“There’s Michael Jordan, and then there’s the rest of us.”
Those words were said by the man that many – including I – consider to be the second greatest basketball player in history, Earvin Magic Johnson. But even Magic considers Michael to be on a different stratosphere to himself and other greats. In recent years, fans of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have dared compare such mere mortals to the almighty God of basketball. Let’s get it right: Michael Jordan is the Greatest Of All Time. Basketball’s G.O.A.T. Greater than LeBron, Kobe, Magic, Russell, Bird, Duncan, Shaq, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and a host of other legends. Like Magic himself said: the battle is for second place.
And if you don’t believe me, I drop 50 reasons why Michael Jordan – who turned 50 years old today – is number 1.
1. Let’s start with the moment that MJ himself calls the ‘turning point’ of his basketball career: As a college freshman for North Carolina, Jordan hit the game-winning shot in the Final against Georgetown to win a National Championship.
2. In 1984, in his third and final season for North Carolina, he was named the college player of the year.
3. Picked by the Bulls third in the 1984 draft. Took revenge on the rest of the league to average 28 points per game on 51 percent shooting as a rookie! Of course he won the Rookie of the Year Award.
4. Missed much of the 1985-86 season to injury, but came back to help his 30-52 Bulls sneak into the playoffs, only to face powerhouse Boston Celtics in the first round. In one of the most legendary games of all time, Jordan dropped 63 points in a 2OT loss to the Celtics. The record still stands as the most points in a playoff game. Larry Bird said that playing on court that day was ‘God disguised as Michael Jordan’.
5. Michael Jordan won his first MVP award in the 1987-88 season.
6. He was also the Defensive Player of the Year that year, the first to win both awards in the same season. Only Hakeem Olajuwon has done it since. He was also the league’s leading scorer that season (35 points per game). Ya, no one has ever done that.
7. Won the Slam Dunk Championship twice, in 1987 and 1988. Over time, his athleticism completely transformed the game and shifted the load of talent from big men to smaller players.
8. In 1989, he hit that shot to knock the Cavaliers out of the playoffs. In 1993, he did it to the Cavs again.
9. Oh, he’s not done with the Cavs. In 1990, he dropped a career-high 69 points on them.
10. In the late 80s, there was an entire defensive scheme named just after him: The Jordan Rules. The late 80s Pistons employed the ‘rules’ (double or triple-teaming Jordan at every opportunity, basically) to dominate the Bulls year and year until 1991, when the Bulls were finally able to sweep them and eventually get to their first NBA Finals.
11. In the 1991 NBA Finals against the Lakers, he hit one of the wildest circus shots of all time: the switch-between-the-hands-dunk-turned-up-and-under-lay-up. You have to see it to believe it. He won his first championship – the most emotional one of them all – in that series.
12. In his second NBA Finals – versus the Blazers – he dominated opposing star Clyde Drexler. The highlight was his performance in Game 1 when he scored 35 points in the first half (a Finals record) on six threes, a performance that led to his famous ‘shrug’. He won his second championship in six games.
13. The 1992 Dream Team had some true great players – Magic, Bird, Stockton, Malone, Pippen, Robinson, Ewing, and Barkley. But Jordan was the star amongst stars. In what was called ‘The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw’, the Dream Team played a scrimmage game amongst themselves, where Jordan took the competition to another level to defeat Magic Johnson’s side.
14. He won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1992 in Barcelona.
15. But that wasn’t his first one. He’d also won Olympic Gold before entering the NBA in 1984 in Los Angeles.
16. Nike. Jordan made the shoemakers a powerful worldwide brand. It was his Air Jordan range and his amazing marketability (which of course stemmed from his amazing dominance over everything to do with basketball) that changed the rules for sneaker sponsorship to the way it is today. Now, the ‘Jordan Brand’ is an athletic goods powerhouse in its own right.
17. In 1993, Jordan retired for a slew of reasons (tragic and suspicious), but retired as already one of the greatest ever. By this point, he had almost single-handedly made basketball a world-famous sport. But he was even bigger than the sport himself: more people around the world were likely to know the name ‘Jordan’ than know what ‘basketball’ is. He had won three championships by then.
18. After a little more than a year in the baseball wilderness, Jordan announced his NBA return. Just five games into his comeback, Jordan let the world know that he was still the best, scoring 55 points at the famous Madison Square Garden on the Knicks in March 1995.
19. Supported by the ever-improving Scottie Pippen and new addition Dennis Rodman, Jordan led the Bulls to an NBA best 72-10 regular season record. He won his fourth championship that year. This was his first full season back to the league. He was MVP, Finals MVP, Scoring champion, and a lot more things once more.
