For the last month, “The Last Dance” documentary has captured the attention of the basketball world and provided the world with an inside look at the career and life of Michael Jordan. We have watched lots of behind the scenes stories and untold truths surrounding Jordan from the “bad pizza game” to more backstory on the hatred between Jordan and the Bad Boy Pistons.
This documentary has contextualized every part of Jordan’s career and allowed younger fans and players to appreciate the legend of Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, some have taken a different approach while watching this documentary. The toxic GOAT debate has arisen from its two-year slumber after LeBron’s 2018 playoff run.
Now, in theory, the goat debate should be a fun and engaging discussion between two sides with valid arguments or points. Instead, it usually turns out to be a battle of hating on either Lebron or Jordan and cherry-picking stats that fit one’s narrative. In my opinion, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time and the reasons why are down below.
The biggest factor to consider in this debate is how much a player accomplished and achieved throughout their career. When you consider team and individual success, Jordan has an impeccable resume. From a team success standpoint, he won 6 championships and never lost a single NBA Finals series.
Jordan led his team to five 60 plus win seasons, one of which they finished with a 72-10 record and capped it off with a dominant playoff run and a championship. That 95/96 team is undoubtedly the best NBA team of all-time because they have the second-best record of all time with the championship to validate that record. There have only been a handful of three-peats in NBA history, but Jordan is the only player to lead his team to two three-peats in the modern era.
Individually, Jordan has 6 Finals MVPs and 5 regular season MVPs. In terms of total MVP’s, he has the most ever in NBA history with 11. Jordan has also been awarded for his basketball skill with 10 scoring titles and 9 defensive first teams and one defensive player of the year in the 87/88 seasons.
He is the only player ever to win an MVP, a scoring title, and a defensive player of the year award in the same season. Not only did he win 10 scoring titles, but he won the award 7 years in a row and every all-defensive team he made was the first team. When you take into account era, team success, and individual accolades Michael Jordan is the most accomplished basketball player of all time.
2. Individual Skill/Talent
Michael Jordan has several advantages over Lebron and company in the GOAT debate. His elite skills on offense and defense make him a better two way player than any other basketball legend. His 30 points per game career average with 33 points per game in the playoffs combined with the most scoring titles of all-time and being tied with Wilt for most in a row makes him the best scorer of all-time.
Jordan could get to the rim and finish over any big man and was unstoppable at shooting mid-range jumpers. He had no offensive weaknesses and despite shooting lots of jump shots, he still shot 50% from the field for his career and 84% from the free-throw line. While Jordan was not the best of all-time on defense or even on his entire team, he was better on that side of the ball than any other GOAT contender as evident by the defensive awards.
One aspect of Jordan that the documentary highlighted was his killer instinct and competitive drive on himself and his teammates. Jordan is the ultimate leader, winner, and competitor. According to Pippen, the Bulls needed to toughen up to unlock their full potential as players and as a team.
Jordan was the guy who pushed every teammate to their limit not because he hated them or was a bully. He pushed them so they could reach their peak as a player and once that happened, Jordan knew they could win as a team. His intense leadership style gave his team the advantage every season and the results were a dynasty.
Not only was he an intense leader, but he was the fiercest competitor in basketball history. It hardly took anything for him to gain a competitive edge over his enemies. The Pistons beat him in 1990 and he responded by getting stronger in the off-season and sweeping them the following year. The all-time competitive nature and leadership style factor into his overall individual skill as a player.
3. Iconic Games and Moments
Another important factor to look into is how they performed in big-time games and moments. When the pressure was on Jordan, he delivered time and time again. Earlier in Jordan’s career, the Cavs and Bulls matched up in the first round in 1989. The Cavs pushed the Bulls to a must-win game five, and Jordan hit two go-ahead shots to win the series. The second being a buzzer-beater jump shot while being down by one point.
In 1992, Jordan played the Pistons and put up 37 points with the game-winning shot. The most iconic games and shots in his career came against the Utah Jazz in both the 96/97 and 97/98 NBA Finals. In-game 1 of the 96/97 Finals, Jordan scored 31 and hit the buzzer-beater over Bryon Russell to win the game. Later in that series came the infamous flu game. Although, thanks to the documentary, we now know that Jordan was feeling under the weather because of some pizza which may or may not has been poisoned.
Regardless, Jordan was not close to 100% but with the series tied at 2-2, Jordan willed himself to 37 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a go-ahead three with less than a minute remaining. The following NBA Finals, Jordan had the most clutch game of his career and sealed his GOAT legacy with his game 6 performance.
He had 45 points in the game, but with the Bulls down three late, Jordan proceeded to make a quick layup then steal the ball from Malone on the other end and then he finally buried the jumper to give the Bulls a one-point lead with seconds left.
4. Influence on the Sport of Basketball
Michael Jordan has easily been the most influential basketball player of all-time. He expanded NBA basketball’s popularity across the globe. Over time, basketball has become a global game and far more foreign players have thrived in today’s league. Jordan’s greatness was known worldwide, which helped indirectly lay some of the groundwork for the league’s present-day global focus.
His sneakers transformed basketball shoes into everyday shoes. The Jordan Brand shoe still ranks as the highest bought shoe today even though he is not playing. Finally, his iconic fadeaways and killer mentality have been passed down to the younger generations. In the documentary, Kobe Bryant even said that he would not have five championships if it wasn’t for Jordan helping him early in his career.
5. Dominance in a Tough Era
The era that a player plays in is one of the only real distinguishing factors in comparing players’ dominance of the sport of basketball. While the likes of Russell, Wilt, and Kareem were very dominant when they played, Jordan was more dominant in a much tougher era. The sport of basketball had evolved over the decades making the ’80s and 90’s a very talented and a tough era to win in.
At Jordan’s peak, he could not be stopped or beaten by any of the Hall of Famers of the ’90s. Jordan stopped many future Hall of Famers from winning rings (when they played head to head) such as Malone, Barkley, Stockton, Ewing, Miller. He also beat Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson to win his first championship in 1991. While his Finals competition may not be as stiff as LeBron James has been, he has faced a tougher road to get to the Finals and had a better peak than any player in NBA history.
Jordan’s overall list of accolades stands alone at the top and his skill as a player is second to none. He was the best player in the world for a decade and transcended the sport of basketball across the world. His game heavily influenced the next generation of basketball players, and he has left a legacy which still looms large to this day.
He delivered in the big moments time and time again and drove every teammate of his to be the best player they could be. Jordan deserves the honor of being the greatest basketball player of all-time.