It remains one of the most commonly asked questions among all sports fans. It is also one of the most widely debated and difficult questions to answer... Who is the greatest basketball player who ever lived: Michael Jordan or Wilt Chamberlain?
A general consensus among former players, coaches, experts, and even casual fans has established that these are the two greatest basketball players who ever lived.
Now, some do disagree. Revered sports statistician Elliott Kalb considers current Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal to be the game's greatest player. Other experts insist that legendary guard Oscar Robertson was the game's top all-around player.
Some consider Boston Celtic center Bill Russell to be the greatest basketball player, based on his professional sports record of eleven championships. Still others will make the claim that center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, forward Larry Bird, or guard Magic Johnson is the game's greatest player. However, the majority of lists published have accepted the fact that Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain are the top two players in NBA history.
Interestingly enough, the general consensus has also fully accepted Michael Jordan as the better basketball player than Wilt Chamberlain.
An ESPN survey of journalists, athletes, and other sports figures ranked Jordan as the greatest North American athlete of the twentieth century, ahead of such icons as Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. In the Associated Press's list of the top twentieth century athletes, Michael placed second to Babe Ruth. The list ranked Jordan as first among all basketball players. In 2000, Jordan received an ESPY as the greatest athlete of the century.
Sport Magazine, commemorating its fiftieth anniversary in 1996, selected Jordan as the greatest athlete of the last fifty years—then watched as Jordan earned five more Most Valuable Player awards (two in the regular season and three in the NBA Finals). NBA.com describes Michael Jordan with the following bold statement: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”
However, a slight bias may favor Jordan over Chamberlain—or not so slight. While Wilt Chamberlain was disliked by many, Michael Jordan is undeniably the single most popular athlete to ever walk the planet.
Unlike Wilt, whose career occurred before the frequent use of athletes in commercials, Jordan ranks with Tiger Woods as one of the most marketed sports figures in history. He introduced us to the athlete-as-megabucks generator off the court. He set records for marketability, revenue, and recognizability, as a spokesman for products such as Gatorade and McDonald's.
Jordan's popular style of game is said to have influenced a generation of young players. MJ was the first in the NBA's high flying circus era. Many current NBA All-Stars have stated that they considered Jordan their role model while growing up, including LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Commentators have even taken to dubbing the latest young superstar the “next Michael Jordan”, a list that has included Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, LeBron, and Wade.
This clear-cut advantage as a public figure that Jordan holds over Wilt gives him an almost unfair advantage. Michael is so well-liked and admired by basketball fans everywhere that people WANT to view Jordan as a better player than Wilt. He had the zip and glitz of a superstar but the down-to-earth demeanor that almost forces you to vote for him.
Many rankings that land Michael and Wilt at the top of the list will choose Michael because it is the popular selection. It's the safe choice. Nobody will argue with you if you make the claim that Jordan is the game's greatest player. It has been fully accepted that the Chicago Bulls legend, with his eleven combined regular-season and Finals MVP awards, has outplayed and outperformed the Philadelphia and Los Angeles great.
If you select Wilt as the top player, people will instantly second-guess your choice. “You passed up Jordan?!” It's an almost un-American choice.
Wilt has always been considered the statistical player, while Jordan is the clutch player who won all of the championships. While this is partly true, the challenging part is determining how to value regular season performances when comparing them to postseason performances.
Let's start with Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan ultimately revolutionized the position of superstar in the NBA. He averaged 28.2 points per game as a rookie and was voted in as an All-Star starter by the fans. He was so hyped that NBA players around the league became upset about the amount of attention that Jordan was receiving. During the All-Star game, veteran Isaiah Thomas led a “freeze-out” on Jordan, where players refused to pass Jordan the ball during the game.
After missing virtually the entire 1986 NBA season after sustaining a broken foot, Jordan returned to his old form in the 1987.season, posting his best season ever, and the most prolific scoring season in NBA history by anybody not named Wilt Chamberlain. Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game and became the only player besides Wilt Chamberlain to score more than 3,000 points in a season. He also demonstrated his defensive prowess, as he became the first NBA player to record more than 200 steals and 100 blocks in a single season. He finished a close second to Magic Johnson in the MVP voting.
