more times to tie that mark (definitely possible, but that would mean making the All-Defensive First Team in years 13 through 17 of his career).

Jordan even led the entire league in steals on three different occasions (1987-88/3.16 SPG, 1989-90/2.77 SPG,  and 1992-93/2.83 SPG).  That is good for No. 2 all-time.  Jordan is also No. 2 all-time in total steals in a career.

Nobody will dispute Jordan's offensive dominance and unparalleled showmanship on the court. But examining those skills in conjunction with one of the most dominant defensive careers ever recorded, it should become apparent why Bird didn't hesitate to anoint him God of the basketball world back in 1986.

2. Competitive Drive and Desire to Win

Regrettably, the top two most important factors behind Jordan's dominance don't have nearly as much statistical support as the last two. 

However, a factor that can be fully captured and displayed by a statistic would be by its very definition tangible, and the intangibles really pushed Jordan above all who had come before him and above all who would follow.

Nobody had the competitive drive of Jordan in the NBA.  Freaking nobody.

He is without a doubt the most clutch shooter in the history of the NBA. 

Nobody in the history of the game has pulled more victories out of the jaws of defeat than MJ.  I don't have statistics to support this, but if anybody out there does and can prove me wrong, know I'm very anxious to see such proof (but I won't hold my breath).

Every time Jordan made it to the finals, he won, largely because he did everything it took to prevent his team from losing. 

He wasn't afraid to make the extra pass (see John Paxson and Steve Kerr), and we all know how unafraid he was to take the final shot (see Craig Ehlo, Bryon Russell, anybody on the Knicks or Pistons from 1988-1993).

As long as his team came out on top, MJ was happy. That is a rarity nowadays, where only last year we witnessed the closest player to match Jordan since Jordan, Kobe Bryant, sulk around and do nothing for an entire second half of game six in the Finals, allowing the Celtics to come into his own house and embarrass him and his team to the tune of a 35-point beatdown in the deciding game.

That never happened to Jordan, and never would have.  He wouldn't let it, because he refused to accept failure either from himself or his teammates.

That is probably why the '90s Chicago Bulls are the only NBA Dynasty in history without a marquee big man. I mean, Bill Wennington was sweet and all, but all the rest of the NBA dynasties had a dominant big man that created unsolvable matchup problems for the other team.

The Celtics had Bill Russell. Magic had Kareem and Worthy. Bird had Parish and McHale. The 2000 Lakers had Shaq.

Big men are different than guards. 

The physical difficulties inherent in trying to stop somebody that big needs to be recognized.  I don't care how many hours a 6'6", 225 pound NBA player works on defense, I don't care how many defensive slides or footwork or hand quickness drills you do.  A player of that size will never be able to guard a 300 pound seven footer.  Ever.

Therefore, unless you have a center of comparative size/skill, a dominant big man can absolutely take over a game at will because no amount of 6'9" defensive wizards will be able to do a thing to stop him.

However, Michael Jordan was just another 6'6" guard with great athleticism and a strong mid-range jump shot. 

There are a lot more personnel options available on any given team to guard a 6'6" guard than there are to defend a 7'1" center, because undoubtedly there are more 6'6" defenders around the NBA to negate any possible size advantage than there are seven-footers.

That is what makes Jordan's reign at the top so unparalleled.  It is the intangibles Jordan possessed that took him to the next level, and made an average-sized shooting guard into the most unstoppable force the NBA has ever seen.

The best statistical way to view this desire to win would be to see the numbers boost Jordan experienced in the playoffs versus the regular season.

Jordan's career playoff average of a whopping 33.4 PPG stands as the best in NBA history. He also holds the most 50, 40, 30, and 20 point games in playoff history.

In fact, Jordan has scored in double digits in every single career playoff game he'd ever played in.

Even more startling, he scored at least 20 points in every single NBA Finals game he's ever played.

He also has the record for most points averaged in a finals series, a weak 41.0 PPG that led the Bulls to beat the Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals.

Nobody came through more hugely or more consistently when it counted than Jordan.  That is why he won an NBA record six Finals MVP awards, one for every time he appeared in the finals.

If anything, that stat alone signifies that when it was time to shine in a bright and important moment, it was MJ, and nobody else BUT MJ, who would step to the challenge.

Jordan never refused to rise to the challenge when his team needed him, and the flu game in the 1996 playoffs in Utah is the best allegory of this. 

A few hours before the game, Jordan became extremely feverish and dehydrated with an undisclosed stomach virus. 

With the series tied 2-2, playing in Utah, rumors were swirling around the Bulls faithful that Jordan wouldn't play, that the force no man on Earth could stop was being halted by a simple microscopic organism, that He wouldn't be there to prevent the hated Jazz from regaining control of the series at home and forcing a game seven.

Despite falling behind by 16 in the second quarter, somehow, Jordan rallied. He began to nail contested jump shots, make beautiful dishes on fast breaks for layups, and even throwing in the occasional tip jam after a missed layup. 

However, missing after these stereotypically Jordan-esque plays were the fist pumps, the smiles, and the winks we came to know and love from MJ, instead replaced by a look of exhaustion and a look one could almost describe as "dazed."

