As you read the title your eyes probably bulged, your throat tightened, teeth gritted, fists clenched, and if you're a long time Bulls fan—it's likely you're picking yourself off the floor right now.
To speak against the media induced proclamation that Michael Jeffery Jordan is not the greatest basketball player of all time is heresy. Well, I'm here to put a banner in the rafters of heresy.
Let's establish some things. Jordan was by all definition a great basketball player. He possessed qualities on the court that all great players have—supreme talent, toughness, ultra-competitiveness, inspiration, will, craftiness, poise under pressure, teamwork (later in his career), and killer instinct.
Not until Jordan came, conquered, and retired from the NBA did the overall accomplishments of other great players become null and void. However, no matter what a person accomplishes in sports, there's an undeniable rule that can never be trumped - the scoreboard.
Jordan is tied 10th all time with his teammate Scottie Pippen, Milwaukee Buck / LA Laker Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Boston Celtic Bob Cousy for 6 NBA titles. Of the players on the all time titles list, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Magic Johnson are on par with Jordan in overall greatness.
Bill Russell won 11 titles in 13 seasons, the most by any player in NBA history. Scoreboard. A rebounding machine, Russell snatched 51 in one game, 49 in two others and had 12 consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more rebounds. He finished his career with an astounding 22.5 rebounding average. Uh...Scoreboard?
At the shooting guard position Jordan battled against three, soon to be four Hall Of Famers in his career. Joe Dumars, Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller, and a very young Kobe Bryant.
Jabbar won his 6 NBA titles while amassing 38,387 points (most all time) against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Lanier, Wes Unseld, Bill Walton, Moses Malone, Robert Parrish, Dave Cowens, Nate Thurmond, Jack Sikma, and Spencer Haywood. All except Haywood are in the Hall Of Fame. Scoreboard.
Jabbar's excellence on the court garnered him six MVP awards (most all time), two Finals MVP's, 19 All Star selections (most all time), ten All NBA First Team selections (tied with Jordan), and 15 overall Team selections (most all time)
When you examine the caliber of players Jabbar had to battle in his career at his position, and how easily his accolades equal or in many cases surpass Jordan's, he could very well be considered the greatest basketball player ever. Scoreboard.
In a four year span (1977-1980) Magic Johnson led Lansing Everett High (Mich) to a state championship, the Michigan State Spartans to a NCAA men's basketball championship, and the LA Lakers to an NBA World Championship. Jordan never accomplished anything remotely close to that. Scoreboard.
Johnson averaged a double double his entire NBA career - 19.5 points and 11.2 assists. Throw in 7.2 rebounds per game from the point guard position. Along with Larry Bird, he brought the NBA back from the abyss and set the table for Jordan to feast off it's growing popularity. To boot, he carried the Lakers to nine NBA Finals, winning five championships. Undeniable greatness.
All the aforementioned players established aspects of greatness in the game that Jordan did not. So why has Jordan been gifted the mythical title of "greatest player of all time"? Especially considering "all time" is still being written?
Jordan was the beneficiary of incredibly fortunate circumstances. The gift included Nike founder Phil Knight, marketing genius Sonny Vaccaro, NBA Commissioner David Stern, and ESPN.
Knight hired a visionary in Vaccaro who became legendary for his innovative marketing genius and being the person to sign Jordan to Nike at a time when that sort of branding was unheard of. Core branding, basketball camps (Nike, ABCD), and AAU basketball are all creations of Vaccaro. Scoreboard.
With visions of globalizing the NBA brand Stern was eager to capitalize on the recent boom his sport was enjoying courtesy of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. He chose Jordan as the "Air Apparent" to lead the charge. Scoreboard: Stern
Enter ESPN. In 1985, when Nike released the inaugural Air Jordan's, ESPN was only six years old and in dire need of a programming savior. A perfect conglomerate storm was ready to wreak havoc on advertising, media, branding, and exposure with Michael Jordan serving as the lightning, thunder, wind, and rain.
The rest as they say is history. The NBA had another face to carry the torch Magic and Bird re-lit. ESPN had a poster boy to replay highlights over and over and...well, you already know. Nike became the biggest shoe company of our generation because they essentially had four levels of advertising -- Themselves, Jordan, the NBA, and ESPN.
If you replace Michael Jordan's fadeaway with Kareem's graceful skyhook, or Dr. J's surgical athleticism, or George Gervins flawless finger roll, or Wilt's legendary power, or Russell's fierceness —and infuse their supreme talents with that perfect storm of overexposure, branding, internet explosion, game globalization and luck—they too would appear greater than the whole sum of NBA history.
As it goes, when it comes to that fact, the Scoreboard reads: Michael Jordan.