In 1988, Jordan earned his first regular-season MVP award. He averaged 35.0 points per game on 53.5% field goal shooting. He earned his lone Defensive Player of the Year award, while becoming the first of two players to win the MVP award and the Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season.
Jordan continued his dominance for five more years. He won every scoring title, giving him a record-tying seven in a row. Jordan learned to shoot the three-point shot in 1989, making 27 shots—only four less than his first four seasons combined. In 1990, MJ successfully nailed 92 three-pointers, at a 37.6 success rate. His defense never wavered either, as Jordan led the league in steals three separate times before his first retirement (1988, 1990, and 1993).
After his first retirement from the NBA in 1993, Jordan attempted to pursue a professional baseball career, trying to please his stepfather, who had been murdered a year ago. James Jordan had always wanted his son Michael to become a professional baseball player. Baseball didn't work for Michael and he rejoined the NBA in the middle of the 1995 NBA season. Jordan started off slowly, but then scored 55 points in just his sixth game back.
Jordan picked up right where he left off for the next three seasons. He earned three more scoring titles, and his career mark of ten tied the great Wilt Chamberlain for first all-time. He played every game in those three seasons (246 in a row).
Following his second retirement, Jordan attempted to return to the NBA again in the 2001 season. His return was short-lived, as the former Chicago Bull guard joined the Washington Wizards. Many believe that MJ tarnished his legacy upon retiring. Indeed, the prolific scoring machine had turned into simply an above-average basketball player.
He averaged 22.9 points per game in 2002 and exactly 20 in 2003, his last season. Although he did lead the struggling Wizards in points, assists, and steals per game in 2002, Jordan missed the final 22 games of the season, due to torn cartilage in his right knee. It was the first serious injury sustained by Jordan since his broken foot sixteen years earlier. Jordan would never again return to the playoffs, and when he retired following the 2003 NBA season, his career scoring average had dropped from over 33 points per game to just 30.12, a fraction greater than Wilt's mark of 30.06.
Jordan had ice water in his veins and made virtually no mistakes in his playoff career, which included only two seventh games (both of which he won).
Michael won six NBA championships—in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998. His team has never lost in the NBA Finals, In fact, Michael earned Finals MVP honors in all six of his series. His six MVP awards double the record currently shared by former Lakers guard Magic Johnson, former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, and current Spurs forward Tim Duncan.
In 1985, Michael missed 63 games in the regular season due to a broken foot, but returned to lead the 30-52 Bulls into the playoffs, where they faced Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, who won 40 of their 41 home games during the regular season. MJ's Bulls were swept by the Celtics.
However, Jordan averaged a postseason series record 43.7 points per game, including 63 in game two. Although the Bulls lost in double overtime, Larry Bird described Jordan's performance as one of the greatest that he had ever seen. He even stated that Jordan was “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Michael Jordan's Bulls, a team that finished 22 games under .500 during the regular season, would have needed just one more point in regulation to defeat the mighty Celtics in their home turf. Jordan's 63 points in one playoff game is a still-standing NBA record.
Jordan's Bulls struggled in the postseason until the 1991 season. In 1987, the Bulls reached the postseason for third consecutive year, and were swept again by the Celtics. A little known fact about Michael Jordan is that he began his basketball career by winning exactly one of his first ten playoff games.
In 1988, the Bulls posted their first winning season with MJ, and defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games in the first round of the postseason. They were then defeated by the Detroit Pistons, led by Isaiah Thomas and the “Bad Boys”.
In 1989, Jordan led the Bulls into the Eastern Conference Finals, after victories against the Cavaliers and the Knicks. The Cavaliers series was highlighted by one of the greatest moments in basketball history. With the series in the deciding fifth game, and the Bulls down by one with seconds to play, Jordan, with 42 points already, launched a game-winning jump shot over the head of Cavaliers guard Craig Ehlo. The lasting image of Jordan leaping into the air, fist pumping, in an emphatic celebration, is one of the most treasured images in sports history.