However, no matter how drained he looked, as Paxson so aptly put it, Jordan would "summon something from within" to keep on going, and would play each play as if it were 1987 again.

As the exhausted Jordan continued to battle a possessed and driven Stockton-Malone combination, the back and forth continued, and the ball ended up in the Bulls' corner with the game tied with under 30 seconds to play.  Sure enough, despite being exhausted and flu-ridden, dehydrated and drained, the ball swung to Jordan, who nailed a three-pointer with 26 seconds to play that the Jazz would never answer.

Game over.  Chicago takes the 3-2 series lead.  Jordan's game winning three represented his 36th, 37th, and 38th points of the contest. 

Calmly and briefly, He raised His hands above His head, and promptly collapsed into Scottie Pippen, who proceeded to half-support/half-drag a stumbling Jordan, the savior of the Chicago Bulls, off the court to the locker room.

At that moment, the God of Basketball looked vulnerable, looked tired, looked...mortal. 

However, on the heels of one of the most superhuman performances in the history of the NBA Finals, that vulnerability reminded everybody in the world that, yes, Michael Jordan was human, despite the fact that no human being should have been able to do what He did that night in Utah.

Paxson explained the feat by saying Jordan simply "summoned something inside" to overcome the virus that threatened to sap every ounce of energy from his body every minute of that game.

In conjunction with the amazing statistical offensive and defensive dominance mentioned above, that one game more than anything solidifies and clarifies the very desire to win that makes Jordan the greatest ever.

Jordan never gave up. He would never accept failure. He would never lose. No matter what. Period.

And it is that factor that led to the final and most relevant indicator of Jordan's greatness:

1.  Unrivaled and Unequivocal Dominance

Michael Jordan was in a class of his own. He had no rival. He began to lead the league in scoring in 1987, and didn't have another offensive equal until he won his third championship and retired out of boredom.

Jordan had no true "rival" once he hit his prime, because rivalries can't exist if the other side never wins.

An entire generation of superstars stepped up to Michael Jordan, and he sent countless Hall of Famers home for good with every single thing they could ever want accomplished...except for winning that ring.

Jordan beat down Charles Barkley and sent him home ringless. He prevented Ewing and John Starks from ever reaching the NBA Finals (and took time to poster-ize them in Madison Square Garden while he was at it).

He let Stockton and Malone get tantalizing close twice, but sent them home ringless too.

Reggie Miller never even got a shot at one, because MJ would always come to town and end his season early.

Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler only won because Jordan retired the first time.

David Robinson and Alonzo Mourning didn't win a ring until Jordan left for the second time.

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and one of the most explosive offenses in NBA history thought they had a chance too.  Jordan had other ideas.

He beat down Magic for his first championship, beat down Drexler for his second, Barkley and KJ for his third, announcing his dominance over the remnants of the previous generation.

Then utilized his second run with three championships to assert his dominance over his contemporaries, having already smote the giants of the past.

Literally, no player in the history of the NBA has completely beaten down every single competitor that rose to challenge him like Jordan did.  It's irrelevant to talk about anybody else in the '90s besides Jordan, and that absolutely is not the case now.

The NBA is experiencing a renaissance due to the multitude of talent on display right now. Kobe and Shaq were kings briefly. Duncan has had his run, but other than that, nobody has been on top as firmly and as long as MJ was.

Nobody besides Russell has won six championships, let alone six championships in eight years in an unsegregated and fully competitive NBA landscape.

Nobody has so fully dominated an era in the NBA like Jordan did, which makes the seemingly hyperbolic anointment of a god in disguise all the more accurate.

I apologize if anybody was offended by the overtly religious tones of this article, as I am sure I have handled them as delicately as the Wachowski Brothers did in The Matrix trilogy.

However, in basketball terms, if everybody else was on a lower level than Him, and He resided on His own level Himself, what image fits that classification better than Jordan being the basketball Deity over the rest of the league's painfully obvious mortality?

The pure omnipotence of Jordan's game warrants this religiously-toned prose, and I feel like it is necessary to truly elucidate just how much greater Michael Jordan was than anybody before or after him.

The book on the Next Generation has been written. It is still too early to start this conversation about The Future, as too much of their careers remain to be seen ahead of them.

But the fact remains, the comparisons need to stop. No matter how tempting the story or angle, no matter how juicy the justification or subject matter, just stop.

There is no comparison. 

Nobody has displayed such competence and pure dominance in all aspects of the game like His Airness has. He is the greatest scorer of all time, and arguably the greatest dunker and defender as well.

That is why I felt the need to invoke such religious overtones in my crusade to stop the ridiculous temptation to compare every young superstar to Michael Jordan.

Because, in the grand scheme of things, its flat out blasphemous to mention anybody in the last 15 years on the same level as Michael Jordan, considering Larry freaking Bird considered him a God.

So this is a call to all out there. 

Stop the comparisons. 

Stop the stretch justifications. 

Stop being wishful or disillusioned and look at the facts. 

Michael Jordan was the best basketball player that ever has, and probably ever will, play the game. That needs to be declared once and for all.

In one final attempt to justify the purpose and style of the article, let me fall back on one last piece of religious vernacular that I think succinctly puts it best:

There is only one basketball God but Michael, and I guess, for today at least, I am his prophet.


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