Happy Birthday your “Airness”, Michael Jordan is 50 years old.
Can you believe it? It makes me hearken back to a totally different era in basketball. Sure I’ll admit that my perspective of things may be tainted because things were always great or better when you were younger and it was in your era. It goes without saying as you grow older nothing was like the good old days. But having watched Jordan and witnessed the overall imprint that he has left on the game of basketball, maybe it’s not a case of being an old man where you scoff and say things were better back in my day. Let’s put it this way, Nike is still making a brand of shoes that bears Jordan’s name and they are still one of the most popular items on the ledger. Enough said.
It’s the order of the day to make comparisons between Jordan and LeBron James and it’s a great bar room discussion. It’s tough to compare across different eras so I try to stay away from it. As a physical specimen that can accomplish what he does in today’s professional game, James is unmatched. He’s won the genetic lottery and has worked hard to master the commensurate skills making him virtually unstoppable. But could he put up the same superhuman numbers in a different era of basketball?
Back in the 1980′s and early to mid-1990′s the NBA game was different, it was very physical. Just think of how hard Jordan had to work to achieve what he did against the likes of the Detroit Pistons and “The Jordan Rules” or Pat Riley’s New York Knicks with bruisers like Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and Patrick Ewing on the front line. Heck Riley was so impressed he retired Jordan’s number, 45, as it hangs in the rafters in the American Airlines Arena in Miami. How would James handle that type of physicality? We’ll never know. Great players always adapt and his body would give him an advantage but what would the numbers look like? Some think in the modern day NBA with its “no touch” defence, Jordan could put up 40 points per night. But the athletes are better for having watched the likes of predecessors of which Jordan was one and it may be more of a challenge. Again, we’ll never know.
You can look at all the numbers and computer generated analytics but it never measures a person’s will or competitiveness. We do know the singular item that is universal across any time line is winning. Jordan always seemed to have an extra few drops in the tank when it came to his will to win and that’s something that can’t be quantified. How about these numbers: six appearances in the finals, six championships, six Finals MVP awards on 33.6 points per game. Where do I stand on the comparison? I’m not trying to sound like an old man, but right now, when it comes to winning, I’m not going to say that Jordan is in a class by himself, but I will say it doesn’t take long to do attendance in that classroom.
But look past the winning and examine the world wide impact that Jordan had without the aid of the internet and modern day social media. I saw it first hand in 1992 when I worked covering basketball at the Barcelona Olympics. Little did I know that two of the poobahs, Scott Moore and John Shannon, who hired me to work those games were providing me with the experience of a life time. The Olympic basketball experience that summer was one of a kind and a musing for another day. I watched as other world class athletes jump barriers at Olympic Stadium to shake hands with Jordan and other NBA legends.
How big was Jordan? How big is he still to this day? Let me answer questions with a question. How many other athletes can you name that have transcended their sport to the point where if you mention their name anywhere in the world, people know who you are talking about? I can think of Muhammad Ali, a few other boxers and soccer players, maybe a track athlete or two and I’d consider an F1 driver or so but Jordan’s name still stands the test of time. We’re not talking about North American creations that we have popularized in the NFL, NHL, or MLB through media hyperbole. Jordan’s performances in his sport warranted the accolades and accompanying coverage.
Michael Jordan was a generational player. He is one of those athletes that comes along and serves as the measuring stick for all others in his sport. People will forever be searching for a comparison but maybe the idea should be shelved because right now, there isn’t one. When Jordan sits back and says “been there, done that” not many can argue. Happy Birthday Michael.