The Bulls ran out of gas in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons employed the “Jordan Rules” against MJ, double and triple teaming every time he touched the ball. The tactic worked, and the Bulls were defeated in six games.
In 1990, the Jordan-led Bulls again advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. However, the Bulls were defeated in seven games, their third straight postseason exit at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.
The 1991 Bulls won their first division title in sixteen years, setting a franchise-record with 61 wins. They beat the Knicks and the 76ers in the first two rounds of the postseason, before facing the Pistons for the fourth consecutive year. This time, when the Pistons employed their “Jordan Rules”, Jordan picked them apart with passing and the Bulls stunned the basketball world with a four-game sweep.
Isaiah Thomas led his team off the court in the final seconds of the fourth game of the series, refusing to shake hands with Jordan and the rest of the Bulls. It was a classic moment that would ultimately symbolize the end of one dynasty and the start of another.
In the 1991 NBA Finals, the Bulls picked apart the Lakers in five games, highlighted by Jordan's signature play in Game 2, in which, while attempting to avoid a Lakers block, MJ switched hands on a layup. His “scoop shot” was the last of 13 consecutive field goals in the game by Jordan.
The '92 Bulls won a franchise-record 67 games and earned their second consecutive NBA championship. Game 1 of the NBA Finals featured what is now known as the Jordan Shrug. After scoring a Finals-record 35 points in the first half, including six three-pointers, Jordan shrugged as he headed upcourt, as if professing that even he was surprised by what he had accomplished.
The Bulls earned a three-peat in 1993 over the Phoenix Suns and MVP Charles Barkley. Jordan averaged a Finals-record 41 points per game in the series, including four straight games of forty or more points.
After returning from retirement in the middle of the 1995 season, Jordan managed to lead the Bulls back into the playoffs. They reached the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals but were defeated by the Orlando Magic.
Jordan trained vigorously in the offseason and led the Bulls to an NBA-record 72 wins in the regular season. The Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in six games during the NBA Finals. Overall, they won 16 out of 19 playoff games and solidified their reputation as the greatest single-season team in NBA history.
Jordan led the Bulls to 69 wins in 1997 and a fifth NBA championship. He won Game 1 with a buzzer-beating jump shot. In Game 5, with the series tied 2-2, he turned in one of the most legendary performances in NBA history, now known simply as the “Flu Game.” Jordan was informed by doctors that he was suffering from food poisoning and was not allowed to play in the game. He emerged for the game anyway, and scored 38 points for the Bulls, including the game-winning three-pointer with under a minute to play. Jordan collapsed into teammate Scottie Pippen's arms after the game. He earned his fifth NBA Finals MVP award.
Jordan's final NBA championship came in 1998. The Bulls survived a seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan's first seven-game series since 1992. In the sixth game of the Finals, the Bulls led three games to two, but trailed by three with 40 seconds to play. After nailing a layup, Jordan stole the ball right out of Karl Malone's hands. He dribbled upcourt, faked right, crossed over to the left, and let loose a shot that has become the signature play of his NBA career. As the shot dropped through the net, the Bulls had secured their sixth NBA championship of the decade.
But when one looks at regular season achievements, Michael Jordan doesn't even come close to some of Wilt Chamberlain's statistical accolades. Chamberlain started his NBA career as a rookie in 1960. He earned $30,000, becoming the NBA's top-paid player. In his first game, he scored 43 points and grabbed 28 rebounds. It was the greatest single-game debut in NBA history.
Chamberlain averaged 37.6 points per game that season, breaking Bob Pettit's single-season record by almost eight points. He also broke the single-season record with 27 rebounds per game. He capped off his phenomenal rookie season by capturing Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors. He also earned All-Star Game MVP honors. In 1961, Wilt averaged 38.4 points and 27.2 rebounds per game, shattering both records again. Chamberlain became the first player to break the 3,000-point barrier and the only player, still, to break the 2,000-rebound a season mark. He won his first field goal percentage title and set the still-standing single-game record with 55 rebounds. He was so dominant that he scored over 30% of his team's points and grabbed over 30% of their rebounds.