20. Became the first player to have a triple double in the All Star Game (14-11-11) in 1997.
21. In Game 1 of the 1997 Finals, Jordan capped off a fantastic game with a buzzer-beater to defeat the Jazz.
22. The Flu Game: later in the Finals vs. the Jazz, Jordan played Game 5 under stress of a terrible fever, one that saw him sweating and shivering weakly off the court. On the court though – despite looking visibly fatigued – he was still unstoppable, scoring 38 points and leading the Bulls to a crucial victory. He captured his fifth championship a few days later.
23. ‘The Last Shot’: Game Six of the 1998 Finals, once again against the Jazz. In what became his ‘last’ NBA game (before the Wizards comeback), Jordan hit a big shot, stole the ball from Karl Malone, and then hit another big shot to give the Bulls a lead and the championship. Number Six.
24. By now, Jordan had six championships, tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and teammate Scottie Pippen for most championships for any player outside of the late 50s/60s Celtics. And Robert Horry.
25. Jordan also now had six Finals MVP awards, which is the most won by any player in history. The next highest – Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan – have three each.
26. Jordan became the first and second player to win the Finals MVP award three years in a row (1991-93 and 1996-98). Shaq did it from 2000-02.
27. Winning a three-peat championship is rare. No one did it after the Russell-Celtics after the league’s expansion. Jordan led the Bulls to do it twice. Shaq-Kobe Lakers only ones to do it since.
28. By now, he also won 5 regular season MVP awards, tied with Bill Russell for second-most. Only Kareem (6) has more.
29. Before Jordan, high-scoring players – especially those who played from the perimeter – rarely got the ‘real’ hardware like MVP or championships. Jordan did it all the time, and was a scoring champion in each of the years he won a championship.
30. Jordan is the All Time Leader in Playoffs Points per Game (33.45 ppg). The second-best is Allen Iverson (29.73 ppg).
31. Jordan is also the All Time Leader in Total Playoffs Points Scored, more than Kareem and Malone who have more total points than him.
32. Second All-Time in Playoffs Steals.
33. Jordan came back to play for the Wizards at age 38 in 2001. In December that year, he became the oldest player ever to score 50 (51 against the Hornets). A game later, he scored 45.
35. The next season (and finally, his final season), he became the first player to score 40 at age 40. He had 43 against the Nets. And then he finally retired – for the third time – for good.
36. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Reggie Miller, and Gary Payton. Great, legendary players, who didn’t win a ring because of Michael Jordan. Payton finally got one in 2006 as a role-player in Miami.
37. Jordan retired with the highest career regular season points per game average in NBA history (30.2 ppg).
38. 32,292 points: he’s the third leading scorer in NBA history, despite missing a lot of NBA actions to his two premature retirements.
39. Jordan was in the NBA’s All NBA First Team 10 times.
40. Jordan was in the All Defensive First Team nine teams, an All Time record tied with Gary Payton. The great Jerry West said that he was more impressed with Jordan’s defensive contributions than his offensive ones
41. Jordan played in 14 All-Star Games.
42. Jordan won 10 NBA scoring titles, including seven in a row (a tied NBA record with Wilt Chamberlain). He would’ve won more if he hadn’t retired in 1994-95.
43. Jordan led the league in steals three times.
44. He finished third in total steals, only behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd.
45. Jordan’s number was of course retired by the Bulls, but he’s also the only player to have a number retired by a team that he never played for! The Miami Heat retired his jersey number 23 in April 2003. Good thing LeBron changed his number from 23 to 6 before leaving Cleveland for Miami.
46. Jordan had some insane statistical averages throughout his career. He had 28.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 5.9 apg as a rookie. He had a career-high average of 37.1 ppg in 1987. He had 32.5, 8, and 8 (his top rebound and assist numbers) in 1989. He played only three games in the 1986 playoffs, but averaged 43.7, 6.3, and 5.7. He averaged over 30 ppg every year in the playoffs after his rookie season. He was a 48.7 percent shooter through his career.
47. Michael Jordan had a legendary work ethic, considered by many players, coaches, and analysts as one of the hardest working players of all time. The 2009 Hall of Fame Speech reminded the world that Jordan is perhaps one of the most competitive individuals of all time.
48. He was also one of the most clutch basketball players of all time, considered to be perhaps the greatest ‘closer’ ever. Let this list of his top 10 clutch shots convince you.
49. “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.” Those are the words that start – in bold – Jordan’s biography on NBA’s own website!
50. Jordan turns 50 today, but it seems that he’s still got it. 19-year-old Bobcat rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second pick in the draft, admitted that Jordan beat him 1-on-1! “I lost,” said Kidd-Gilchrist, “He’s the greatest man that ever played the game.”
Yup, Magic was right. There’s Jordan, and then there’s the rest of us…