Comparing NBA Players to Michael Jordan Should Be a Crime

Yesterday Scottie Pippen said something stupid about Michael Jordan and LeBron James. And it will probably not surprise anyone that ESPN made it their headline, talked about it on every single show today, re-tweeted it, took out billboards to plaster the quote, and probably looked into some sort of an airplane skywriting situation. There’s probably a bust of Scottie Pippen being made at the ESPN studios right now with a plaque underneath that reads “LeBron James is the best basketball player ever, and I know, because I played with Michael Jordan.”

I’ll admit that I’m openly not a fan of LeBron James. I think he’s a product of a league and a network designed to create a superstar more than an actual elite basketball player. He’s good, but 42-94 shooting in a 5-game series doesn’t make you the greatest thing in the history of the league. So take what I say for what it is.

Here's something funny: He's not wearing Air Jameses.

But this post isn’t about LeBron. It’s about how ridiculous the historical scope surrounding Jordan is. Because this isn’t the first time someone has been compared to Jordan. I remember this same story popping up about Kobe Bryant each of the last two seasons as he won his fourth and fifth rings. I remember stories comparing Dwyane Wade, a Chicago kid, to Jordan when he led the Heat to a title five years ago. I have no idea where to look for a stat about coverage of the Jordan comparison story, but I feel like I’m annually angry that another player is getting measured against Jordan. This post isn’t about what Pippen said yesterday. It isn’t about what anyone has said about Kobe the last three seasons. It isn’t about who you personally think is the best player ever (if you don’t think it’s Jordan, then drop me a comment). It’s about how quickly we forgot how good Jordan was.

Does it bother me that a player with no rings is being compared to Jordan? Yes. But not nearly as much as it bothered me that ESPN named him the next Michael Jordan while he was still in high school. It even bothers me that 2011 Kobe (had he won this season, it would have been his sixth, like Jordan, and his second three-peat, like Jordan) drew the same comparisons, though his are significantly more legit and he’ll probably be the closest we get to MJ for a while.

I’ll get into some more statistical and career accomplishment things in a bit, but my first observation about the Someone-is-as-good-as-Michael Jordan argument is this: Michael Jordan was so dominant and so important to the game of basketball that he is the natural measuring stick for all other basketball players now and for the foreseeable future.

Not to say that someone won’t get there some day, but Jordan still being this relevant right now is proof enough that no one is as good as him now. When other players are making headlines for a single comparison to Jordan, no one is as good as Jordan. There is an understanding among all people who know basketball (actually, people who don’t know sports will still be able to tell you) that Jordan is unquestionably the best player in the history of organized basketball. Think about this: Michael Jordan’s name comes up every year during the playoffs. Except he hasn’t played in eight years. He’s in headlines every season when it gets down to crunch time because his individual impact on the NBA Finals was so noteworthy.

I don’t know how to make that less jumbled. I guess the best way is to ask yourself this: In ten years, when this generation of players is gone, do you honestly think we’ll compare the best players of the new generation to LeBron or Kobe? I don’t. I think that the best players ten years from now are still going to draw comparisons to Jordan. It doesn’t mean that Jordan’s game was so attainable that all the stars are comparable, it means that his game was so transcendent it will always be held up as the mark of perfection.

If you forgot how many rings six rings is, here's a look. It's a lot more than one. A handful more.

In terms of what he actually accomplished, the most important is the six championships. What’s more impressive? He won six championships IN A ROW. If you’re counting the 20-or-so game he played in ’94-’95, then he won six out of seven. But no one counts that. Michael Jordan went through a six-season period in his career in which he won a ring every year.

We talk about how important it is for players to win one ring in their careers. Right now, Dirk and LeBron are both getting the “is this the year they cement their place in history?” story because one of them is going to win one. One. Their mark will be made based off this single ring. Jordan won six. Six. In a row. If one of those guys wins a ring, they should congratulate themselves, but they’re still only around 17% of the way to Jordan.

Here are a couple of things Jordan did that other players probably won’t be able to equal. And all of this taking two season off in his prime:

  • 6 Finals MVPs
  • 5-time league MVP
  • 14-time All-Star
  • 37 points per game in his third NBA season. 37!
  • 10 NBA scoring titles
  • 3-time steals leader
  •  5 season in a row shooting .519 or better
  • 10-time first team NBA
  • 9-time defensive first team NBA
  • 2-time dunk contest winner
  • Jordan’s brand is still a best-seller, eight years after his retirement
  • Starred in Space Jam
  • Starred in Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City for Super Nintendo

That’s unbelievable. No one will ever match that. It’s just not possible.

Sure, Scottie Pippen played with Jordan for 10 seasons. But does that make him an expert on the subject? Hardly. The truth is that it doesn’t matter who made the comparison. It could be Pippen. It could be Jordan himself. That doesn’t make it true, and even more importantly for this post, that doesn’t make it news.

Jordan is hands-down the all-time great. Does LeBron rebound and pass better, like Pippen said? Sure. So did Magic. Dennis Rodman rebounded better too. Stockton passed better. Russell won more rings. What makes Jordan good isn’t that he was the all-time best at everything all at once. That’s just not possible. Jordan is the best because he won championships and he won them in a time period where he was so dominant that no one could stop him for six seasons. He’s the all-time best scorer, and certainly one of the all-time defenders for his position, but no one thing is going to make Jordan the best, it’s the entire package. And no one else can even touch Jordan’s collection of achievements. Michael Jordan is the Todd Macculloch of basketball. His uniqueness is unmatched and anyone who suggests otherwise is looking to make a story where there isn’t one. No one is Jordan now. No one will ever be Jordan. To suggest otherwise is just to admit that you have an entirely skewed appreciation of who Jordan was.