In 1962, Wilt responded with 50.4 points per game. That season, he scored more than 4,000 points. Only five other players that season scored more than 2,000 points. Only one player before or since has scored more than 3,000 points in a season—Michael Jordan with 3,041 in 1987. The equivalent in baseball terms would be if Barry Bonds had hit his 73 home runs, and the next highest single-season total was 55—or if Tom Brady had thrown 50 touchdown passes, with the next highest single-season total being 38. Wilt averaged 48.5 minutes per game that season, becoming the only player in the history of the NBA to average more than 48 minutes per game—the standard for a non-overtime NBA game. Wilt missed eight of a possible 3,890 minutes that season, due to an ejection from an overtime game. He scored 50 or more points in a game 45 times that season. By comparison, the great Michael Jordan scored more than 50 points in a game 37 times in his entire career.
On March 2, 1962, before a crowd of 4,124 in Hershey, Pennsylvania—the majority of who paid to see their hometown Eagles play the Baltimore Colts in a pickup basketball game--Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points. Playing against the backup center of the New York Knicks, Wilt scored 23 points by the end of the first quarter and 41 by halftime. By the conclusion of the third quarter, Wilt the Stilt had reached 69 points and the crowd was screaming for him to break his own NBA record of 78 points in a game. Despite facing quintuple coverage by the desperate Knicks players, Wilt continued his dominance, setting an NBA-record with 31 points in the fourth quarter and 100 overall in a game. Wilt also grabbed 25 rebounds.
His performance is widely-regarded as the greatest single-game performance by an athlete in professional sports history. Many believe that his 100 points in a game is a record that will never be broken, and in the 46 years following Chamberlain's game, Kobe Bryant has come the closest to Wilt, scoring 81 points in a 2006 game.
Wilt continued his scoring dominance for the next several years. He led the league in scoring his first seven seasons. He dominated the rest of his competition so much that it wasn't even a scoring race. His seven scoring titles were won by an average of almost eight points per game over the next closest NBA player.
Chamberlain was a human scoring machine. He once had 65 consecutive games of scoring 30 or more points (roughly four-fifths of an NBA season). He scored 60 or more points in a game 32 times. The rest of the NBA has done it a combined 29 times. Michael Jordan did it five times, including once in the playoffs. Chamberlain scored 70 or more points in a game six times. The rest of the NBA has done it four times.
Wilt was also one of the league's great ironmen. In 1962, he played in every second of every game 79 out of a possible 82 times. He once played 47 consecutive games without missing a second of playing time. For his career, he averaged almost 46 minutes per game. As a 36-year-old in his last NBA season, Wilt averaged more than 43 minutes per game, enough to rank third in the league. He led the league in minutes per game nine times in his career. In his career, Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game—over three and a half minutes more than the next best NBA player.
Wilt was one of the most accurate shooters the game of basketball has ever seen. Nine times he topped the league in field goal percentage. He holds the NBA record by hitting 72.7% of his shots in the 1973 season—his last season as a professional. Wilt once hit 18 out of 18 shots in an NBA game. In another game, he shot 16 of 16. In yet another game, he shot 15 of 15. NBA historian Harvey Pollack claims that Wilt once made 35 consecutive shots, spanning over two consecutive games.
Wilt was also the greatest rebounder in the history of the game. The man with the unbelievable 50-inch vertical leap led the NBA in rebounding eleven times. Twice he finished second to rival Bill Russell. He holds career records in total rebounds (23,924) and rebounds per game (22.9). He has six of the seven highest single-season rebounding totals. He has 14 of the 24 known 40-rebound games in NBA history (Bill Russell has eight). His 55 rebounds in one game, achieved against the great Bill Russell, is a record that will never be threatened for all of eternity.
