I grew up in the Jordan era. Watching His Airness dominate opponents. Magic, Bird, Ewing, Malone, Stockton, these are top 50 all-time NBA players, and Jordan owned them all. Now today, Michael Jeffery Jordan turns 50.
Jordan is a once-in-a-lifetime player. He changed the game. His list of great performances is longer than his age. How would you pick the top one? Do you go with his 63 at the Garden in the playoffs against a better Celtics team? How about his first half against the Portland Trailblazers in the 1992 NBA Finals, hitting 6-threes. The Flu game? One of many versus the Knicks? Jordan dominated and controlled games at his will during his Chicago days.
Jordan was the player that made the NBA global. Kids in Africa could tell you about MJ in his prime, they still probably can. Jordan’s influence was so wide-spread! The world hadn’t seen anything like it before. His face was plastered on buildings from New York City to Tokyo. He didn’t just change the NBA game, he also changed marketing for athletes forever. Nike brought Jordan on and the Air Jordan was born. The shoes sold like wildfire. They weren’t just shoes; in some neighborhoods, they were currency! You could pay off debt with Air Jordan’s. Now THAT is value! Jordan’s deals with companies such as McDonalds, Gatorade, and Hanes opened up a genre of marketing never before imagined. Peyton Manning, LeBron, Kobe, and Tiger Woods owe half of their fortunes to Jordan for his brilliance in marketing.
One NBA player, Antwan Jamison, said that at 50, Jordan could average double-digits if teamed with Kobe or LeBron. I wrote on this subject earlier this week, and I have changed my stance. I believe he could average double-digits on any team. Jordan went from an attacking, wing player to a complete player throughout his career. As his physical attributes deteriorated, his mental game grew and took over: making the right pass, spotting up in the right place, conserving energy when he could. Jordan can still shoot. Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said Jordan beat him in a one-on-one game. It’s true that Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t LeBron or Kobe, but he is 30 years younger than Jordan. For Michael to be able to beat the No.2 pick in this year’s draft is simply impressive!
Jordan’s legacy is one of almost mythic legend. You ask people in their 30’s and older about a Jordan memory and you can see them think for a second while their eyes grow large. Watching him play was as close to watching art being made as sports can get. LeBron and Kobe are as close to what Jordan was, as any player has been since. Vince Carter was once called the next Jordan. He had the athletic skillset needed, but lacked the killer instinct. Kobe has the killer instinct and all the tools in the world, but lacks that knack for making others around him better. King James has all the basketball skills any player ever has had. He is more athletic than Jordan, may even top Jordan in making others around him greater and carrying a team on his back– Hello Cleveland– but what James has lacked is the killer instinct, although he has shown signs of it since last year’s playoffs. We’ll see what the future brings.
Jordan has moved into the front office and now wears suits, but Jordan in a jersey, his tongue hanging out, will always be the Jordan that I and billions of others will remember. By Steve Kish