Call it blasphemy if you wish, but I don't think that Michael Jordan is the greatest player in NBA history. Let me just clear up some things.
1. I'm not a Jordan hater.
2. I'm completely aware of Jordan's contributions.
3. I'm also aware of the achievements of other legends and a closer look shows that Jordan is not undoubtedly the greatest of all time.
In fact, there are five players that I think are in the argument for GOAT. There's only one player I'd put over him though.
This player doesn't have Wilt's numbers, Russell's rings, or Magic's popularity, but when it comes down to it, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest player in NBA history.
When you compare Kareem and Jordan at face value, it's easy to think that Jordan is better. While I disagree, Jordan couldn't be a closer second. For a while, I thought that Jordan was the greatest, but here's why Kareem is the GOAT.
When you're only looking at basic stats, Kareem probably isn't in the top five. But one reason why people have forgotten Kareem's greatness is his longevity.
Mainly because of his debt (and I'm sure a love of the game had to do with it as well), Kareem played until he was 41, when he was way passed his days of being an elite player.
Kareem played 1560 games. Jordan played 1072 games. When you look at Kareem's numbers through that same number of games (okay, so through 1090 games, but I had to round it off at the end of a season), the numbers are comparable.
Points per game
Kareem sits at 24.6 points per game, 11th all-time. Through 1090 games, Kareem averages 27.3 points per game, fifth all-time behind Jordan, Chamberlain, LeBron James, and Elgin Baylor.
Chamberlain (who played 1045 games) averages 2.8 more points per game than Kareem, but Kareem played in slower offenses.
Rebounds per game
Currently 24th at 11.1. In 1090 games, he's 10th at 13.2. He's third behind only Wes Unseld and Dave Cowens in terms of post-60's players.
Assists per game
4.6 per game in 1090. This is first among all centers. Bill Walton, considered by most to be the greatest passing big man ever, had one season where he averaged more.
Of course, it's not all about numbers when it comes to greatness. But there is evidence that Kareem is at least in the top five when it comes to defense.
Back to 1090 games defense, Kareem averaged 3.7 blocks per game, first all-time. Of course, there's most likely still players above him. Bill Russell most likely holds the record, but blocks weren't a stat when he played.
Kareem also averaged more fouls than blocks in that time. Mark Eaton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning, Ben Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Dwight Howard this year, all Defensive Player of the Year winners, can't claim the same numbers.
In fact, these are the kind of defensive numbers Dikembe Mutombo averaged when he won three DPOY's in four years.
Kareem led the NBA in blocks four times. In three of those years, he averaged more blocks than fouls, with a ratio of 1.27, far more than anyone else at the time. The DPOY wasn't around at the time, but Kareem should have won it.
In the first year, Kareem led the NBA in rebounds and blocks. In the second year, he led the NBA in rebounds per game and blocks per game. In the third year, Kareem was deservedly voted to the all-defensive first team over the defensively overrated, foul-prone Dave Cowens.
If he had good relationships with the media and had DPOY been around at the time, Kareem probably would have won it those three times.
In the 69-70 season, Knicks center Willis Reed had one of the most accomplished seasons any player has ever had. He was all-NBA, all-defensive, an NBA champion, finals MVP, and the NBA's MVP.
Even in his rookie year, Kareem deserved that MVP. The Bucks, coming off a 27 win season, acquired Kareem and Bob Dandridge, and the two led the Bucks to 56 wins, only four games behind the Knicks where Reed was surrounded by great players like Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Cazzie Russell.
Kareem deservedly won MVP in his second year with one of the greatest seasons anyone has ever had. He led the NBA in scoring, averaged 16 rebounds per game, and won finals MVP. The Bucks won 66 games, most in the NBA.
In his remaining four seasons with the Bucks, they won less than 59 games once. The Bucks were 34-31 with Kareem and 4-13 without him.
Kareem would have been able to take just about any group of players and make them into an elite team. Flynn Robinson became an elite point guard worthy of a trade for Oscar Robertson, but scored seven less per game in Cincinnati.
He opened up the lanes for John McGlocklin better than anyone could have. Oscar Robertson rejuvenated his career with the Bucks.
In his Laker days, Kareem was an NBA finalist eight times and he's a six-time NBA champion.
As possibly the greatest passing big man and helping defender ever, Kareem inspired his team win more than anyone, despite what his relationships with the media would lead one to think.
I know what you're thinking; Jordan has six championships. Yes he does. And it also wouldn't be fair for me to say that Kareem won six as well after highlighting the years where he only won three. However, during most of those years, Kareem didn't have an elite sidekick like Jordan.
With the Bucks, Robertson was an elite talent for only his first two years. With Robertson, the Bucks won the NBA championship and lost the finals to the Lakers, who won 69 games. Magic Johnson and Kareem were united for four of the seasons I mentioned earlier and made the finals twice and lost the finals another time.
Jordan didn't win a championship in his first six years because of a poor supporting cast. The Bulls finished under .500 in his first three years and didn't contend until Scottie Pippen became an elite talent in Jordan's sixth season.
Pippen is Underrated
Jordan is 5-15 without him in the postseason. To say that Pippen doesn't compare to Jordan is absurd. In the Bulls games I've watched, Pippen is often the one rotating quickly on defense, helping out everyone. Not to say Jordan wasn't a great defender, Pippen was just better in that aspect.
In the two years played mainly without Jordan, the Bulls were still a very good team under Pippen's leadership. In 1994, the Bulls won 55 games and lost to the NBA finalist Knicks in seven games in the second round. The Bulls won 47 games the second year, losing to the Magic, also NBA finalists, in six games in the second round.
Kareem Also Played in a Tougher NBA
The 70's are often a forgotten era in NBA history for two reasons; the lack of star power and because the NBA doesn't like talking about the league's drug problems.
But the 70's were an era with half as many teams as the 90's and greater talent concentration. In that decade, the fifth best team in the league would only win around 45 games. It would sometimes be a team like the Knicks or the Warriors with Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond. The 80's were the toughest era in NBA history.
Who's better? The 80's Lakers, the 80's Celtics, the 90's Bulls? Perhaps a 76er's team led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving?
If Jordan's Bulls played in the 80's, they wouldn't have won six championships. It's possible that Jordan was a greater winner than Kareem and a player's winning ability is all that really matters when it comes down to it.
But a closer look at history shows that the players are neck-and-neck. Perhaps if Kareem had a Pippen-like talent in the first half of his career, the Bucks would be up there with the Bulls.
As I said before, Jordan was an amazing player. He couldn't be any closer to the greatest ever. He's not overrated. Others are just underrated.
Kareem, along with his great individual accomplishments, was a winner. He took the Bucks, a 27 win team, and made them into NBA champions in two years.
With a supporting cast lacking superstars, Kareem led the Bucks to 60 win seasons. In his second season with the Lakers, without Johnson and after losing Gail Goodrich, Kareem led the Lakers to 53 wins. With Magic, the Lakers dominated the most difficult era in NBA history.
Kareem, a six-time MVP, a six-time NBA champion, the all-time leader in points, a 19-time all-star, and possibly the greatest passing big man and one of the greatest interior defenders of all-time, is the greatest player in NBA history.
Jordan has six rings and he's the all-time leading scorer, but a closer look shows that he's not the undeniable GOAT.