Wilt was also the greatest shot blocker the game of basketball has ever known. Blocked shot statistics were not originated until 1974, ironically just a single year after Chamberlain retired. Newspaper accounts of games talk about Chamberlain blocking ten to twelve shots per game. Teammate Matt Guokas swears that Will averaged about eight blocks per game. Historian Harvey Pollack used to keep track of Wilt's blocks in playoff games and claims that Wilt blocked 25 shots in a single game (the NBA single-game record is thought to be 17, by Elmore Smith in 1974). Wilt himself claims that he once blocked the first ten shots taken by Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy. The NBA career leader in blocks per game is Mark Eaton, who averaged 3.56 per game. Bottom line: Wilt would have shattered virtually every blocked shot statistic had someone thought to count the statistic during his career.
Finally, Wilt was one of the more underrated team players the game of basketball has ever known. Before the 1966 NBA season, Wilt, now a Philadelphia 76er, was asked to focus on his defensive abilities by coach Alex Hannum. The 76ers had future Hall of Famers Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham, and were loaded with players who could score. Wilt responded by taking only 14% of his team's shots that season, as compared to over 35% in his record-breaking 1962 season. Wilt led the NBA in rebounding and set a single-season record by making 68.3% of his field goals. He also ranked third in assists per game (6.8) and, despite his complete switch to defense, still averaged 24.1 points per game, enough to rank fifth in the league. The 76ers jumped to a 46-4 start and finished the season 68-13. Wilt earned his third MVP award, as well as the praise from thousands of fans who doubted his ability to successfully change into a defensive force.
Wilt was even better in 1967. Still playing defense, the big man again topped the league in rebounds per game (23.8) and field goal percentage (59.5%). He became the first and only center to lead the league in assists over a full season (702). He also recorded 21 assists in one game, which remains the single-game record for a center. Wilt ranked fourth in the NBA with 24.3 points per game. He earned his fourth regular-season MVP award and led the 76ers to a 62-win season, their third straight season leading the NBA in wins.
Wilt would never again lead the league in points per game. Not because he couldn't, but because he was asked not to by his coach. However, his field goal percentage improved dramatically, probably due to the more selective amount of shots he was able to take. He shot almost 65% from the field in 1972 and set the single-season record in his last year.
“The Big Dipper” is the only basketball player in the Hall of Fame to never foul out in a single game--regular season or postseason. A remarkable achievement for any player, the achievement is even more remarkable, considering that opposing teams would foul Wilt over and over again—and frequently get away with it. Celtics forward Tom Heinsohn claimed that “half the fouls against Wilt were hard fouls...he took the most brutal pounding out of any player ever.”
Wilt Chamberlain holds or shares 72 NBA records. There is not a statistic nor area of the game that he did not excel in.
He led the NBA in total rebounds and rebounds per game eleven times, field goal percentage, free throw attempts, and minutes played nine times, minutes played eight times, points scored, points per game, field goals made and field goals attempted seven times, games played five times, and assists once. The second-worst free throw shooter in NBA history even led the league in free throws made once.
Wilt even led the league in a statistic that would not be invented for the next thirty years: player efficiency rating. Created by ESPN Insider writer John Hollinger, player efficiency rating measures a player's overall success, boiling every statistic into one number. The formula adds positive stats and subtracts negative ones through a statistical point system. Each player's rating is then adjusted to a per-minute basis (so starters can be compared to substitutes). Wilt led the league in PEF eight separate times and holds three of the top four single-season marks, including the top two.
Wilt was essentially the quintessential all-around basketball player. He scored points, grabbed rebounds, blocked shots, and passed to his teammates. He was considered an above-average ball stealer and his durability is comparable to that of baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. or football legend Brett Favre.
The biggest difference between Jordan and Chamberlain is their performance in postseason play, where “The Big Dipper” frequently struggled, especially in seventh game situations. His postseason performances have not matched or even come close to those of his nemesis, Michael Jordan. Wilt showed no flair in the postseason and lacked big-play ability. He would never earn a reputation as a clutch player. He was feared in the postseason, simply because of who he was, but he was not considered to be the same unstoppable force that he was during the regular season.
Although he averaged over 33 points per game in each of his first four years in the postseason, Wilt finished his playoff career with a 22.5 points per game average, meaning he averaged just points per game after 1964. Much of this can be attributed, however, to the fact that 108 of his 160 playoff games (approximately two-thirds) occurred after he was asked to concentrate on playing defense. His rebounding was significantly better in the postseason than in the regular season (almost two rebounds a game higher). He averaged virtually the same number of assists per game, but performed much worse on free throws. Essentially though, his statistics were identical to those from the regular season.
Wilt won two NBA championships in his fourteen-year NBA career. Just three game 7's late in his career prevented him from potentially finishing his career with five NBA championships.
In 1968, the 76ers won 62 games and finished the regular season as the best team in basketball. To return to the NBA Finals, the 76ers needed to defeat the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 76ers took a 3-1 series lead, and as guard Matt Guokas claims, “relaxed a little in the fifth game.” The Celtics won that game and the next game, forcing a seventh game in Philly.
The Celtics defeated the 76ers by four in a game that is still remembered for one particular incident. Make that one particular half. Wilt Chamberlain, who by this point in his career was widely considered the greatest scoring machine in NBA history, took just one shot in the game's second half. He finished the game with fourteen points.
Wilt attempted to defend himself in his autobiography, stating that he out rebounded Russell by eight and that Boston had half their team guarding him. Wilt kept passing to his teammates, Hal Greer and Matt Guokas, for open shots, and Greer and Guokas consistently missed, combining on 10 of 35 field goals (28 percent).
But how could Wilt, who had played the final minutes of his 100-point game against the New York Knicks fighting off quintuple coverage, and had been double and triple teamed his entire life, not have found time to take more than one shot in the second half?! I simply cannot fathom the fact that a player as great as Wilt could not take control of this game. If any one player in NBA history could single-handedly win a game by himself, it was Wilt Chamberlain. And for a player that good to play that bad in a game that big, I simply find that to be inexcusable.
It gets worse.
In the 1969 NBA Finals, the Lakers faced the Celtics—who else? It would be the last postseason series of Bill Russell's career and he desperately wanted to end his career with an eleventh title. However, the Lakers were 3-1 favorites for the series. In the sixth game of the series, with the Lakers leading the series 3-2, Wilt choked. He played one of the worst games of his entire career, scoring a ridiculously-low eight points.
The series reached a seventh game, where the Lakers trailed by 17 points late in the third quarter. The Lakers then rallied, trailing by just nine with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Wilt had scored 18 points and grabbed 27 rebounds (remember, this was the 'defensive' stage of his career). On his last rebound, Wilt injured his knee and needed to come out of the game. After a minute, he signaled to coach Van Breda Kolff that he was ready to come back in. However, the Lakers were making a comeback withoutWilt, and Van Breda Kolff refused to reinstate Wilt for the remainder of the game. This was not Wilt Chamberlain's fault. Van Breda Kolff humiliated Chamberlain and cost the Lakers the chance at an NBA championship.
When asked about his refusal to allow Wilt to re-enter the game, Van Breda Kolff commented that he thought “we were playing fairly well without him.” Bill Russell sided with Kolff, arguing that “Any injury, short of a broken leg or a broken back, isn't enough. When he took himself out of the game when he hurt his knee, well, I wouldn't have put him back in the game, either, even though I think he's great.”
Critics have argued about this game for years. Some call Wilt a hero and say that he did the honorable thing. He played his heart out, got hurt, and tried to heroically re-enter the game. Others think that Wilt should have remained in the game, regardless of his injury. They believe that Wilt should have forced himself back into the game, even if it meant making a scene with the coach. Picking sides here is very difficult, but all we really know is that Wilt failed to deliver again in the closing minutes of a seventh game in the playoffs. Injury or not, he did not get the job done and it ultimately cost him team a shot at the championship.
1970 marked the third straight year that Wilt Chamberlain lost a heartbreaking game seven. In the seventh game of the 1970 NBA Finals, Wilt's Lakers faced the New York Knicks. This was the legendary game in which injured Willis Reed scored the first two baskets of the game. The Knicks defeated the Lakers by fourteen points.
Blame again can be pointed directly to the Lakers center, who scored just 21 points. Wilt missed ten of eleven free throws. Experts will argue that Wilt was no longer the dominating force that he once was and the loss was not his fault. But in game six, Wilt had scored 45 points and grabbed 27 rebounds. 21 points and one free throw in game seven is just not acceptable.
Wilt wasn't a total flop in the playoffs, as it may seem—not even close. He averaged over 33 points and 23 rebounds in each of his first four years in the postseason. His 1962 NBA season—unarguably the greatest season in basketball history—will join the likes of many superstars from other sports who failed to win a championship in their most dominant season (Babe Ruth in 1921; Tom Brady in 2007; Wayne Gretzky in 1982).
In 1967, Wilt won his first NBA championship as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Wilt himself called this the greatest team in history. During the postseason, Wilt averaged 21.7 points, 29 rebounds, and nine assists per game. He missed an average of six seconds of playing time per game.
Wilt won his second NBA title as a member of the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers. Both the '67 76ers and the '72 Lakers have been voted among the ten greatest teams in NBA history. Wilt's role on the 1972 Lakers was not that of the team's best player. Instead, he focused completely on rebounding and defense. He only averaged 14.7 points but grabbed 21 rebounds per game.
In his postseason career, Wilt just flat out did not get the job done. Not once, not twice, not even three times, but year after year after year.
Michael, however, did get the job done. In the regular season and in the postseason, especially in the NBA Finals. Year after year after year. And that is why....Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player who has ever lived—even better than Wilt Chamberlain.
Jordan tied Chamberlain's career record of ten scoring titles, including a record-tying seven in a row. He electrified the basketball world with his uncanny style of defense and for the majority of his career, MJ was seen as both the game's greatest offensive AND defensive player. He had virtually no weaknesses as a player.
In 1987, he became the first of three players to win both the scoring title and the league's Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season. He earned five regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, with an unheard-of ten-year gap between the first and the last award.
Michael retired from professional basketball at the age of 32, after winning three consecutive championships, already one more than Wilt won in his entire career. He putted around with baseball for a year and then rejoined basketball. Upon rejoining, he transformed a team that had not been winning in the postseason into an instant champion again. He won three more consecutive titles.
His six NBA championships came in consecutive full seasons, and the Bulls likely would have made it eight titles in a row had MJ not retired from the game for a year and a half. His teams won 25 out of a possible 26 postseason series. Jordan was named as the Most Valuable Player in the biggest stage of his career an unprecedented six times.
Unlike Wilt Chamberlain, whose teams lost to Bill Russell in the postseason year after year after year, Michael Jordan conquered his biggest rivals. He finally defeated the Detroit Pistons in 1991, after three consecutive postseason exits by the famed Bad Boys. Jordan won NBA championships over five different teams: the Lakers, the Rockets, the Suns, the SuperSonics, and the Jazz (twice). He defeated worthy opponents in every Finals: Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone.
There is not an athlete in history who has been more clutch than the famed Chicago Bull guard. MJ upped his regular season scoring average by over ten percent in the postseason—the equivalent of Ty Cobb batting .414 in the postseason.
He has some of the most memorable clutch performances in the history of the sport—his walk-off shot versus the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs in 1989, his 63 points in a double overtime loss to the eventual world champion Boston Celtics in 1986, his 38 points in the “Flu Game” in the fifth game of the 1997 NBA Finals versus the Utah Jazz, his series-winning jump shot in game six of the 1998 NBA Finals versus the Utah Jazz...The list goes on and on and on.
Michael Jordan's dominance lasted a lifetime. No man has been more trusted to take the final shot with the game on the line. No athlete has been more feared in the closing minutes of a game than MJ. And no basketball player—no athlete, for that matter, has succeeded more times when the chips were down than the legendary Michael Jordan.
His regular season accomplishments have been surpassed by only one man, the great Wilt Chamberlain. However, his postseason accomplishments and accolades will never be surpassed nor have they even been equaled, not by anybody in the history of the sport, including the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.
Michael is not only the greatest basketball player who has ever lived, but he is the most dominant athlete to ever walk the planet.